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How To Start A Roach Colony

Discussion in 'Tarantula Feeding and Feeder Insects' started by Tortoise Tom, Jul 22, 2018.

  1. Tortoise Tom

    Tortoise Tom Well-Known Member

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    I started keeping roaches in 1992. I bought 3 hissers from the big San Diego Reptile Show. I was told they were WC, but can't verify that. I still have a colony from those original 3. I kept them just as pets back then. I also used to have tarantulas, scorpions and quite a few insectivorous lizards back in those days, but I fed them all crickets and super worms like everyone else. I hate crickets. I stopped keeping insectivores for a lot of years due to my dislike of cricket keeping. When dubias hit the scene, I decided to try them. While researching dubia, I discovered a whole host of other pet species and feeder species and had to try them all. I was pretty into roaches for a few years there. At my peak I had 18 species in 40 bins in my reptile room. I used to go the the reptile shows to sell off the excess. I read all the care sheets, and much like our tarantulas, some of it didn't make sense and conflicted with what I was seeing in my own colonies. I went through a period of years where I tried a lot of side by side experiments and I discovered a lot of those firm care sheet assertions to be myths. I thought I would start a thread here to show how I do it, how easy it can be, and how to maintain them long term. I'll do this in several posts in order to get all the pics and explanation in. I hope this information will be useful and encourage other people to start up their own colonies.

    First thing you need is a bin. Any size can work, but since I use the 12x12" egg flats inside my bins to house my roaches, I need something big and tall enough to hold them. 18 gallon bins fit the bill nicely. In the past I used dark colored opaque bins because everyone says the roaches feel more comfortable and breed better in darker bins. At one point my dubia colonies were getting way too over crowed and the store didn't have a bigger bin in a dark color, so I just bought some 40 gallon clear ones thinking I'd find dark ones later. I set my roaches up in the clear bins and they kept right on producing. After a few months, the bottoms of the clear bins sagged under the immense weight of pounds of roaches. Hmmm… I decided to do an experiment. I went out and bough a new dark 18 gallon bin and a new clear 18 gallon bin. I set them up identically and tossed 200 randomly selected dubia from a larger bin in each one. Fed them the same and kept them side by side on the same shelf. No discernible difference even after a year or more. Same thing with Blatta lateralis. Same thing with Baltta orientalis. After that I started buying only clear bins for roaches because they are smoother inside and prevent some of the lighter species or their nymphs from climbing the sides. So here is our clear bin. Got it at Lowes for about $6:
    IMG_6320.JPG

    The roaches need ventilation. They can get by with none when the colony is small, but as the numbers grow, they collectively give off amazing amounts of moisture and humidity. Mold and mildew can kill a colony. For people who are going to stack their bins, side ventilation is required. My bins are side by side, so I do front and back ventilation or top ventilation. All of it works, so put the vents wherever you want, but put them up high. First I mark them:
    IMG_6321.JPG

    Then I cut them with a Dremmel tool with a cut-off wheel:
    IMG_6322.JPG
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    And the top screened one:
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    Next we have to measure and cut the aluminum window screen. They can chew through the plastic/vinyl screen, so only use the metal type. I like to make the screen about one inch longer than needed, so I can get about a half inch of overhang on each side to allow for any imperfections in my cutting or calculations. The screen cuts very easily with regular scissors.
    IMG_6331.JPG IMG_6328.JPG

    Next we hot glue the screens in place. I prefer to glue them on the inside for a cleaner look on the outside.
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    All finished:
    IMG_6346.JPG

    After I finish this stage, I wash the bins out with warm water and my hand to rinse out any residue that might be in there from the factory or transportation of the bin to the store.

    More to come...
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  2. Metalman2004

    Metalman2004 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for this. I have my bin ready to go and my lateralus colony will be here Wednesday. Looking forward to more posts.
  3. Tortoise Tom

    Tortoise Tom Well-Known Member

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    I use 12x12" egg flats with cardboard dividers so the flats don't groove together and squish the roaches. These give them good traction and lots of space to occupy.
    IMG_6352.JPG
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    The food and water thing is another issue I've had with the care sheets. So many of them say so many different things. I bet all of them work. All those years I kept my hissers, I just gave them whatever leftovers I had. They ate everything. Even thawed pinkies that my snakes refused.

    About "water crystals" and similar products: They are not needed and I found them to be more trouble than they are worth. They keep drying out all the time, and once the colony grows and you get a good frass layer going on the bottom, the crystals get buried and mixed in with the frass. When the colony is new, the water crystals stay clean and pristine for a while. After that, they make mold in the frass, and that is no good. If you want to use them, go for it. Just be aware that when they start getting buried, you'll have to figure something else out. I simply use a piece of fruit, carrot, potato, yam, celery, orange, cucumber, etc… over in one front corner for moisture.

    I use plain old dry dog kibble by the handful in the other corner. This gives them balanced nutrition and enough protein to grow, molt and reproduce. You don't have to grind up the dog food, or mix up crazy concoctions. I tried all of that and it works no better than plain whole kibble by the handful. I like them to eat all of it in a day or two and not have a lot of extra laying around molding. I adjust how much they get by watching how much they eat. A large dubia colony will eat 2-3 cups of dog food a day, plus two oranges or 10 carrots. Its amazing watching how fast it disappears. A whole grapefruit gone in 2 hours.

    IMG_6355.JPG

    Next we have to add some roaches. Blatta lateralis, or red runners, in this case. I scooped up a bunch of lateralis off of one of the cardboard dividers for this demonstration.
    IMG_6367.JPG

    Now we wait and wait and wait for them to mature and begin reproducing. It takes several months for a colony to get up and running. For the longest time, it "seems" like nothing is happening. Once they get going, the population begins to explode.

    Because of how many bins I had going, I developed ways to make everything more simple and efficient. I did a lot of side-by-side experiments to test all the different recommended food concoctions and water delivery systems. I found that none of it made much difference at all. As long as they had a source of moisture, and a variety of foods, they reproduced like cock roaches. I found it best to keep things simple. All of the feeders species and most of the other species don't need or get any benefit from using substrate. Most of my bins were bare bottomed.

    All species reproduce better at warmer temps, but some species tolerate lower temps better than others. Dubia really slow down at room temp, but lateralis can keep growing. My bins are kept in my heated reptile room, but any warm spot on a high shelf should work for most people. I've never tried to artificially heat a bin, so I'm not the best person to advise on that. If reproduction is the goal, you'll get better results above 80 degrees.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
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  4. Tortoise Tom

    Tortoise Tom Well-Known Member

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    Here is my dubia colony:
    IMG_6376.JPG

    Looks like we've got a few red runner invaders that I'll have to sort out:
    IMG_6378.JPG
  5. Metalman2004

    Metalman2004 Well-Known Member

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    @Tortoise Tom do you use any cleaner crews for your roach colonies? How often do you clean them out and change the egg crates?
  6. Tortoise Tom

    Tortoise Tom Well-Known Member

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    I've been working 15 hour days, but as soon as I get a minute, I'm going to do a post all about cleaning and long term maintenance. All of my colonies are due for some cleaning.

    In one of my shipments, some dermestid beetles hitchhiked in, and those do a good job of eating up any dead ones, but that is all. The dermestids can fly and over time the migrated into all of my colonies.

    I clean the bins only once or twice a year as needed, but it does depend on the number of roaches. The egg flats will last for more than a year in a new colony in an 18 gallon bin. Over time the roaches poop on them and they begin to break down. I knock all the roaches off the dividers and egg flats into an empty bin, and then I dump them into a clean bin with new egg flats. This shocks and disturbs the colony, but its necessary once in a while. I have so many, that I don't notice a big difference in production, but when I had smaller colonies it was more obvious.

    Another technique I will sometimes use is splitting the colony. I will get another bin and take half the full egg flats from an overcrowded bin and move them into the new clean bin. Then I fill in the empty halves in each bin with new egg flats. Sometimes I'll take half the flats out and give them to the lady at my local pet store. She sells them as feeders and I'm happy to see them going to good use. Then I just replace the missing flats with new ones.
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  7. Sonorantree

    Sonorantree Member

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    Tom, great info! Thank you for posting this. I'm looking forward to hearing more! I just have one dubia colony for feeding Ts...

    For now, I have a question - where do you get the egg flats? I'm using those paper mache egg cartons and they are ok, but not as nice as those larger flats.

    Also, I had baby dubia getting stranded and drying up laying upside down on the floors of those slick tubs until I put a bit of Eco Earth in the bin, that seemed to fix that problem for me. Have you seen that or remedied it another way? I'd like to not have substrate in the bin...

    My colony is to the point where there are a lot of older adults that seem to be dying off and I see that the other roaches eat the dead ones up. Sortof a different kind of kibble? Is that ok?
  8. Tortoise Tom

    Tortoise Tom Well-Known Member

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    I get my flats from these guys: http://www.eggboxes.com/Item/13

    I've never used substrate for dubia or Blatta species. I only used substrate under some of the pet species like Blaberus giganteus and Archimandrita tesselata. I didn't use it under most of the Blaberus or any of the others. I've never had a problem with babies flipping and dying using the system I use. Maybe they get pushed close enough to one of the many flats and can right themselves? Also, the frass builds up pretty quickly, so they are not on a bare surface for very long.

    I don't think its a problem if they cannibalize their dead. I'm sure it happens in my bins too. Still, I like to remove any dead ones I see so they don't attract ants, flies/maggots, or start to stink up the bin. I think my dermestid beetles do a fair amount of clean up too.
  9. Sonorantree

    Sonorantree Member

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    Tom,

    Thanks for the info! I know what you mean about the stink... I do like to pull out the dead adults, but don't get it done often enough and I saw them getting eaten, so figured I'd see how that goes. I have them in my shop now (temps in the upper 90s for summer), so the stink isn't too bad. When they come into the house in the fall I am going to need to take care of that! :)

    I have been using those water crystals and know what you mean about them getting all over the floor. I like your setup better!

    I can see that re-doing my bin with those large crates like you use, and having no substrate (until the buildup of a frasstrate) would make it a lot easier to pull the dead adults out. Something more for the "to-do" list!

    Thanks again! Looking forward to learning more!
  10. Sonorantree

    Sonorantree Member

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    @Tortoise Tom, I re-did my bins with the egg crate and cardboard like you showed here - I think it's going to work well. I have also switched over to potatoes for moisture. I didn't dump the substrate, since I have (thousands?) of tiny babies in it, and I am not sure that having it is a problem... there is probably only 1/2" or so of EcoEarth in there.

    Anyway, I was pulling a couple roaches for my Ts and had a light shining in there on the new flat cardboard surfaces. I can see (millions?) of tiny moving specs crawling around. Mites? Are they a problem?

    Thanks!

    Paul
  11. Tortoise Tom

    Tortoise Tom Well-Known Member

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    You probably have springtails or phorid flies. They tend to occupy the substrate when substrate is used. Most of these species are harmless detrivores and you don't need to worry about them. I ignore them and they've never caused me any problems.

    Usually the substrate need to be kept a little damp. Dry substrate will get pretty dusty. Dampness will make your egg flats turn to mush and get moldy. When I used substrate for my more exotic pet roach species, I always raised the egg flats off the substrate with PVC pipe or branches. You can tear some off the top if this makes the egg flats too tall for your enclosure.
  12. Sonorantree

    Sonorantree Member

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    @Tortoise Tom , thanks for the info! I don't think they are fly larvae, possibly springtails (I'll have to see if I can get one under the microscope). I won't worry about them if you don't think they will cause any problems.

    I have been misting the egg crate every day or two, with the substrate fairly dry and have not seen that it is a problem. If so, I'll take your suggestion and get the egg crate out of the substrate. I had paper egg cartons in there for probably almost a year and when I took them out today they were in pretty good shape. Maybe I don't have enough moisture... I have 2 potatoes cut in half the long way inside the tote right now. They have eaten holes in several spots...
  13. Tortoise Tom

    Tortoise Tom Well-Known Member

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    My climate is also very dry like yours, usually single digit humidity outside and we don't get your summer monsoon rains either, and I've never misted the enclosures. I'd be leery of mold or mildew. When the bins start to get crowded, the roaches begin to generate a tremendous amount of their own humidity. If your flats are still in good shape after that length of time, I think you are fine, but keep an eye out for issues as your colony grows. I can smell that mildew smell a mile away now, and that's one way I know its time for a colony split and cleaning.
  14. Metalman2004

    Metalman2004 Well-Known Member

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    Well my red runner colony is settled in and they got flies almost immediately. There aren’t too many though. Glad to know it isn’t an issue.
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  15. Sonorantree

    Sonorantree Member

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    I will likely stop spraying then! How do you know when to take the potatoes/veggies out?

    Also, I got some of the little bugs on a piece of scotch tape and sure enough, springtails! So, I'm glad they are not mites and I won't worry about them!

    Thanks again for all the great info!
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  16. Tortoise Tom

    Tortoise Tom Well-Known Member

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    I try to make it so that they eat what I put in there in a day or two. On a large 40 gallon dubia colony in a 85-90 degree room this can be 3 large oranges or 4 bananas and 3 cups of dogs food a day. Its truly astounding. When you lift the bin off of the over head shelf, the bottom sags under their weight. When you lift the top off, it feels like a sauna with the heat and humidity that comes out of the bin. For a new bin with 100-200 lateralis, the right amount might be half a grape or a slice of carrot, and 3 pieced of dog kibble. If there is leftovers, I feed them less the next time. If all the food from yesterday is gone without a trace, I'll feed them a bit more this time.

    I don't like the food to sit in there for too long. It can start to mold and it will attract springtails and phorid flies.
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