Agathemera luteola "Capilla del Monte"
(by Bruno Kneubuehler)

General Informations

  • provenience: Capilla del Monte, Dto. Punilla, Córdoba, Argentina
  • the climat at Capilla del Monte is characterized by warm, rather dry summer and cool to cold, semi-humid winter (see Climat Data Org)
  • adult specimens were collected in November 2015 by José Alejandro Borquez (Argentina)
  • ID by Oskar Conle (DE)
  • F1 CB culture in 2017 by Bruno Kneubuehler (CH)
  • further taxonomical informations ➤ Phasmida Species Files
  • this is a pure culture, and all serious breeders are kindly requested to avoid mixing this culture with similar populations from a different provenience / location. When spreading this culture to other breeders, then always use the full name with provenience
  • this culture has no number CLP number yet....  (Online Phasma Culture List)

Females

  • sturdy, stubby
  • body length ≈ 6.5 - 7 cm
  • reddish-brown
  • two lobes on the mesothorax, which look like micro-wings but are actually no wings. These are called scientifically mesonotal lobes / expansions (A. Camousseight), or more precisely mesoscutellum lobes / expansions (O. Conle)

Males

  • sturdy too, though not as stubby as the females
  • body length ≈ 4 - 4.5 cm
  • reddish-grey
  • two lobes on the mesothorax, which look like micro-wings but are actually no wings. These are called scientifically mesonotal lobes / expansions (A. Camousseight), or more precisely mesoscutellum lobes / expansions (O. Conle)

Nymphs

  • freshly hatched nymphs are grey-brown
  • distinguishing male and female nymph is possible in L1, though it will be easier at later nymphs stages
  • on how to distinguish between male and female nymphs

Eggs

  • ≈ 8.5 x 3.5 mm
  • dark brown to blackish
  • smooth, though not shiny surface
  • average weight of an egg is about 0.055 g

Food Plants

  • staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)
    • very well accepted by nymphs and adults
    • summergreen only
    • this was quite a common garden plant some decades ago. Now considered to be an invasive neophyte, thus on the watch-list in most parts of Europe or even forbidden (like in Switzerland)
    • quite probably other Rhus species are equally well accepted
  • smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria)
    • well accepted
    • summergreen only
    • no invasive neophyte, thus one can plant these
    • quite probably other Cotinus species are also well accepted
       
  • so far I could not try out the many summer-green plants here in Switzerland
  • other plants which are reported to be well accepted food plants for Agathemera
    • Acaena  (Anacardiaceae, Camousseight 1) )
    • Mulinum  (Anacardiaceae, Camousseight 1) )
    • Schinus  (Anacardiaceae, Gabriel Rodriguez (AR), Daniel Rojas-Lanus (AR), personal communication)
    • Lithraea molleoides  (Anacardiaceae, Gabriel Rodriguez (AR), personal communication)
    • Larrea  (Zygophyllaceae, DiBlasi 3) )
    • Hoffmanseggia  (Fabaceae, DiBlasi 3) )
    • Lecointea  (Fabaceae, DiBlasi 3) )
    • Citrus  (Rutaceae, DiBlasi 3) )

plants which are not accepted, or on which Agathemera do not thrive

  • Pistacia lentiscus
    available as greenery in flowershops (evergreen plant)
    quite well accepted, but they do not thrive on this plant. Small L1 nymphs die before or during their first moult. Even older nymphs die frequently when fed on this plant. And specimens raised on this plant seem to be smaller than specimens raised on Rhus. So not really a good option...
  • Hypericum (Hypericum hidcote)
    well accepted by small nymphs, but they die quickly (within a few days). This plant seems to be a poisonous for them
  • Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is not accepted

Behaviour, Biology

  • active mainly during the night
  • nymphs are gregarious, and often on top of each other during the day. Whether or not adults display this behaviour too, that I could not yet observe
  • neither nymphs nor adults hide on the ground during the day, even if there are dry leaves or bark available for them to hide under it
  • nymphs moult about every 3 weeks (at 20 - 23°C), only the last moult takes a bit longer (4 weeks). Males are adult after about 3 months, females after 3.5 - 4 months. As in other phasmid species, Agathemera females have one more moult than males
  • Agathemera are famous thoughout Argentina and Chile for their smell. There they're called Chinchemolle, sometimes also Chinchemoye, Chinchemoyo or Tabolango. Chinchemolle means loosely translated something like stinky beast or bug. The patagonian natives (Tehuelche) applied crushed Agathemera (maybe A. claraziana or A. millepunctata) as a cure onto wounds and tumors (thanks to Daniel Rojas-Lanus for this info, from Camousseight 1995)
  • it is their (colorless) defensive spray, excreted from prothorax glands, which smells. And it is hard to describe that scent.... It has a strong metallic and garlic touch, is pungent and basically just odd. People usually perceived it as somewhat unpleasant. But this smell is not foul or rotten, at least not in the case of A. luteola "Capilla del Monte". The only just description is - they smell like Agathemera.  And if one breeds Agathemera indoors, then it might well be that this "fragrance" fills the whole appartement at times. Thus a seperate room with a sealed door might be a good option - unless you live in cottage out in the forest. Or one could also keep them just in a shed in the garden. They can tolerate the European summer weather easily
  • when handled carefully (captive bred) Agathemera luteola "Capilla del Monte" do not use their spray, neither nymphs nor adults. Even adults do not use their spray unprovoked, one really has to hassle them before they will release it. Whether or not this is also true for Agathemera luteola "Capilla del Monte" specimens living in the wild or other Agathemera species, that is unknown for now...
  • but they do use or release their spray just before moulting. Whenever I have noticed a smell, that was in the evening after the lights in my phasmid room turned off. And that is the sign that a nymph is about to moult during the following 1 - 2 nights. The smell is most intense during the night when a nymph actually moults. So releasing their spray is also connected with the moulting process for some reason. Potential explanations for this behaviour are:
    • to fend off of potential predators during that crucial time. Yet on the other side there are predators which prey on Agathemera. For example I have two photos of birds feeding on Agathemera. So the smell could even attract potential predators
    • to warn other Agathemera, as not to disturb the specimen which is about to moult as this is a very vulnerable situation
    • the tubes which lead to the prothorax glands are also involved in the moulting process (see photo on the right of a male just after his moult to be subadult). Thus to empty their prothorax glands, could support the moulting process to be smooth and successful
  • this "pre-moult" smelly phase is especially obvious for older nymphs (about L3+). It might be there too when small nymphs (L1 - L2) moult, but less perceptible. This could be due to their small size and thus small quantity of defensive spray in their prothorax glands
  • attentive breeders will notice that nymphs, which are about to moult, stop feeding 2 - 3 days before it happens. During that time they hardly move about, often stay in one and the same place day and night. Exept for the night when the moult is actually going to happen. Then they search for a good place for moulting
  • the smell male nymphs produce prior to their moult is considerably less purgent than in females. Again this could be due to their smaller size, thus the quantity of defensive spray in their glands is less
  • rural legends from Chile and Argentina (also stated in scientific articles) claim that the Agathemera's defensive spray can irritate the eyes of a potential predator (like human eyes), and even cause temporary blindness. So far, I have not observed anything which would support this allegation. But might be better to be careful nevertheless
  • males and females can make a squeaky, twittery sound
    • this is unlike any sound produced by a phasmid I have heard so far
    • they produce this sound by rubbing the (underlaying) metanotum against the mesoscutellum lobes
    • so far I have heard subadult and adult males and females producing this sound
  • another extraordinary and as of yet unknown behaviour and ability is that A. luteola "Capilla del Monte" nymphs and adults can elongate their body. This behaviour manifests in different ways:
    • right after a moult A. luteola "Capilla del Monte" nymphs are substantially shorter than about two weeks later, just prior to their next moult. For example, a subadult female nymph just after moulting is about 4.5 cm. About 2 weeks later she already measures about 5.9 cm, which is an elongation of about 1.4 cm or about 33% ! This phenomenon can also be observed in other phasmid groups, although not to this degree
    • but nymphs and adults can manifest this behaviour "at will" too. When one carefully and softly presses on their thorax, then they instantly elongate their body. For an adult female this elongation can be around 0.5 cm, which is about 8% of the non-elongated length. This behaviour has not been reported so far, and this has not been observed in any other phasmid group. This ability could explain why Camousseight found quite a wide range of lenght differences amongst nymphs of A. mesoauriculae. It is rather difficult to accurately measure the length of an Agathemera, as they are often quite restless. So if one measures a restless specimen by fixing it with some light pressure, then it will expand and thus appear to be longer than a calm specimen
  • Possible explanations for this elongation capacity:
    • it offers a substantial potential for "growth" within each nymphal stage
    • this enables them to flatten their body and thus to hide out in narrower gaps in the ground or under bark during the day or during winter time (hibernation)
    • this enables females to bury their eggs a bit deeper into the ground, which could be a slight advantage in areas where freezing temperatures during winter time and / or severe droughts might occur. Obviously eggs which are buried deeper into the ground are better protected
    • as a female can lay up to 10 big eggs in one night only. Thus being able to expand her abdomen creates some "extra space" within here body, where she can store eggs until the next egg-laying cycle
  • males are almost always on the female's back, usually coupled-up. Just from time to time they "uncouple", and that is when the female is about to lays eggs. It looks as if she can not lay eggs, when the male is coupled
  • females lay their eggs in clutches, and stick them into sand / soil
    • short animation of egg laying process on Youtube 
    • first eggs are laid about 5 weeks after the adult moult
    • females stick their abdomen deep into sand or soil, then their body is underground almost up to the hind legs. Like this they can bury the eggs some 3 cm deep into the ground
    • eggs are fully covered with sand / soil afterwards, that sand is somewhat glued to the eggs. Thus the eggs must be covered with some sticky coating when being laid, which then dries up and glues the sand to the eggs. This coating with sand could offer the eggs some protection aginst mechanical damage, or to anchor them in the soil. After all it takes a long time before they will hatch
    • the sand which covers the eggs can be removed very gently
    • around 2 - 10 eggs per clutch
    • over 3 - 5 days, a female deposit several clutches of eggs, the first one usually is the biggest (5 - 10 eggs) while the following clutches are usually smaller (1 - 5 eggs)
    • up to 40 eggs per female and month. This is quite an amazing amount comparing egg and female's sizes. 40 eggs correspond to about 50% of the females weight
    • an egg-laying phase weeks roughly every 2-3 weeks (when fed on Rhus typhina)
  • eggs of this species are quite prone to get mouldy, if kept too moist
  • the total incubation time (including LTD) is 12+ month, and can easily be up to 24 months
  • it is common that some nymphs will hatch weeks or even many months after the first nymphs - from the very same batch of eggs
  • put some fine wooden wool over the eggs (here sold for Easter, only use organic made wooden wool). This makes it easier for the nymphs to hatch without getting stuck in the eggs shell
  • nymphs hatch during the night
  • moulting also happens during the night, during which they hang from all their 6 legs
  • males will be adult after about 3 months (at 20 - 24°C), females after 3.5 months
  • Agathemera luteola "Capilla del Monte" are rather clumsy climbers. Nymphs and adults show some difficulties to climb on plastic, which is no problem for most phasmids. This is especially true for adult, egg-laying and thus massy females
  • Agathemera luteola "Capilla del Monte" nymphs, adults and eggs are hibernating out in nature

Breeding

  • easy to breed, when food plants are available
  • keep the nymphs seperate from the adults
  • no additional humidity humidity for the nymphs and the adults needed. A humidity of around 60% - 70% rH seems to be good enough
  • thus never ever spray nymphs or adults with water !
  • small nymphs can be kept in a Faunabox (or a similar cage), which shall not be too small
  • provide a cage of about 30 x 30 x 30 (cm, L x B x H) for 3 - 4 adult couples
  • provide a layer of about 3 cm sand in the cage with the adults, so that the females can stick the eggs into the sand
  • Agathemera egg incubation is more elaborate than in other phasmid species
    • 1. phase: incubation (2 - 4 months , room temperature, on slightly moist vermiculite)
    • 2. phase: dry LTD until February or March (8° C, on dry sand)
    • 3. phase: incubation (until mid October, room temperature, on slightly moist vermiculite)
    • 4. phase: dry LTD until February or March (8° C, on dry sand)
    • 5. phase: incubation (until mid October, room temperature, on slightly moist vermiculite)
    • if need be, continue with 4. phase
       
    • on how to get slightly moist vermiculite, see my general notes on incubation of phasmid eggs
  • hibernating nymphs and adults
    • pre-hibernation preparation:
      keep them without food plants at lower temperature (around 15°C) for about 2 - 3 days, so that they empty their digestive system. This shall minimize microbiological activity in their digestive system, which is potentially harmful
    • then put them in a container with some dry sand and a few small ventilation holes, put the container in the fridge at around 8°C
    • make sure that the temperatures in the fridge to not fluctuate too much
    • if temperature raises to high too often, then the hibernating Agathemeras will become active. This will cause stress (due to the small hibernation container) and they use up their energy reserves. This can result that they do not survive hibernation
    • thus a fridge which is opened up frequently (e.g. a "household" fridge), might not be suitable for Agathemera hibernation as the temperature in such a fridge could be too high too often

Further important experiments with Agathemera luteola "Capilla del Monte"

  • testing for other food plants, as staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is not that easily available and actually an invasive neophyte here in Europe
  • do parthenogenetic eggs hatch? If not, that would greatly reduce the pest potential of Agathemera in Europe
  • can eggs, nymphs and / or adults survive when fully exposed to a winter here in central Europe? This test will give further answers regarding the pest potential of Agathemera in Europe
  • is it safe enough to distribute Agathemera cultures amongst breeder here in Europe?
    • if eggs, nymphs and adults can not survive a central-european winter (here in Lucerne, Switzerland), then it would be reasonably safe to distribute cultures to some selected trustworthy breeders across Europe with similar cold winters
    • if parthenogenetic eggs do not hatch, then this would minimize or even nullify the pest potential of Agathemera in Europe
    • if the range of well accepted food plants is narrow, with mainly rare and even non-native plants like Rhus and Cotinus, then it would also be reasonably safe to distribute cultures to some selected and trustworthy breeders across Europe
    • but if eggs, nymphs and adults survive a central european winter, parthenogenetic eggs hatch easily and different Agathemera populations / species would turn out to accept a wider range of native and widespread European plants, then it would be unsafe to distribute Agathemera amongs breeders in Europe

Literature

  • 1) Camousseight A., Revision taxonomica del Genero Agathemera en Chile, Rev. Chilena Ent. 1995, 22: 35 - 53
  • 2) Vera, A. & A. Camousseight, 2008. Ciclo vital de Agathemera mesoauriculae,Rev. Chil. Ent. 34: 57-61 (PDF Download available: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263888678_Phasmida )
  • 3) E. Di Blasi , S. Morse , J. R. Mayberry , L. J. Avila , M. Morando and K. Dittmar (2011). New Spiroplasma in parasitic Leptus mites and their Agathemera walking stick hosts from Argentina. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 107, 225228.

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Basics of phasmid breeding

  • keep only one species per cage, overpopulation is one of the main reasons for breeding failures
  • different populations of the "same" species should be kept strictly seperate, cause these could be significantly different after all (cryptic species, sibling species)
  • keep nymphs seperate from the adults, mainly to protect them during the crucial moulting phases
  • choose cages big enough. When in doubt, too big is (usually) better than too small
  • a ventilator often supports good breeding results, as it seems to increase activity and feeding
  • provide enough light, but avoid direct sunlight (overheating)
  • try to keep day time temperatures below 25°C, a nocturnal drop in temperature is natural (down to around 20°C) and advisable
  • minimize disturbances (loud music, commotions, light at or during the night, opening up cages in the morning [often a moulting phase] ect.)

Useful informations

detailed infos on how to breed phasmids
www.phasmatodea.com/web/guest/199

infos on newly cultured phasmid species
https://www.facebook.com/phasmatodea

how to recognize the difference between male / female nymphs
www.phasmatodea.com/web/guest/tips-and-tricks

eggs for breeding
http://www.phasmatodea.com/web/guest/222

 

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