Coating Method

1) Introduction
2) What is needed for the Coating Method
3) How this method works
4) Limitations of this method
5) To be noted



Many phasmd species (luckily) accept quite a wide range of food plants, which often makes it rather easy to find alternative food plant for them. Yet on the other hand, there are species which are specialized feeders, which accept only a very limited range of food plants. And this often makes it difficult if not impossible for most of us to breed these species. And to make things worse, these specialized feeders often are very interesting phasmids ....

So to offer breeders a method to overcome this situation, I have invented the Coating Method. This method makes it easier or even possible to breed such species in captivity. The underlying hypothesis behind this method is, that specialized feederes are mainly guided by their taste to eat from the "right" food plant. And this inhibits them to feed on other plants which do not have the proper taste. Yet other food plants could very well be good-enough food plants, if these specialized species would accept these plants

The Coating Method in a nutshell .... A surrogate food plant is coated with paste made from fine powder of a well accepted food plant. This coating left to dry-up thoroughly before introduced to the cage with the nymphs. And this shall allure nymphs of specialized feeders to feed on plants which naturally they would not accept

A similar method is actually applied in human nutrition on a very regular basis, called food flavouring


What is needed for the Coating Method

1) leaf powder

  • fresh leaves of a well-accepted food plant
  • carefully desiccate these leaves (at temperatures below 50°C)
  • grind the dried leaves into a very fine powder (e.g. with a household spice mill / grinder). The finer the powder is, the better
  • use a very fine sieve to get the dust-fine powder seperated from the fibrous parts
  • leaf powder can be stored in the freezer for years on end. So make a good amount, then you will have enough for a long time

2) how to prepare the coating paste

  • dilute apple juice with water in a ratio of 1:3 (volume:volume). Many phasmid nymphs are very fond of apple juice ...
  • well mix some leaf powder with the diluted apple juice in a small container
  • this mixture might still be to thin and thus will easily drain-off when applied to the leaves of a surrogate food plant. So one can add a little bit of Xanthan (a common and natural thickener). This will make the paste thicker and make the paste stick to the leaves of the surrogate food plant
  • one can even mix different leaf powders into the same paste if need be (e.g. oak and Eucalyptus leaf powder, for species like Eurycnema which feed well on oak and Eucalyptus)
  • leftover, ready-to-use coating paste can be kept in the freezer, to be used for another coating later on

3) surrogate food plants

  • I prefer surrogate food plants which are hardy and stay fresh for as long as possible
  • a good choice is Salal (Gaultheria shallon), as it usually keeps fresh enough for 2 - 3 weeks
  • but sometimes another plant like bramble (Rubus spp.) is better accepted


How this method works

Phase 1

  • cut away the leaf margins of the surrogate food plant onto which you intend to apply the coating
  • with a brush, apply a layer of the coating paste on both sides of the leaves of the surrogate food plant
  • allow the coating to dry up thoroughly
  • put the coated food plant in the cage with the nymphs
  • on the right is a pic of Salal with a Laurel coating, and a Marmessoidea quadriguttata "Kubah" nymph feeding
  • do not use wet kitchen paper (or anything similar) on the floor of a cage with coated plants, otherwise the coating will get mouldy too quickly
  • still one should offer the nymphs an opportunity to get some water. For example one can put some Sphagnum moss in a stocking, tie this up to a small ball, soak it in water and fix it somewhere near the roof of the cage. Just make sure that no water will drop out
  • usually after 1 week or so, the coating will get mouldy anyway. Then one has put a fresh coating in the cage, and discard the plant with the old one


Phase 2

  • after about two weeks being fed with coated leaves, then one can wash off the coating
  • but the same plant again back into the cage, as there is still some "tasty" residue on these leaves. And this makes it easier for the nymphs to go on feed even without the coating
  • once one has to replace the "old" surrogate food plant with a fresh twig, then just put the fresh one into the cage without a coating. But cut away the edges of the leaves
  • by this time, then nymphs have hopefully adapted to the taste of the surrogate food plant so that they will continue feeding without problems


Limitations of this method

  • there are specialised feeders with which this method does not work, maybe because the surrogate food plant does not have the proper ingredients to keep the nymphs healthy
  • an example for this is Oreophoetes topoense - a natural fern feeder. Nymph of this species are feeding very well on bramble with a fern-coating. But such nymphs will not be as big as nymphs which feed on fern, and they die before they reach maturity


To be noted

  • do never spray coated leaves with water
  • some coatings do not get mouldy as quickly as others. Examples are coating prepared from Eucalyptus, oak (Quercus spp.), cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), bay laurel (Laurus nobilis). These plants have inherent fungistatic qualities


Everyone is invited to test this method, and I would be happy to get your feedback on the Coating Method - with photos

    Bruno Kneubuehler

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