World of the Insect’s 40th Anniversary

Posted August 8, 2018

Blue Death-Feigning Beetle Emerges in Time to Celebrate World of the Insect’s 40th Anniversary at the Cincinnati Zoo!

CINCINNATI (August 8, 2018) – The blue death feigning beetle that emerged yesterday at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden may be able to flip over and play dead, but the insect team that raised it can’t mask their excitement!  This is the first of this species that the Zoo insect team has been able to raise from egg to adult, and it’s significant that this major achievement happened on the 40th anniversary of World of the Insect, the first habitat devoted to insects in any U.S. Zoo!

“We’ve been trying to achieve this goal for several years,” said insect keeper April Pitman. “There is no known information about what this beetle’s larvae eats or how to keep them alive, so no one has been able to raise them consistently.”

Since May of 2014, the team had been able to get the beetles to breed and the eggs to hatch into larvae but hadn’t been able to get them to complete their metamorphosis until yesterday. The next challenge will be to replicate the conditions that led to this success.

“The process will take at least 7 months,” said Pitman. “The substrate, temperature, humidity, seasonality, diet and other environmental variables will be the same as they were for the months leading up to our recent success, so we hope to see another adult!  That would be an amazing breakthrough and could eliminate the need to take any rare beetles out of their native habitat.”

This isn’t the first breakthrough to come out of the World of the Insect.  Since it opened in 1978, it has received 13 Bean awards and significant achievement awards from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for its work with goliath beetles, American burying beetles, sunburst diving beetles, giant Asian walking sticks, bullet ants, giant jumping sticks, Hercules beetles, Peruvian fire sticks, harlequin beetles, giant water bugs, leaf-cutter ants, honey ants, and spiny lobster katydids.

From day one, the World of the Insect has been dedicated to exhibiting native and exotic species of arthropods for education and conservation. It has served as a model of design and husbandry practices for other live insect habitats all over the United States.

“In addition to inspiring visitors to care about the creatures here at the Zoo, we are actively involved in the propagation of species facing issues in the wild including emperor scorpions that have been over collected for the pet trade, and the federally endangered American burying beetle for which we have a breed and release program,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s Curator of Invertebrates, Aquatic Animals & Birds, Winton Ray. “Recent success stories include the breeding of Blatchley’s walking sticks, giant African millipedes, and now the blue death feigning beetles.”

More about the blue death feigning beetle:

The blue death feigning beetle is about 2/3 of an inch long and is black until it develops a blue waxy coating. It is a desert species native to the American southwest and a member of the darkling beetle family. It has a hard, armor-like exoskeleton and will play dead when disturbed by flipping upside down and sticking its legs out. This beetle is capable of living up to 17 years and is regularly recorded living for 8 years. That is significantly longer than most insects and longer than any other species of darkling beetle.

The newly-emerged adult is behind the scenes, but visitors can see others of the species during regular Zoo hours and can learn more about them during daily insect chats.