Care Guide Series 1:
Care Guide 1.3:
Written by Mark Nelson
Disclaimer: If you choose to collect your own substrate, you do so at your own risk. The Insect Farm accepts no responsibility whatsoever for any injuries caused. It is your responsibility to ensure you are wearing all the appropriate protective equipment. Just as it is your responsibility to obtain permission from the appropriate person. If collecting on private land you should get permission from the landowner. If collecting on public land you should get permission from the local council.
Picture 1: Insect farm and family collecting substrate!
A good place to start when preparing substrate for any species of flower beetle, is with a mix of 6 parts decayed oak/beech leaves: 2 parts decayed oak/beech wood (mulched into flakes): 2 parts soil/forest floor humus (organic material formed by decaying leaves, wood and other organic matter created by microorganisms that live under the ground). This can then be altered or added to in order to tailor it to the species you are keeping.
The older and more decayed the leaves are, the better, as they will produce healthier and larger adults. In some cases, it is possible to rear some of the more forgiving species on leaves that have fallen more recently. Therefore, if you are struggling to find decayed leaves, it is possible to settle for fresher leaves in some cases. Decayed leaves from oak or beech trees are best for rearing flower beetles.
Note: When collecting leaves, it is important to make sure there are no conifer trees nearby, as the needles from conifer trees can be toxic to beetle larvae.
I collect most of my leaves in February/March. This is to give the leaves that fell in the previous autumn 5-6 months of natural decay. Ideally, I try to find a local woodland that is made up of mostly oak, where the ground is relatively undisturbed. This way there might be several years' worth of decaying leaves, which will be teaming with all the right sort of bacteria. If you leave it later than March, you will also have lots of unwanted plants to contend with, such as; nettles thistles and brambles.
Just a little tip. Always wear gloves. Aside from the fact that there can be plants like rose, bramble and hawthorn, all of which will give you nasty splinters. Most good leaf litter can be found in woodland areas where other animals live and certain people walk their dogs and don't pick up after them! The last thing you want is a handful of dog muck! Especially when you are miles from somewhere to properly wash your hands! (Definitely not speaking from personal experience!) Thank me later - Wear Gloves!
Decaying logs are another important component when making substrate. The hardest thing for beginners is knowing if the log is decayed enough. The easiest way to tell is to take the log or branch in your hands and snap/twist it. If it breaks up easily by hand, and is still white in colour, then it is ideal. If it is too hard to break by hand then it is not yet ready. If it is so soft that it has a slushy texture and is brown in colour then it is too rotten. Some breeders can tell if the wood is right just by smelling it but this takes several years of experience.
Collecting rotten logs can become very time consuming. Especially, if like us, you have lots of beetle larvae to feed. Last year at The Insect Farm, we began experimenting with alternative options. One that we found worked well, was using oak sawdust blocks that previously had shiitake mushrooms growing on them for the food trade. These blocks have been softened and broken down by the mushrooms, and are therefore perfect for mixing into the substrate. This topic has sparked some debate amongst hobbyists, with some claiming that this is not a suitable alternative. However, we found that it works really well, and still managed to achieve the same adult sizes we were achieving when using logs found in nature. Purchasing the shiitake logs was a more costly option but it was also far less time consuming than spending hours searching for the quantity of logs needed to satisfy all our larvae.
Picture 2: Shiitake oak block
When it comes to soil, I don't have much of a preference. The most ideal and cheapest option is to use forest humus (organic material formed by decaying leaves, wood and other organic matter created by microorganisms that live under the ground). This can be found on the woodland floor by scraping back the top few layers of leaves, underneath you will find the forest humus. Alternatively, you can buy soil, just be sure to check that it doesn't contain pesticides. I often change from one type to another depending on what is available and what is cheapest!
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions please feel free to send us a message via our contact us page!