Why Crickets are Dying and You Should Give a Shit

For once, the hot topic in the Canadian reptile feeder industry isn't debate over cockroaches;  a more imminent problem has appeared within the last few months, and is now at a critical point. The aptly named "Cricket Paralysis Virus" tends to effect crickets in the pre-adult, or pre-wing stage, and does exactly what you would think: total paralysis resulting in death. There's no clearly defined vector for the virus, but there is plenty of speculation. Most seems to be centring around waxworms or those little beetle larvae, Dermestes ater, that hitch-hike harmlessly (we've always assumed) along with crickets. The virus spreads like delicious grape jelly (exceptionally well), and has wiped out the majority of cricket producers in the United States and Canada, leaving only a few farms scrambling to meet the pan-national demand.

Delayed NIW Post

Despite England's National Insect Week being over with, I'm going to present you with the final post I had in mind for last week. I claim unforeseen circumstances in not posting earlier, as my weekend was overflowing with shit I had to do, and my laptop was at Karen's until Tuesday night (the absence of which I actually appreciated, and has renewed my efforts at spending [wasting] a little less time online).

Without further lame excuses: cock-a-roaches!


Having an interest in exotic pets alongside a reasonable concern for the environment more often than not leads to conflicting values. Thankfully, in one case I can indulge in my tree-huggeryness while satisfying my craving for invertebrates. Vermiposting (or vermicomposting) is using worms to do the dirty work of composting for you. It's easy, interesting, and educational if you have any young minds which need to be weaned off of the "bugs are icky" mentality.

National Insect Week

Despite my long absence, I haven't given up on this yet. I've been alternating between lazy, depressed, and high the last three weeks, but luckily I've stumbled across a good incentive to get back to it and maybe even finish a few partial posts rotting in the backlog.

This week (21-27) is apparently National Pollinators Week in the US. Well, pollinators don't really do much for me, but luckily England has done one better, and declared this National Insect Week. Obviously I'm nearly too late, but I see it as an excuse to write one or two posts at least.

I have much to say on spiders, particularly regarding my newest acquisition Latrodectus variolus, the Northern Black Widow spider. This is the most venomous species found in Canada (albeit rarely) -its native status meaning it is fully legal for me to keep. I'm on the hunt for a male, now.

Tarantula Rambles

There have been some exciting developments revolving around my T collection recently. Foremost is that my birdeater, Lasiodora parahybana has molted. Unfortunately it's also shown its true colours: it's a boy. While this may seem like rather unimportant information, it actually immensely effects the poor little guy. See, female tarantulas in captivity live, on average, 15-20 years. Males, meanwhile, are fucked over with around a 4-5 year lifespan. The problem is that the modified pedipalps of the males, evolved as baby-making-sex-arms, prevent the males from moulting properly following their adult moult. Both male and female tarantulas attempt to moult after reaching adulthood, and the males just plain suck at it. My little fellow has about a year before he goes and commits suicide.

In less horrific news, the remainder of my collection is doing just dandy. My Pamphobeteus platyomma also just moulted, and while the gender is still unknown, it looks stunning. I'd take a picture, but honestly my camera just sucks (and I don't really have the initiative to take a picture right now).

I suppose I still owe the blog a post on tarantula mating, and while the reveal of my birdeater's gender would have been a perfect lead-in, I'm just not feeling that motivated right now. I've just spent the last 3 hours working on my anaesthesia course to the revelation that it's pretty much a doomed endeavour, and I want nothing more than to continue learning while my brain is in that gear, so I'm off to wander the internet in search of intriguing bug/reptile info. Or maybe those papers on Invertebrate emergency care... hrm...

The Great Butterworm Controversy

Within the reptile hobby in North America there are a few well established feeder insects. I mentioned most in an earlier post, but did not talk about butterworms. The reason I avoided butterworms is that, unfortunately, they are impossible to culture outside of Chile. More on that soon.

Butterworms, like all of the popular "worms" available as feeders, are actually the larval stage of an insect. In the case of butterworms the adult stage is the Chilean Moth, Chilecomadia moorei; they are also called the Trevo- and Tebro- worm (and even a few instances of Tebo- and Trebo), and are like silkworms in that they feed exclusively on a single species of tree, the Trevo/Tebro/Trebo/Tebo, Dasyphyllum diacanthoides.

C. moorei are exclusively found in Chile, and are considered a possibly invasive species. When shipped out of Chile, C. moorei larvae are irradiated to kill parasites, and, it is speculated, to prevent them from pupating. I have seen websites contradicting this, and claiming that the reason C. moorei larvae don't pupate in captivity is that they have a nearly 6 year larval stage, but this has come from only a few small, un-notable sources. For whatever reason C. moorei can't pupate outside of Chile, the fact keeps them a lucrative export for the country, frustrates hobbyists like myself, and prevents C. moorei  from becoming one of the premier feeder insects available.

Untitled, unimportant

Crap am I ever lazy.

I've actually gone so far as to look over the questions in the assignments of my anaesthetic course. They are not trivial. This is actually going to be pretty difficult. And yet I'm still managing to procrastinate the work. Well, I'm away for the rest of the day to see my new niece, but tomorrow after getting home is being set aside for some serious learny stuff.

I've also been somewhat at a loss of what to do re: blogging, hence this abhorrent filler post. Plan on discussing vermiposting in the near future, maybe delve into some of the roach species popular in the pet trade. I'll likely be writing something on the bus, so perhaps I'll have something to post after tomorrow.

And of course I still have planned a few posts on veterinary ethics. One is half written in my drafts here...

Time to catch a bus!

Autotomy: Nature's "FUCK YOU" to Predators

Autotomy is cool shit. There is no denying the fact. If you're a prey animal (as most species on the planet are) and something gets in the mood to snack on you, you're in trouble. If that something gets a hold of you, you're pretty much screwed. Animals which practice autotomy, however, have learned that sometimes giving the finger to your would be diner can be a brilliant ploy.

Stealing Good Ideas

After excitedly relaying the concept of Drunk History to Karen, she came back with perhaps the greatest idea ever: Drunk Biology.

Here's the concept: I drink an excessive amount, Karen is on standby with a video camera. When I've imbibed enough alcohol to shame a pirate we turn on a camera and I do my best to extol the wonders of a particular critter which I find fascinating. Starter ideas include tarantulas, cephalopods, various feeder insects, and guinea pigs (I am not a fan of guinea pigs).

Unfortunately we're lacking famous actors to portray the species of choice. Karen's thought is crummy animation, but I suspect that neither of us possess the ability to make even crummy animation. We may have to settle with props and pics.

I am excited for this. Expect it to start sometime over the next few months.

Dispelling Bug Myths: Daddy Longlegs

Daddy Longlegs are not the most venomous (NOT POISONOUS. Pet peeve of mine. Venom is injected, poison is ingested, unless you're just using layman's terms, but please don't) spider. Most of the time, when people say "Daddy Longlegs", they aren't even talking about spiders.

Two different species of arachnids go by the common name "Daddy Longlegs", as does the crane fly. We'll ignore the crane fly for now, but no, it also has no deadly venom.

The first oft misunderstood arachnid is the Harvestman, belonging to the order Opiliones. These are delicate-looking arachnids that are easily distinguished from spiders, despite their matching number of legs. Harvestmen have a fused prosoma and opisthisoma (cephalothorax and abdomen), which makes them seem like a small oval with hairs for legs. They also have no venom whatsoever (or even proper fangs, instead possessing chelicerae more akin to a scorpions); lack spinnerettes; are capable of eating particulate food (not just liquid as spiders); and have true genitalia rather than relying on sperm packets. These are just the most interesting of their differences, and they truly deserve a post all their own.

The other poor victim of wide slander is the cellar spider. These belong to the order I adore so much, Aranea,  with their family being Pholcidae. They are also rather gangly fellows, although their legs do not share the same hair-resemblance of the Opiliones. Pholcidae opisthosomas are rice-grain shaped, although the entire body length of the spider is only about 3/4 the size of a grain of rice, typically.
These "daddy longlegs" have webs resembling a mess of silk and are usually found in places like your basement or in dark corners of your shed. They make a habit of devouring other spiders who typically share their space such as the dreaded Brown Recluse (itself not nearly so horrible as it is made out to be) as well as members of Latrodectus (a family that includes the black widow).  Pholcids are, therefore, a great asset to have in your home. Oh, and their venom has been found to be no more toxic than most spiders.

Now go forth and inform your friends!

James Randi Speaks Homeopathy Week 2010

Randi sums up homeopathy (once again).

We came up with the same acronym pun! Same idea, anyway.

The Supernatural vs the Theoretical

The blog Starts With A Bang has an interesting post about some of the theorised potential of black holes. It is nifty.

More than just nifty, this presents me with an excellent opportunity to highlight the difference between trusting science and believing in the supernatural -aside from the obvious (ie: medicine works, homeopathy doesn't :P And no, I haven't forgotten about WHA?? Week, but crap it's draining to write about that garbage).

Some critics of scientific thinking put forward that trusting in information such as the above blog presents is akin to believing in god. They assume this makes science-minded folk just big hypocrites who have a vendetta against religion (I'm sticking with religion as a comparison, as it's more often where this argument comes from. Feel free to substitute ghost-chasers or psychics).

The difference is glaring once you're aware of it: when theories like the one mentioned in Starts With A Bang are presented, they are taken with a grain of salt (to use a phrase that is completely incomprehensible to me). They are nifty thought-experiments that mathematicians put together using formulae that test out, even while the actual physical testing remains an impossibility. They remain an intellectual curiosity until the day that they are refuted by further mathematical proofs or verified by actual testing. On that day reasoned, informed people change their minds.

Religion, meanwhile, maintains a strict dogma, budging as little as it can afford to while still remaining an influential power in society. For fucks sake, there are people who still believe the earth is less than 6000 years old! There are demonologists working for the vatican! Exorcists! Faith-Healers! These people refuse to let scientific evidence influence their beliefs, instead holding to outmoded codes of self- and other-repression.

What it boils down to is that science admits its mistakes, even if not all scientists do. Religion and the supernatural turn a blind eye to any evidence that does not support their view.

WHA?? Week continued

Sunday and Monday have come and gone without the WHA??? Week posts I promised. Well, that's moving for you. I will not be attempting to make up for the missed posts, as writing about this garbage is stressful enough without doing multiple posts on it per day.

Today I'm going to be addressing what I think is arguably the largest problem with homeopathy: the indifference of the majority. While speaking with my father, who is a pretty good sceptic for someone who doesn't work at it (this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. People who work at it, like myself, are likely putting too much thought into it, obsessing if you will), a major misconception was aired.

It goes something like this: if some people find homeopathy works for them, then what's the harm, and why should we get upset over it?

Anyone who's talked to me on this subject knows what I'm about to say, but I don't think they've heard it without the cursing and fuming that usually surrounds me at this point.

The problem is that homeopathy is not a harmless practice. One of homeopathy's tenets is that modern medicine is going about healing all wrong; in the majority of the large homeopathic websites this is presented subtly, but conversations with homeopathic supporters often reveal a more vitriolic opinion.

This opinion leads easily deluded individuals to scorning medicine in favour of witch-doctory -a practice that could get them killed. Even worse, parents deceived by even well-meaning homeopaths attempt to medicate their children with nothing more than water. Within the last few years a good example of this has been anti-malarial homeopathic remedies: pills supposedly effective at completely eliminating any chance of contracting malaria. Anyone with a basic knowledge of what homeopathy is should be appalled by this. Homeopaths are selling water pills to people who will be travelling to malaria-prone areas of the world. They are risking these peoples' lives.
For more wonderful examples of the immediate, physical harm homeopathy can have, check out one of my favourite websites:

In addition to the direct harm to the consumers of homeopathic "remedies", there is a more subtle effect on the nature of medicine itself. Homeopathic practitioners' views on medicine undermine the work that real doctors have been doing for the last hundred years -namely convincing people that this whole "medicine" thing is a good idea. Homeopaths (and other CHNWoo adherents) instil a fear and distrust into the common person by claiming that doctors are only out for their money, or that medicine is ineffective by treating only the "symptoms and not the cause" (a misconception that I think deserves its own post).

That is the harm. When they are not outright killing their patients, homeopaths are bilking them out of their money for useless vials of water and sugar pills.

[get it? WHA??? Week... I thought it was clever]

WHAW: Introduction to Homeopathy

As claimed, I attempted to write a breakdown of just what homeopathy is, but do you know what? I can't stomach it. Check out wikipedia for a nice, reasoned detailing. You can also look up pretty much any homeopathic institute, college, or centre to find the same information in a more masturbatory tone.

Here's the breakdown of what homeopaths believe:
  • Law of Similars: Treat ailments with substances which cause said ailment (coffee for insomnia, poison ivy for itching, etc).
Wondering why on earth anyone would think drinking coffee would make them sleepy? Well, it's because... 
  • Dilution unlocks the power: Homeopaths believe that a substance must be diluted several times at a 1:100 dilution. To illustrate: a homeopath takes 1mL (millilitre) of coffee and mixes it with 100mL of water, making a 1:100 solution coffee:water. Then they do that again, so for every 10 000mL of water, there is one lonely mL of coffee. They do this to excess, usually to the point where not a single molecule of the original substance remains, wikipedia claims this is 24 times at a 1:100 dilution. Oh, and you have to shake, or "potentise" it properly, using specific motions and actions.
How could people buy this? Well:
  • Water has a memory: Their theory is that, since there's obviously no real reason for this to work in science, water must have a memory. Of course, to unlock the memory one must prepare the solution with serial dilutions and proper shaking techniques.
On top of this, homeopaths dump a truckload of "we look at the whole body, not just the symptom", implying that real medicine focuses only on symptoms. Homeopathy is a repulsive practice that not only does no benefit, but does immense harm in its condescension of necessary medical practices such as vaccines, antibiotics, and other treatments which are actually based in reality. As to the true harm this deplorable practice is capable of... well, I'll save that so I have something to write about another day this week.

World Homeopathy Awareness Week

Sometimes I think the homeopaths are out to get me. They've scheduled their awareness week to start the first weekend of my move, and continue through to the 16th. This is terribly inconvenient.

Well, in honour of their absurd remedy, I'm going to be taking part in their awareness week as best I can with a daily short post on the science behind homeopathy. Like I said, short posts. I'll start tomorrow with a rundown of how it is claimed to work, and address on Sunday why it doesn't. Following that I have no idea, but I imagine the rest of the week I'll focus on particular points the homeopaths push, and maybe highlight a few studies as well.

Perhaps this will finally have me getting off my ass and presenting a properly cited report to my boss as to why we should eliminate that crap from the clinic entirely, instead of just ignoring it.


With moving being my top priority this week, and general existence getting in the way of any posts since March, the ol' attempt at blogging is pretty much falling into last place. I'm still not giving up entirely on this, though.

Next week is going to present problems of its own which will likely continue into the end of May. I'll be starting anaesthesia courses for work, and given that the only available online course before September is May 01, and it's an advance course, I have a bit of cramming to do before then.The material isn't overly difficult, plus it's interesting and (key point) short. A short course means that, in theory, it will end before I lose interest.

So a moving date is set for Saturday. I have a fair amount of packing to do before then -around my work schedule- which you'll note I am not currently doing. Sunday I will be reassembling my life in a new apartment, and likely cleaning cat vomit as Wicker freaks the hell out. Monday I will be back at work and free time from that point will likely revolve around learning how to properly administer anaesthesia to small animals without having them croak.

Note of interest: Dogs, along with most small mammals, have open "C" ring tracheae, like us. This is why people can be choked so easily. Because of these open rings of cartilage it is generally best to use an endo-tracheal tube that has an inflatable cuff. The cuff both holds the tube in place as well as prevents the escape of gas that should be going into the patient's lungs. Cats, birds and ferrets, meanwhile, have closed ring tracheae. Their tracheae are much stronger and this allows us to safely hold them around the neck without risk of choking them. Unfortunately, it also means that using inflatable E-T tubes risks damaging the sensitive tissue of the trachea, meaning we cannot use the inflatable tubes, and must rely on near-perfect sizing of the tube, and a general less-effective anaesthesia. Except that we still use the inflatable cuff in cats. No, I don't know why.

Western Medicine

Not long ago on Reptiles Canada, one of the members posted a piece about the wonders of fruit and the dangers (yes, dangers) of eating it AFTER MEALS (cue scary-voice)! It seems that the wundercure that is fruit turns nefarious if eaten on a full stomach. Also: drinking cold water after a meal causes cancer. Needless to say, I was not impressed. I replied that the piece lacked any sort of evidence and was simply making dramatic claims, and that I was sceptical. The piece also brought out some of the less informed among the board, who began extolling the wonders of organic and chemical free diets, as well as the evils of the food and drug industries. Of course, their primary complaint was "Western Medicine". My reply was perhaps more antagonistic than necessary, but thankfully several other members of the forum were able to state the case in more reasoned manners. The thread quietly died, and I won an argument on the interwebs. Obviously a huge life accomplishment.

Unfortunately the believers in food-magic couldn't leave it there, and a few days ago the discussion was kicked up again. Back into the ring they threw their despicable terminology, and we once more are rallied to the defence of science. 

All of the above is, of course, my long winded way of stating that I'm going to talk about the term Western Medicine, and why I hate it so much.

These proponents of Chinese/Herbal/Natural/Woo (CHNWoo) medicine would have us believe that this is a simple issue. There are those who trust the evil Western Medicine, which is a money-hungry industry, and those who put faith in the planet, chakras, xi, and magic plants. This, of course, is just another aspect of fanaticism being filtered through a persecution complex. They want to believe in the simplistic quick-fix of food-magic so badly that they invent an entire industry of greedy doctors who want nothing so much as to make money and indirectly kill babies.

Western Medicine is either a misunderstood concept or downright made up, depending on how extreme the opposition is feeling. It is supposed to be based around treating only the symptoms of illness, being corrupted by greedy corporations who are jealous of CHNWoo's true ability to heal. All of which is bollocks. Evidence based medicine is what CHNWoo supporters label as WM, and it has nothing in common with the latter. Evidence based medicine is a scientific process based around testing theories and applying them to practical applications in managing and curing human ailments. At times it treats symptoms, but the true focus is the eradication of illness through understanding its processes. Nor does evidence based medicine discriminate against natural remedies. If a substance in nature can be co-opted for healing the body, and can be shown to do so with empirical evidence, it becomes medicine. The reason that CHNWoo is not accepted by evidence based medicine is that... it's not medicine. Studies done on the majority of herbal remedies, acupuncture, chiropractic therapies, and -gag- homeopathy, consistently show that there is little to no effect. In the case of the more extreme CHNWoo such as homeopathy and water therapy (sorry... hydrotherapy) not only is there no measurable effect, but there is no scientific basis for the "remedies" themselves. If these absurdities were to actually be viable scientific therapies they would pass into the realm of real, evidence based medicine, and cease to be woo.

Hopefully this is more an informative piece than an outright rant. My ability to explain is far behind my ability to understand at this point, but hey, that's why I'm wasting my time here :P

On the Keeping of Tarantulas

When I mention that I have tarantulas, there are rare occasions where the first reaction is not an expression of befuddlement. These unlikely times I instead will be met with "Wow! I've always wanted a tarantula!"

Hearing such a phrase tickles me greatly, primarily because it means that I have just found someone who will listen to me rant about the astounding nature of theraphosid spiders. On a less egotisitical level I am pleased to know that yet another person may be sucked into the hobby.

Luckily for those so intrigued, keeping tarantulas is a simple matter, requiring only a small container and a suitable food source. All that remains is minimal effort and the joys of observance. The hardest part of the process comes down to deciding which species most piques your interest.

James Randi's Announcement

James Randi, magician-turned-prominent sceptic/atheist, and a hero of mine, has "come out" at the age of 81. This was greeted by a chorus of support, occasional condemnation, and a significant number of people saying it was unimportant and inconsequential.

While I want to side with those who yawn and say "so what?" I know that Randi's announcement is important and should be recognised. Of course it shouldn't matter that he's gay, but unfortunately, to the majority of people in North America, it does. Saying it's unimportant is only sweeping the issue out of sight in the hopes that the opponents of sexual freedom (sounds nefarious :P) will lose power.

For those to whom sexual orientation truly does not matter -and by the way, if your motto is "so long as they don't hit on me" then it does still matter to you- it is sometimes easy to forget how society at large still sees homosexuals (and other LGBT's). Even if we ignore the non-Western treatment of LGBT, which often still include death penalties, there is still a majority which is biased against those who aren't straight.

Despite how this may read I am not trying to cause guilt. This is just a reminder that we are not "over" the gay issue any more than we are over race or gender.

An Introduction to Tarantulas

Having talked about bugs and reptiles, I have only grazed the surface of kept animals that give common people the willies.

Few creatures on earth inspire undeserved fear than do spiders, and among spiders tarantulas stand as exemplars of terror. This is, of course, due to a lack of education among the masses, with a hearty supplement from media exploitation. Films are especially guilty of spreading misinformation and fear about spiders, and while fantasy is wonderful, when people don't know fact from fiction innocent creatures suffer. Such was the fate of sharks after Jaws, and spiders after Arachnophobia. Both are movies I enjoy watching, but abhor for the damage they've done to their associated animals.

In an effort to undo some of the harm that lack of education has done to tarantulas, I'm going to offer a primer on the large spiders.

First, what makes a tarantula?

Those who know me know that -to put it lightly- I get annoyed by pseudoscience. At least pseudoscience portrayed as real science. Fictional pseudoscience includes mad science, and that's just cool.

Many are the times my father and I have earned harsh remarks from my mother when bashing the church, and I have been embroiled in numerous debates-turned-arguments over spirituality and the harm even base mystical beliefs can have with a certain someone. I do think that over the last year or so my knowledge on these topics has grown along with my tolerance for those who espouse what I feel are ridiculous beliefs, but I do still need to consciously check myself often when someone mentions religion.

And then there's homeopathy. When mentioned at work I rarely have the will to resist a derisive snort, and often I'll chime in with an ironic comment about its efficacy and worth. Thankfully the majority of my fellow employees recognise now the true inanity of this quack treatment, but unfortunately I have not yet rallied myself to approaching the higher-ups. My comments are usually greeted with a knowing chuckle "oh, there's Kenneth being irate again".

Issues with religion aside, pseudoscience tips me off for one real reason: false hope that does harm.

Veterinary Insight: Cats and Dogs: Diet

Alt: What your friends won't tell you about owning a cat or dog.

This is just a thought I've had, a little bit of extra education for the pet owners among you. One of the things that I first noticed working at a veterinarians is just how little the average person knew about their pets, myself included. In an attempt to remedy some of that, while consolidating my own knowledge, I'm going to write a series of posts regarding the care of our fuzzy companions. Sure, reptiles are fun, but every so often I need to admit that not everyone is interested in them.

To kick off this set I'm going to present you with a bit of knowledge relating to those most constant companions: cats and dogs.


I've been thinking about the blog, really I have, but each time I've sat to write I've been too impatient to let an idea carry itself to fruition. I do have a post on veterinary ethics started, but it likely will not see the light of day for quite a while yet.

In a desperate attempt at keeping the blog going I'm going to delve into some of the projects I have in mind for the coming year, critter-wise. These range from simple to complex, and free to expensive. Some are dependent on time, others on cash-flow. In any case, I happen to think they're all quite neat and do bear some mention ahead of time, if for no other reason than to ensure that they keep my interest.


Keeping insects is likely the only thing in my life I get more confused looks for than keeping reptiles.
Insects, some may say, are uninteresting, icky, and scary. Bugs creep and crawl their way into our homes, fouling our food and nipping at us in our sleep. They are pests, menaces, downright no-goodnicks!

Unfortunately, such is the stigma bestowed upon most "lesser creatures". Insects are tiny and unknowable to most, thus they are pests. As with reptiles, insects suffer for our own lack of education. I'm not going to attempt to give an overview of insects in general, as I'm admittedly pretty uneducated myself on the vastness of entomology. No, what I will be presenting here is some of what I've learned firsthand from my own critters.

I started keeping insects for purely practical reasons. Lizards need to eat, and unfortunately (for most) they often need to eat insects. So I began keeping Crickets.

Starting Again with Attempt the Billionth.

This blog, like all that have come before it by my hand, has crashed and burned. I make no excuses, as this is simply the way I operate in all things in life. You'll not hear any promises of continuance this time around, no, I pledge only to keep writing here so long as it amuses me.
That said, if this is still going two months from now, you can rest fairly assured it will continue ad infinitum.