Firebrats (Thermobia domestica)

Mark

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Has anyone had experience of culturing these? I know they need to be kept dry, very warm and fed fish flake but I was wondering how productive cultures are? I’m very tempted to give them a go as I’ve heard of a few people successfully raising terrestrial morphs on them. Any information gratefully received.
 

Daniel

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I can help you with that:

The firebrats need about half a year until they are adult, so you will need some time for a sustainable culture. From this time they lay between 5 and 40 eggs but I do not know how often. The youngsters hatch in about 14 days.
Their box should be filled with egg carton, kitchen paper etc. (they may feed on celluloses when there is nothing else available). Place some cotton wool in this carton and the females will lay there eggs in there. For appropriate humidity place a glass filled with water and covered with some cloth in the box.

And that's it, you do not have to care too much for them aside from feeding now and then. Best results are with temperatures of about 35-37 °C.
 

Mark

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Thanks Daniel. This Wikipedia article suggests both the age of maturity and complete life cycle is less than 6 months although I’m unsure of it’s accuracy. A fast turn over is preferable for live food cultures.

Those temperatures may be difficult to maintain. A heat mat in a small insulated enclosure may do the trick. I'm assuming they don't die at room temperature i.e.when feeding out.
 

Daniel

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They do not die at room temperature, but they do not breed, either (so there is no need to fear a pest if some manage to get loose).
If set free in the house, they will eventually die because of dehydration if there is not enough humidity.

I keep mine in a small plastic container in a styropor-box (the things you use to transport temperature-critical things). Inside this box I have a heating - cable attached to the walls to keep the temperature high. A heating mat might work, too, but some of them can get quite hot.

A fast turnover might indeed be better but if you have the space for several cultures, they are almost self-sustaining after some time.
I personally prefer tropical white woodlice, they have a nearly similar size and a faster turnover.
 

Mark

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Thanks! A styro-foam container is a good tip. I've ordered a starter culture so I'll let you know how I get on.

I have tropical woodlice cultures too but I'm looking for alternatives. Whilst the woodlice are easy to culture I also find lots of uneaten ones in the tanks; in some cases reproducing as a mini culture. Either they're very good at avoiding being eaten or they are not as popular (in comparison to wax moth larvae, for example, which are devoured on sight) as other foods. Variety is the spice, blah blah...
 

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Five months later...
I wanted to share my experience with another firebrats culture with you. Meanwhile they have become one of my favorite feeding-insects culture: very easy to maintain, not much to care about and after a rather long initial time (first reproduction cycle from egg to egg-laying adult about 5 to 6 months!) they are rather productive.

My setup:
Since I do not have a warm room with more than the necessary 30 °C, I used a styrofoam container as mentioned earlier:



Inside of this container I attached a 20 Watt heating cable, normally used for aquaria or terraria. To make sure that the firebrats do not get roasted, i fixed the cable on the sidewalls of the box and not on the bottom.

For temperature control I used a small thermostat. In the picture you can see the control unit outside the box and the sensor inside of it:



For a container itself I used small plastic containers with a volume of 10 liters (3 of them fit into the styrofoam box this size). Inside of this container I placed several egg-packings (might be the wrong word for it) and inside these things I placed cotton wool pads. The firebrats use these as a substrate for their own eggs, after several months they turn orange-grey, the orange part is supposed to be the eggs.
Firebrats must not have direct contact to water, but they need a small amount of humidity and so I used a small glass, filled it with water, covered it with part of a pantyhose and placed it inside the container:



Finally I added the firebrats and some food. I use fishflakes and oat flakes as a food source but they will also nibble the paper / cardboard of the egg-packings, so they can be left on their own for several weeks if necessary.

First I covered the container with only another piece of pantyhose but I found out that the humidity obviously was too low and several firebrats died (thanks for the hint to Ralf!).



So meanwhile I additionally use a plastic plate on top of that and the culture is going very well and I have a steady supply of firebrats.

 

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Nice report, Daniel. I like your incubator setup. Now I'm thinking about making one of these for my fruit flies this winter.
 

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Update on the firebrats: I started a second incubator with some plastic tubs with lids. The lids fit so tight that there still was an exchange of air. Problem was, that the humidity from the water glasses could not escape, condensed on the lid and especially on the sides of the container and collected on the bottom. Several firebrats have drowned and their food started to mould within a few days. I cleaned up the tubs and drilled some holes into the lid and so far everything seems to be fine now.

Conclusion: The tubs have to be covered enough to keep up some humidity but there still has to be enough aeration that there is no condensation of water.
 
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