The Latest Buzz

Updates from the Terrestrial Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group
By Erin Sullivan

The Terrestrial Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group (TITAG) has been a very busy TAG the last few years. We have started a new sustainability program, are hosting a professional development conference and continue to work on our Species Survival Plans® (SSP).

Sustainability is something that we all have to take into consideration in our collections. Through analysis of the TITAG Regional Collection Plan and the space survey, we realized that the invertebrate collections in most zoos relied on many of the same species. Some of these species are not currently being bred in captivity while other species were being maintained at only one or two zoos, making them vulnerable to extinction in our collections if their populations were to crash. With this in mind, the TITAG identified several species for which a concentrated effort in captive breeding seemed appropriate. Successful breeding and maintenance of these selected species could help relieve pressure on importation and harvesting from the wild, while allowing us to develop detailed husbandry protocols for these species.

After some debate, the TITAG designed the Safety Web for Arthropod Reproduction and Management (SWARM) project. The primary goal of the project is to promote the maintenance of sustainable populations for invertebrate programs and exhibition in Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)-accredited institutions while reducing the risk of key populations disappearing from North American collections without warning.

At this stage in the project, we would like to work toward maintaining selected populations in the collections of at least five AZA institutions, with one person serving as the point person for each species. These institutions would house the animals with the intent to breed and maintain long-term populations. Selected species were chosen based on their popularity in collections and the need to develop husbandry expertise and knowledge.

The first five focal species chosen for the SWARM project and their designated point persons include:
• Peruvian Fire Stick (Oreophoetes peruana), Erin Sullivan, Woodland Park Zoo
• Nephila sp., Alan Peters, Smithsonian National Zoological Park
• Emperor Scorpion (Pandinus imperator), Winton E. Ray, Cincinnati Zoo
• Giant African Millipede (Archispirostreptus gigas), Paige Howorth, San Diego Zoo Global
• Atlas Beetle (Chalcosoma atlas), Kay Klatt, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo

To make SWARM a success, participating AZA zoos will be asked to provide quarterly reports on the status of each focal species in their collection to the designated point person. In addition, institutions will be asked to participate in the development of TITAG husbandry guidelines for each species.

SWARM is a new concept for the TITAG, and we are still working out, or in, the bugs, but we are hopeful this program will increase the general knowledge base and diversity of animals in collections while promoting the sustainability of key invertebrate populations.

Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference
For years, the TITAG has wanted to host a professional development course, and although we had the interest, the pieces had never come together until now. Since 1993, the Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference (IECC), formerly known as the Invertebrates in Captivity Conference, has attracted entomologists from around the world to share knowledge, present current research and network. This conference has created a vital professional community for those who work with living insects in educational settings and for those with a passion for invertebrate conservation. Without a doubt, the programs, exhibits, and initiatives stemming from this unique gathering have helped thousands of enthusiasts learn about the importance of invertebrates in our daily lives.

For the last 25 years, the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute (SASI) developed and organized the IECC. With the closure of this wonderful organization, the TITAG realized that the future of the conference was in jeopardy. The community response to find a way forward, however, was so overwhelming that the TITAG decided to continue the tradition that SASI began and host the conference in July 2014.

Working on the foundation that SASI created for this conference, we will continue to focus on fostering communication about invertebrate husbandry, display, conservation and education. We would like to keep the conversations and idea-sharing alive regarding the amazing contributions of invertebrates, and build on them to help inspire and create awareness.

This year’s conference will be July 22-26 at the Esplendor resort in Rio Rico, Arizona (about 40 minutes south of Tucson). The conference will include papers on everything ranging from giant African millipede husbandry to butterfly training. In addition to the paper sessions, there will be workshops on building invertebrate exhibits and field trips out to the desert to observe animals in their natural surroundings. The TAG will also conduct its annual meeting at the conference on July 21st.

If you would like additional information about TITAG, please visit our website at

Program Updates
The Partula snail SSP, the longest running SSP for the TITAG, is working toward releasing snails back into their native range. Thanks to the international collaborative efforts of zoos, plans are underway to reintroduce Partula nodosa back to Tahiti in the near future. The wildlife preserve, an approximately 20-meter square protected site, might just rank as the smallest wildlife preserve in the world.

The American burying beetle SSP now has four holding institutions: Roger Williams Park Zoo, The Wilds, Saint Louis Zoo and Cincinnati Zoo. Saint Louis Zoo is breeding for a reintroduction effort in Missouri, and The Wilds and Cincinnati are breeding for reintroduction efforts in Ohio. Roger Williams Park Zoo maintains a small colony of American burying beetles as a genetic reservoir for the only known extant population in the eastern portion of the beetle’s range and continues to monitor the success of the 20-year reintroduction initiative on Nantucket Island. The USFWS is ready to issue an updated recovery plan that may include adding more holding and breeding institutions in the future.

This SSP is unique in that it does not make breeding and transfer recommendations, but instead supports the efforts of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) by supplying genetically diverse captive-bred beetles for reintroduction initiatives. Only institutions within the range of the beetle with an ongoing reintroduction initiative in that region are approved to hold and breed this species at this time.

The Mexican red-kneed tarantula SSP is currently composed of 121 individual spiders at 64 facilities. Most institutions have one or two tarantulas used either in education programs or for display. Only four institutions currently have males close to breeding size as well as females ready for pairing. Until the SSP was established in 2007, the majority of Mexican red-kneed tarantulas coming into zoos were bred in the private sector. With the establishment of the SSP, more zoos became willing to include their tarantulas in the program, thus helping to ensure that this charismatic species will be in AZA collections for years to come.

Through SSPs, the new SWARM program, and taking over the organization and hosting of the Invertebrates in Education and Conservation conference, the TITAG is dedicated to not only conserving invertebrates in our institutions but also expanding the knowledge and public access to this varied and valuable but underutilized group of animals.

Erin Sullivan is the Collection Manager at Woodland Park Zoo