The Internet is Back! Also, Butterworms.
As the title suggests, I’ve finally managed to get my home Internet up and running. I’ve got lots of posting to catch up on, so expect a pretty decent activity level here in the coming weeks. Of course, I’ve also still got lots of unpacking to do from the move, and some extra hours at work to put in to pay those moving costs, so I won’t be constantly online or anything like that.
While I was in my Internet-less state, a rather disturbing story broke in the reptile hobbyist community: a story about butterworms (a delicious and nutritious feeder insect) causing serious chemical burns on some baby crested geckos. My friend and former roommate blogged about it the other day, and he’s covered the basics quite well, but I do feel the need to throw my 2 cents in here, as this is a pretty serious issue.
What I want to focus on here isn’t the “risks” per say, as there’s basically no information to go on. There are a few anecdotal reports, nothing more — and as any scientifically minded person knows, anecdotal evidence is very, very sketchy stuff. Information about butterworms and the way that they are prepared for export from Chile is hard to come by: there really aren’t any cold, hard facts here to work from. There’s not even a whole lot known about the butterworm life cycle — they’re the larval form of the Chilecomadia moorei moth, but information like how long they stay in larval form and what their breeding habits are is not readily available.
This lack of information creates a situation that is potentially extremely harmful to the butterworm trade — and, in a roundabout way, harmful to the herp hobby, because either way we could be losing what I’ve always considered to be a really good feeder. Butterworms are a relatively expensive feeder (due to the cost of importing them), but they’ve always been considered worth the price because they’re very good nutritionally. Especially important is their high calcium content and high fat content — both very important things for gravid (egg-producing) females, and also for juvenile animals. They’re also not “shelly” insects like the cheaper mealworms or superworms, and the lack of a hard carapace makes them more easily digestible.
Reports like the recent ones of butterworms “burning” baby geckos could halt the butterworm trade cold. What responsible owner, after all, would want to risk hurting their babies? If these anecdotal reports can be supported with some decent facts, I’ll certainly stop using these feeders. But that’s only IF the reports have any substance to them. It’s entirely possible that there are isolated cases where butterworms have been exposed to some sort of caustic chemical during transport, and there’s also the theory being circulated that these were not, in fact, butterworms, but a related species that could easily have been mistaken for butterworms. Or, of course, there’s the very real possibility that despite their assurances to the contrary, the owners in question were in fact the ones to blame, having allowed their feeders or their reptiles to come into contact with something unpleasant.
What’s especially sad to me is that not only will a halt of the butterworm trade be harmful to the companies and individuals who sell these insects, but it will also mean the loss of a very good feeder — possibly without reason.
This should be a wake-up call to all companies that transparency and getting good, accurate information out to your customers is VERY VERY IMPORTANT! A few anecdotal tales would cause virtually no harm at all if there were better, more scientifically sound information out there to counter those stories. But without good information, we’re left with only these sketchy anecdotes, and we have to choose whether to believe them or not — and the possible risk to our animals is one that is hard to ignore.