Guide to the common feeder insects.
You are what you eat ..
Well in this case your reptile is. One of the most important aspects of caring for your reptile is provision of quality food. If you purchase your live food from a pet store, or even via mail order it is probably several days since the insects fed or received adequate hydration. Crickets, mealworms, locusts will most likely be starving and be of little nutritional value to your pet. It is perhaps easier to consider the insects as empty cartons waiting to be filled so they can then go to provide food for your gecko. All live food (excluding wax and butter worms) should be ' gut loaded ' for at least 24 hours before feeding to your reptile. Gut loading means feeding fresh fruit and vegetables and powdered bug grub. We will only use fruit and vegetables that are fit for human consumption for feeding our livefood.
Below I have listed the most commonly used live foods for reptiles along with information on how to store them and feed them up. I have also included a few tips on how to prevent escapees.
Perhaps the most off putting aspect of reptile keeping for some people is the need to handle feeder insects. There are several insects that can be used and most require minimal contact. Meal worms can for example be offered in a dish whilst other insects have free range within the vivarium.
Mealworms are an excellent source of nutrition for many reptiles. We use mealworms as staple part of the diet for the majority of our leopard geckos. ( They are readily accepted by many other species of gecko too. )Even our hatchling leos are fed from the moment they begin to feed with mini mealworms. Mealworms are reasonably cheap to purchase but must be gut loaded prior to feeding to your animals. Gut load is the same as that we offer to our crickets.
On receipt of our mealworms seived to remove all bran,shed skin and dust before being placed in a deep lidless plastic tub. We then'gut load' them for at last 24 hours before offering them as feeders. We provide our mealworms with fresh vegetables including spring greens, curly kale, carrots and any other bits of vegetable we have around. We will only feed vegetables that are still fit for human consumption. We also add sliced apples to the worms. It is important that you do not create too much moisture in the tub with the fruit and vegetables .
If the mealworms are kept in a big enough tub with adequate ventilation, providing the tub is kept cool and dry there should produce minimal smell. Without adequate ventilation and too cramped a container the mealworms will sweat and give off a smell of ammonia.
Your mealworms will over time pupate,turn into small white larvae or small black beatles. If this happens to your mealworms very quickly, try storing them in a cooler place.
Crickets form the staple part of the diet for thousands and thousands of Reptiles. They are cheap and easily obtained. Provided they have been adequately gutloaded before being fed to your leo they are actually a good source of nutrition.
We gutload our crickets with a variety of the following. Weetabix,carrots, potato,cabbage,broccoli, ground up alfalfa pellets and powdered bee pollen. We also offer chopped carrot and apple to provide hydration. We have recently begun a trial of Repashy Bug Burger, obtainable on line from Lilly Exotics. Our first impressions are very favorable.The easy to mix bug burger provides the crickets with the moisture they need whilst loading them up as an excellent feeder for the geckos.
I find it easier to keep crickets in a 'Lees Cricket Cleaner'.(above) The Cricket Keeper is lined with a layer of porridge oats. This is changed and the container thoroughly cleaned prior to restocking.
Dispensing crickets from a 'Cricket Keeper' for feeding to your reptile could not be simpler. Simply place a deep plastic cup beneath one of the black tubes at the ends of the Cricket Keeper. As you withdraw the tube tap the open end against the inner side of the cup. The crickets will drop to the bottom of the cup and simply require dusting with vitamin / mineral supplement before being tipped into the vivarium.
I normally place 1 tub of standard or 2 tubs of medium crickets in the large size 'Cricket Keeper'. Smaller versions are available for smaller sizes of crickets. If after purchasing your crickets you place them in the fridge for 10 minutes they will be much easier to transfer into the 'Cricket Keeper' without escapees.
Silent Brown Crickets do sometimes chirrup. No matter how well they are cared for, crickets do have some smell. They are best kept in a warm but well ventilated place. Crickets are often cited as a cause of pinworm in geckos. This is not strictly true. Pinworm has a direct lifecycle and it does not have an intermediary host. As such the only way a cricket can transmit pinworm is if it has ingested substances contaminated with pinworm eggs. Uneaten crickets or any other feeder insect should not be recycled.
Once they have been in the geckos tank, any uneaten feeders should be disposed of. They can be killed by freezing and then discarded. Please do not dispose of uneaten / unused crickets or locusts in the garden.
We offer appropriately sized locusts to our reptiles as supplement to their staple mealworm diets. Like other livefood they are gutloaded for at least 24 hours before being offered as food to our reptiles. They are provided with fresh salad,cabbage or broccoli.
We have found our locusts last longer if kept in a mesh 'pop up' stick insect cage. These can be purchased on EBay for around £14. Simply line the bottom of the cage with kitchen roll. Add a bowl of salad, a few pieces of egg carton and the locusts will last well prior to being fed to your hungry reptile.
Well fed locusts are a great source of nutrition for your reptile. Be warned, locusts are fast and great escape artists. I place the unopened tub of locusts in the fridge for 10 minutes before transferring to their holding cage
Wax Worms, Butter Worms & Calci Grubs.
Wax worms are a very high fat content 'treat' food for your reptile. Most reptiles will eat waxworms with great enthusiasms. Unfortunately they can be addictive to your reptile. If he is fed them too often or too many he may turn his nose up at other foods whilst holding out for his waxie fix. They are however useful in fattening up under weight geckos, restoring weight lost during egg production or during recovery and regeneration of dropped tail.
Waxworms do not require any gut loading. They are sold in small plastic pots with a bedding of wood shavings. They do last a long time if stored in the fridge but should be allowed to warm up before offering to your reptile.
Butterworms are another moth larvae, similar to waxworms but of a much higher nutritional value. They are only available for a limited time each year. They are sold in small tubs similar to waxworm tubs. They are packed in a fibrous web type material which when teased apart reveals the orangish worms.
Calcigrubs have limited availability. They are sold in small pots packed in their own special medium. They are expensive but are reported to be a very nutritional and an especially good source of calcium. They are of great benefit to female geckos during and in the period after egg production where calcium reserves will have been depleted.
Silkworms can be purchased on line, either in tubs of worms or in cultures for raising your own colony. They are not the easiest of livefoods to cultivate and purchasing the actual worms can be rather expensive. However they are one of the most nutritious of all the available livefoods.
Self Caught Livefood.
Please do not be tempted to catch insects from the wild for feeding to your gecko. Insects sold for the live food trade are raised in controlled conditions. An insect caught from the wild may have been exposed to harmful pesticides, toxins or germs that when ingested by your gecko could prove fatal.