Ultimately, it is a greater benefit to the reptile if crickets (and other feeder insects) are properly housed and cared for from the time they are purchased. Not only does feeding and properly housing feeder insects keep them alive for longer, but they also become more nutritious for the reptile as well. The process is called gut-loading where nutrients that the feeder insect consumes are passed on to the reptile who consumes them.
This Tip Sheet has general information about different types of feeder insects and their care but primarily references crickets as they are the most common type of feeder and one of the more challenging to keep.
Crickets vs Worms
Crickets have become a staple feeder insect for many reptile keepers, but they are not the only option. Nutritionally, crickets are high in protein and low in fat, which is excellent for juvenile reptiles who need higher levels of protein as they grow. Worms typically have more balanced levels of protein and fat which is ideal for adults. Both crickets and worms will need to be gut-loaded to ensure they are providing enough vitamin and mineral content.
Many people find that keeping worms is easier. Some species can be refrigerated until ready to feed, which means they don't need to be housed in a larger container. Keep in mind that if they are dormant in the fridge, they won't have the same opportunity to be gut-loaded before feeding.
For more information on individual differences, take a look at the index on this Tip sheet.
Choosing the Right Size
Cricket sizing is based on their age, ranging from 1 week to 5 weeks. Not every size and quantity may be carried in the store, but can be special ordered.
The size of prey fed to a reptile bears directly on the reptile's ability to catch, swallow, and digest its prey. A general rule for lizards is that the prey should be no larger than 2/3 the length of the reptile's head, or the distance between their eyes. This is a safe size for them to consume.
How to Feed
Scatter the insects and observe your reptile. This is a great opportunity to make note of their movements, eagerness to eat, and general health. It is important to note that reptiles have a "Movement Activated Feeding Response", meaning their prey drive is stimulated by movement. Most reptiles only eat 2-3 crickets per day on average. Adding too many feeder insects to the enclosure at once, or always having them present in the enclosure, can overwhelm the reptile and affect their movement activated feeding response. They are essentially being trained to stop viewing insects as food. Excess crickets can also bite and cause injury to the reptile.
To prevent the loss of this response, inspect the habitat to ensure there are no insects currently present in the enclosure. Move decorations and plants around as insects are great at hiding. If an insect is present, remove the insect and skip feeding for that day.
Why Do My Crickets Not Last Long?
There are a couple of reasons why crickets may not be surviving very long after purchase. Without their 4 Basic Needs, which are outlined in this Tip Sheet, the crickets will not be able to survive for very long. This includes having food, water, and a suitable number of hiding places for security. Secondly, crickets are cannibals and though this behaviour is to be expected in any set up, it is amplified when there are not enough resources to go around. This includes not having enough space, hiding places, food, etc. for the number of crickets. Provided that the 4 Basic Needs are being met, cannibalism should be kept to a minimum.
To get the most out of insect feeders, including making them more nutritiously beneficial to the reptile and improving the cricket's survivability, Petland recommends the following accessories. They are listed as an insect's 4 Basic Needs: Environmental, Behavioural, Nutritional, and Maintenance.
Housing - Feeder insects need to have space to carry out their natural behaviours. There are many options for their enclosure including a cricket pen, a plastic travel container, a tank, or a different alternative. A proper enclosure will keep them secure but also have holes for airflow, typically in the top/roof of the container. The size of the enclosure must be a minimum of 1 gallon per 100 crickets to reduce cannibalistic behaviours.
Hiding Places - The need to hide for security is universal for all creatures, including insects. Crickets will need to have a sufficient amount of hiding space or else they will compete for this limited resource. Some cricket pens may have tubes that create a built-in hiding place. Alternatively, various climbing materials may also provide this need.
Climbing Material - Having some sort of climbing material provides extra surface area for the crickets, and gives them something to do to de-stress. Egg cartons, a material that crickets commonly come with at the time of purchase, are an easy way to provide both climbing material and hiding places. For worms, they may prefer to burrow instead of climb, and would benefit from a small layer of substrate.
Food Sources - Providing a nutritious diet for the crickets will benefit your reptile as those nutrients are passed on when the reptile consumes its prey. The process of feeding the prey for the benefit of the predator is called gut-loading. There are many options for food including:
High Calcium Diet - This food is used to feed most feeder items. It provides additional calcium directly to the food source.
All-In-One - This food is both a food source and a water source, making it a one-and-done product for meeting the insect's nutritional requirements.
Vitamin Supplements - Not only does gut-loading the insects make them more nutritiously beneficial to the reptile, but so does dusting them with supplements such as calcium (for nocturnal reptiles) or calcium with vitamin D3 (for diurnal reptiles).
Hydration Source - A simple bowl of water poses a risk of drowning. Alternative sources will have to be offered such as:
Water Gel - This water source can come with or without additional calcium, and sometimes with Vitamin C. It can be added to a bowl and the crickets will stand on it while drinking the liquid.
Water Pillow - This product looks like a pillow with small absorbent beads on the inside. When soaked in water it will retain the liquid, providing a surface for the crickets to stand on while drinking.
Cleaner – Keeping a clean environment will ensure the insects live a longer, healthier life. This means removing any dead insects, shed skins, etc., and cleaning the enclosure with warm soapy water.
Tongs – This tool is used to grab feeder insects individually without having to touch them with bare hands or dumping the entire container into the enclosure.
Please ask your pet counsellor what other items pertain to keeping crickets and other feeder insects.
INDEX OF FEEDER INSECTS
Butter Worms: These little worms have even more fat than wax worms, so they make a great treat throughout the week. Can be refrigerated. Keep in the fridge door where it is warmest.
Crickets: These are the most common feeder insects. They are great for most reptiles. They do not have a lot of nutrition on their own and will usually need to be dusted with calcium and gut-loaded. It is recommended to feed a variety of feeder insects along with crickets. Do not refrigerate.
Horned Worms: These large juicy worms are a great staple. Reptiles can enjoy the worm or the hawk moth that they become. They are loaded with protein, fat, phosphorus, and calcium and are 85% moisture. Do not refrigerate for more than a day.
Phoenix Worms (Black Soldier Fly Larvae): These worms are great for reptiles and amphibians. They are lower in fat and very high in calcium. This makes them great feeders to give to gravid reptiles and great to add variety to your reptiles' diet. Do not refrigerate.
Silk Worms: These worms are rich in nutrients so they also make a great staple. They are lower in phosphorus and have lots of vitamins, iron, magnesium, and calcium. They are great for gravid reptiles and are easy to eat for smaller reptiles. Do not refrigerate.
Super Worms: These worms are high in protein and fat very nutritious and full of hydration. These worms are also very easy to keep and raise as they are extremely hardy. Do not refrigerate.
Wax Worms: These little worms are packed with protein and fat. This is a great bug for bulking up your reptiles. Can be refrigerated