How To Keep Feeder Insects

I wrote about keeping feeders as something that comes naturally in this hobby, (buying insects in bulk and breeding them is such a money saver) but I've never gone into how to keep insects successfully. So I will do that now, and give a quick tutorial on how to keep some of the common feeder insects - crickets, superworms, roaches, butterworms, and hornworms. 

Crickets & Roaches

We'll start off with the most common feeder insects, crickets and roaches. And to calm any fears, I don't mean the wild roaches that scurry across your basement at 100 mph. I mean roaches like discoids or dubias, captive bred roaches that don't climb smooth surfaces, fly, or lay eggs. Yes, icky but much better! Let's talk about what you'll want to keep your crickets and roaches in. 

My assistant Mina (and the nose of Milou), sitting for size reference. 
Some people like using aquariums, but I much prefer plastic storage bins. Not only are they cheaper, but they weigh less, and you can drill holes or cut out panels. I live in warm Florida, so I do not need to provide my roaches with a heat mat, but if you do decide to add a heat mat to the bottom of a container, make sure you don't risk melting or fire. 

I needed new containers for my crickets so I bought these large (70 L) containers on sale from Target that were very square, so they have more ground surface area. For crickets, I personally do not do anything as far as ventillation - I usually just leave the top off, and this is enough to keep the air moving in the bin. But if you're keeping them in a more stagnant place, like a garage or basement, you will probably benefit from cutting out at least 2 side panels and glue metal mesh, to keep the air cleaner. This will reduce your die-offs. 

For roaches, I keep the lids on but will cut off a panel from the top and glue mesh to it. I am much more worried about the roaches somehow escaping or being knocked over! To keep your colonies healthy, whether they are crickets or roaches, try to spread out your numbers. So instead of having 1,000 in one medium bin, separate them into two/three. Keeps each bin cleaner, the insects from crowding each other, and you'll have less die-off. And inside your bins you want to provide lots of egg-crate, for example. 

BREEDING

I am not going to go into breeding crickets very thoroughly because I never do it to raise anything but tiny pinheads for babies, but the only think you need to provide is another shallow dish or tupperware full of moist, organic soil (no pesticides!) The adult females will flock to lay their eggs in the container, and after a couple days I remove the container, put a lid on it, and let it incubate in a warm room for about 10-14 days. 

Roaches, however, are much simpler. Species like dubias, discoids, cave roaches, and the like are live-bearers, so every month or so adult females will give birth to a few dozen babies. When provided with a comfortable bin, food, and warmth, breeding adults will continuously provide you with new baby roaches. 

 Superworms

Superworms are something that I try to always have on hand. They live for a long time and are easy to breed if you want to. For these worms, I prefer to use shallow plastic containers, like the kind meant to store sweaters or shoes under the bed (pictured right). They need more ground surface area that anything else, so I prefer these bins to anything else. If I am not getting that many superworms I will just leave the floor bare, but if I am getting 500-1,000 then I will provide a layer of gain-based bedding for them to eat and crawl around in. Because their food is often times mixed with their moist food (fruits and veggies), ventilation is important. Otherwise you'll end up with big, moldy and moist areas in the bin and it will be a nightmare to pick out the worms from that. So I either leave the top completely off, or cut out a ventilation panel from the lid.


When I don't get so many superworms that I worry that they'll crowd each other, I don't use a bedding
and just provide lots of food. If I were putting several hundred in here I would. 
BREEDING

To breed superworms, they must be adult sized. The curious thing about superworms is that they will not pupate unless they are completely alone, so they must be separated into individual little cups, tackle box compartments, etc. and then placed into a dark place. Typically, within a few days you will see them turn into an Alien movie-looking thing, in which the worm will develop into a beetle. 2-3 weeks later, a black beetle will emerge and you can place them all together into a breeding container. 

The beetles will lay their eggs in something like chunks of potato, so I will provide potato and then remove them to a different container after a couple days. And eventually, small worms will emerge. But the potatoes need to be removed or the adults will simply eat them. That is why I usually provide more exciting food, such as fruit or hibiscus flowers, to encourage them to eat something besides the potato. 

Feeding Your Crickets, Roaches, & Superworms



Once you have the bin ready, it's time to feed your insects! Keeping them well-fed and hydrated will keep them alive and breeding properly, and will provide your reptiles with more nutrition. So it's important to pay attention to what you feed your insects. I highly recommend getting together a good dry gutload, whether it's commercially bought or home-made.

The one's I've tried and recommend are:
  • Repashy Superload or Bugburger
  • Dinofuel
  • Cricket Crack
I currently use Superload and like it very much. I will take a shallow dish, like the top of a Chinese take-out container, and make it half dry gutload food and half fresh fruits and veggies. With crickets, providing any sort of standing water is a nightmare as they will all manage to drown themselves. So they get their moisture from their food. The roaches are more intelligent and do sometimes get another shallow dish with a thin layer of water which they will all drink from. I put all the food on a dish because then it's much easier for me to reach in and remove anything that went uneaten. This helps keep things clean and my crickets tend to live longer when everything is fresh and clean. 

With superworms, I do not use a dish as it just sinks into the bedding. But providing hydration via fresh fruits and veggies is vital, so I always have chunks of fruits or vegetables in their bin and I just have to be diligent about scooping out any uneaten chunks the next day. 

Dark leafy greens (like collard or kale), carrots, pears, zucchini, squash, beet, etc., all make excellent
choices for fresh food.

Hornworms & Butterworms

Both of these worms are great, in my opinion. I try to always have a cup of at least one of these worms at home, as all of my chameleons just go crazy for them. Both worms are available for purchase in cups, typically in quantities closer to 20-25 individuals per cup. Butterworms come in a cup of wood shavings but not with any food - they are hard to feed, but will eat steamed sweet potato or squash. However, the benefit is that they are naturally very high in calcium and can be kept in the fridge, so they are very convenient.


Hornworms will come in a cup of pre-made food mix, which they will eat eagerly. They can also eat mulberry leaves, but never give them tomato leaves! These are toxic. Hornworms also grow to a tremendous size within a few days in a warm home, so make sure to feed them off quickly. These food cups typically do not come with enough food for all 20 individuals to grow to full size, so it's important to either order extra food if interested in growing out worms to breed or to feed off the larger worms so the smaller ones can eat and grow. 

BREEDING

Butterworms cannot be bred, as they are considered pests and are radiated before coming into the US. But hornworms, while also pests, can. I will not go into detail on how to breed the moths, as I have never done so myself, but to get moths the worms must eat and grow until they reach maximum size and stop eating. If raising lots of worms, it might be prudent to order extra food. It's clear when they have stopped growing, as they will usually stop eating and drop to the bottom of the container and become restless, which means that they are looking for somewhere to bury themselves. 

So at this point I will take a large tupperware with several inches of organic, moist soil and place the adult worms into it. They will bury themselves into the soil and change into maroon pupa. Some may not survive, but most of mine typically do. 2-3 weeks later, the moths will emerge, and they will need to be moved to a much large cage so that they may stretch out their wings, take flight, and start eating. I have only ever been interested in using the moths as food for my larger chameleons, so unfortunately, you will have to find a more thorough tutorial on how to breed hornworms. 

Know Thy Breeder/Vendor

I don't think I've touched on this as much as I probably should have, so I'm dedicated an entry to it. As a moderator on the Chameleon Forums, I get asked questions all the time about who to buy from, as people assume that I know who is a reputable breeder or vendor. And I do, to an extent, and am always willing to recommend breeders and business whom I have dealt with personally with great results. But I find that it's always a good idea to do some independent research.

So that's what I'm here to talk about! Especially when buying or selling online, it is SO easy to get scammed out of money, animals, or both. I highly recommend doing a quick internet search on anyone who you are doing business with, in case negative experiences come up (because thankfully, people are quick to post about negative business transactions online!)


Search the Board of Inquiry

For exotic pets and reptiles in general, I very much recommend a quick search on the Fauna Classifieds - Board of Inquiry. It is an enormously useful resource! Use it! 

You can look up a person's name or business and any threads (negative or positive) will come up, which lets you see their history and decide whether you trust them with your business or not. The great thing about this website is that it has very strict rules about making a negative thread, so you will always get evidence as part of the complaint. So you can see not just that someone had a bad experience, but all the e-mail conversations, photos of sick animals, etc.

It pays to at least Google a person's name. Threads like the ones in the BOI or elsewhere are sure to pop up. 

Look Through Forums

Additionally, I recommend asking breeders or sellers if they are members of any forums. Forums allow you to see a person's entire posting history on their profile, and this can sometimes be very enlightening. You could see that they are a great, very knowledgeable member, or a very ignorant one, who cuts a lot of corners when caring for their animals. So looking through people's posts online can be a good way to see if people are trustworthy or reputable before trusting them with animals or money.

Always Use Safe Transaction Methods 






And finally, always protect yourself when purchasing online by going through websites like Paypal for all transactions. Paypal will usually fight for you if you pay for an animal that you did not receive, or if you receive a dead or sick animal and the seller refuses to refund you. Paypal is a good ally in most cases, and it pays to make all transactions through them.

Avoid anything that sounds fishy - such as paying through Western Union (untraceable) or cashier's check. Those are most typically scams.

Stay safe online!
I'm willing to help wherever I can, but please do your own online searches before buying or selling. 

Emergency Pet Kits

Since we officially started hurricane season on the first of this month, and in light of the tropical storm we've already had and all the tornadoes touching down across the country, I thought it was a good moment to remind everyone to have an emergency kit for all their pets and family members ready. 

You never know when you may find yourself in a situation where you and your family needs to pack up in a hurry and evacuate. It could be a tornado, a hurricane, a flood, etc. It happens more often than anyone thinks and in the 11th hour it is too late to get together good kits for every member, especially the pets. So it's vital that everyone (adults, children, and pets) have backpacks or plastic totes ready to grab in seconds, throw them in the car, and leave. 

The Red Cross website has great ideas for what to put in backpacks for your human family members, from clothing and toiletries to emergency supplies, so I will not go into that here. But I will talk a bit about pets, focusing on your reptile pets. 

Per Red Cross recommendations, you should have what you need to be OK at least 3 days, so that's what we'll base our kit on.

A lizard clings to an arm chair following severe floods in Texas this past month. This guy may not be someone's
pet, but it should remind us to think about our reptiles in case of an emergency. 


WHAT YOU'LL NEED


1. A Container. You will need somewhere to pack the supplies into. I like plastic storage containers with lids that are locked into place. They are easy to stack in a car, are relatively water-proof, you can see what's inside if you choose a clear container, and they're easy to write on (your name, what's inside, etc.) You could use a backpack too, however. 

2. Temporary Cages. Whether you have a chameleon, a frog, a hamster, or a parakeet, you'll need somewhere to put them safely for the duration of transport. It'll give you somewhere to house them in if you need to spend a couple nights in a hotel, too. For chameleons I love butterfly cages (available anywhere from Amazon.com to your local Walmart) because they collapse flat, provide a lot of airflow, and you can spray chameleons through them with water. I also have another container for immediate transport, which you could use as temporary housing for other animals like geckos or snakes - Tupperware containers with lots of small holes drilled in the lid. You could use snake bags as well, or spend the money on Kritter Keepers. All good options for temporary, compact housing. Use one per pet!
  • For your chameleon, you'll need something to climb on once you're settled somewhere safe and can pop out the butterfly cage. I recommend fake vines from the Dollar Store. You don't need anything fancy, just enough to add climbing surfaces and leaf cover. These vines also fold away nicely in a plastic container. 

3. Water. Like you would for people, you should pack a couple water bottles in your pet kit. For chameleons, make sure to bring a smaller water sprayer, and for other pets bring something to pour the water into such as a tiny bowl or deli cup. 

4. Towels/Sheets and Paper Towels. You should always have at least one towel or something else that is absorbent or can be used to cover up the temporary cages. Remember that animals in an unfamiliar place, like a hotel or an emergency center will be terrified, do them a favor by covering up their temporary cages as much as possible. I also keep a roll of paper towels in there as well - it's just something that always comes in handy. 

5. Hot or Cold packs. You never know what the weather may be doing at the time of an emergency. It could be a 98F day in South Florida or it could be a 10F day in England. You just never know. So I recommend ordering a few hot and cold packs online, used to ship reptiles. Both packs have an estimated life of 48 hours, but I would have several of each. 
  • Note: You don't want to put these heat packs directly in contact with any animal, as they could burn or freeze themselves. But you could put them outside of the temporary container and cover with a towel, to warm or cool the air beneath it. How warm or cold will depend on your specific species and their limits. You do not need to replicate ideal temperatures if you can't, just keep them within a  comfortable, survivable rage. 

6. Any Medications. This won't apply to most reptiles, but if your pet needs to take any medication for something, have it within reach so it is easy to grab, throw into the emergency kit, and take with you. You could put some calcium supplements in a little zip lock and keep it in the kit, but I feel that it's not vital unless your animal is undergoing treatment for MBD or is gravid. 
  • Someone among you should have a first aid kit in their backpack, and many of those items will work on pets as well. Stock up with some Polysporin, for example, which is better than Neosporin on reptiles in case of any cuts. Remember to keep any injuries dry, clean, and protected. 


You'll notice that I did not mention food. This is because A, you shouldn't be spending vital time trying to scoop out crickets or worms into a container in an emergency, and B, most reptiles will be fine not eating for several days (and they may not eat at all in a new, stressful environment.) Get yourself settled and safe, and then worry about finding a pet store to get crickets.

What you'll need in your kit. Everything should fit comfortably into the large plastic
container. All photos and products belong to their respective owners, none are mine. 


WHAT YOU'LL DO

1. Have everything ready to go. Put everything into the large plastic container (all the towels, paper, Tupperware containers and butterfly cages, etc.) Also add a card with your name, cell number, another emergency contact, and an email. You never know if you'll become separated from your pets, and chameleons don't wear tag collars. Have this ready ahead of time, obviously. 

2. In An Emergency you want to grab each pet and put them into their respective Tupperware container. That (and any meds) should be the only thing you have to grab before you go, as far as your reptiles. Put all of the pets into the large plastic container, close it, and pack it into the car. 

3. Once You Are Safe you can unload all the animals out of the large plastic container and set up their better temporary cages. Try to keep them and yourself as comfortable and safe as possible. 


I hope that everyone stays safe always, and that any evacuation is quickly over and your homes are safe to return to. But it always pays to be prepared if you want to keep all members of your family safe. Please never abandon pets at home alone in an emergency, most do not survive through a flood, hurricane, or other serious event. 


I will add photos tomorrow. 
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