Live feeder insects, particularly crickets, are a staple of many popular pet lizard diets. While you can purchase live crickets for your herp, breeding and raising your own crickets can be very beneficial because the quality nutrition and care you provide is passed on to your herp. Below we'll go over everything you need to know about raising your own crickets.
The habitat for the colony and the habitat for your feeder insects will be set up the same way. Use a glass aquarium with a screen lid. Don't use any substrate, and be sure to place plenty of hiding places such as egg crates and paper towel tubes in it. Keep the temperature around 75° to 85°F with the use of an incandescent light as a heat source for approximately 16 hours a day. A 40 watt bulb in a dome reflector is sufficient for a 10-gallon terrarium. Monitor temperature with a thermometer. Clean the enclosure once a week by wiping out the bottom of the container and replacing the hiding places.
The breeding enclosure will be slightly different. You will use the same kind of enclosure and you will put a couple egg crates in it for hiding places, but you will need to use substrate so the female crickets have somewhere to lay their eggs. Crickets' natural nesting material is damp soil, so appropriate substrates can include soil or Eco Earth® Coconut Substrate. It is very important that the substrate remains moist, so be sure to mist it with water every other day or more if your house is particularly dry.
Another option for breeding is to put a dish containing moist soil directly into the regular enclosure. Leave it in there for about a week, and then move it to a breeding enclosure that contains soil. This can be beneficial because you don't have to worry about moving the adults from container to container. However, you will still need multiple enclosures to do this.
You should see eggs between four and seven days after putting the crickets in the enclosure. They will take approximately 16 days to hatch. Before they do, be sure to put the adults back in the regular enclosure so the hatchlings aren't injured or eaten.
Caring for Your Hatchlings
Provide a damp sponge or a moist paper tower for a water source. Never put a water dish in the enclosure, as the hatchlings will drown in it. Do not clean the enclosure until the hatchlings measure at least 1/4" long.
The hatchlings should reach adult size within four to six weeks, and you can put them back into the breeding colony or into the feeder insect enclosure at approximately 3 weeks. Always be sure to put at least 50 to 75 hatchlings back into the breeding enclosure to replenish it. If you don't do this, the breeding colony will die out. Never use crickets from the breeding colony to feed your reptile.
Feeding Your Crickets to Your Herp
Before feeding them to your reptile, coat them in a calcium supplement such as ReptoCal. The easiest way to do this is to mist them with water, place them in a Feeding Rock, and pour the powder in. Shake it gently, and then place the rock in your reptile's terrarium for the crickets to crawl out.
If you know the crickets may not be eaten immediately, be sure to provide a dish filled with cricket food in the terrarium. Crickets are omnivores, and without a food source, they will attempt to nibble on your reptile. We also recommend that you use a special way to water your crickets, such as the Zilla Cricket Water Pillows or special cricket water to prevent them from drowning in a dish. Check daily for dead crickets and remove any you find from your herp's habitat.
Remember, a well-fed cricket makes for a healthier reptile, and with just a little effort, you can be breeding your own nutritious crickets in no time!