An introduction to keeping live foods for your reptile.
Crickets should be fed for several days prior to being used to improve their dietary value. A mixture of commercial cricket food, tropical fish flakes, oats, alfalfa pellets, dry milk, and reptile calcium supplements. Gel cubes, oranges, apples, or other fruits and vegetables can be used as a water source.
Poorly ventilated cages allow moisture to build up, which can result in fungal diseases. Screen-covered aquariums or plastic storage bins containing cardboard egg crates or paper towel rolls. Smaller amounts of crickets can be kept in plastic terrariums with ventilated lids. Some of these are designed specifically to house crickets.
Breeding crickets is difficult, as they prefer warm temperatures for breeding and require clean conditions and plenty of egg laying sites in the form of soil-filled containers. These should be removed and replaced often, as crickets will eat their own eggs.
Mealworms and Super Mealworms
Mealworms grow quickly at higher temperatures, but cooler temperatures will slow their growth rate. They can be kept in wheat bran, oats, powdered baby food, and tropical fish flakes with banana skins as moisture.
For many species it is best to feed only newly-molted mealworms or pupae due to their thick exoskeleton. Mealworms should be used sparingly, as diets rich in these beetle larvae have been linked to intestinal blockages. Stories of mealworms or superworms burrowing their way out of a reptile are nothing more than urban legend, as the chewing action and powerful digestive enzymes of the stomach quickly kill any insects swallowed alive.
Earthworms are highly nutritious and readily accepted by many animals. They reproduce rapidly and can be kept in a screen-covered plastic container with alternating layers of dead leaves and moist topsoil. Temperatures below 75°F are best.
Earthworms should be provided a diet of leaf litter and other organic components such as bread crumbs, corn meal, flake fish food, vegetables, and a reptile calcium supplement. They can also be stored in a refrigerator.
Waxworms are moth larvae that develop in beehives. They are generally shipped in sawdust or a similar substrate and should be refrigerated until use. Waxworms have a high fat content and are best used sparingly.
Sowbugs are crustaceans and provide a variety of nutrients not found in most feeder insects alone. Cultures can be purchased, or you can collect them below rocks, rotten logs, and leaf litter.
A breeding colony can be established in an aquarium containing 3-4 inches of moist coconut husk and topsoil. They will grow quickly on a diet of tropical fish flakes, leaf litter, coffee grounds, and fruit or vegetable peels.
There are several species of roaches available that make excellent additions to the diet of captive reptiles. Tropical roaches sold as feeder insects will not infest the home and can be used as a food source for insectivorous lizards and other larger reptiles and amphibians. They can be housed in bare aquariums with egg crate or paper towel rolls. Fine mesh is best for ventilation, as the nymphs are quite small. Additionally, a line of Teflon tape or petroleum jelly can be put around the rim of the aquarium to prevent any species that can easily climb walls (such as Madagascan hissing cockroaches) from escaping.
Breeding and growth is most rapid at higher temperatures, but 68-95°F is tolerated. A diet of commercial cricket food, fish food flakes, powdered baby food, fruits, vegetables, and reptile calcium supplement is adequate. Gel cubes made for crickets can be used as a separate water source.
Flour beetle colonies are available as feeders for small lizards and frogs. Both the beetles and the larvae can be used as food. Dog biscuits or dried baby food can be used to provide the colony with both food and moisture.
Springtails are tiny, primitive insects that can be collected from beneath damp leaf litter or purchased in colonies. They feed readily upon decaying vegetable matter and tropical fish flakes. Due to their tiny size they are best suited as prey for small amphibians such as poison frogs, which will forage for them on the ground.
Flightless fruit flies are widely available. We offer 32 ounce cultures of wingless fruit flies that can last upwards of one month and go through several generations as long as they do not become overcrowded. They are excellent food for many hatchling lizards and small frogs.
These nutritious worms are accepted by most aquatic salamanders and turtles. Blackworms will live for long periods of time in a refrigerator or cool basement if their water is changed regularly or aerated.
Crayfishes contain high concentrations of calcium and Vitamin E and are excellent food for monitor lizards and turtles. They can be stored in damp moss under refrigeration. Claws should be removed unless they are soft and freshly molted.
Fishes contain an ideal calcium to phosphorous ratio. Pond-raised minnows and shiners are the most nutritious choices, but guppies, platys, mollies, and others can also be used. Wild fishes can be collected via seine net or minnow trap. Diets high in goldfish can cause health issues, but they may safely be used on an occasional basis.
Grasshoppers, silkworms, tomato hornworms, phoenix worms, calci-worms, and flightless houseflies are also excellent options for insectivores.
Collected invertebrates add beneficial variety to captive diets. Learn to identify toxic or otherwise dangerous species, and avoid collecting in areas where pesticides are used. Swinging a net through tall grass will provide a variety of nutritious invertebrates often known as field plankton. Light traps are useful for collecting moths, beetles, and other flying insects at night.
Other Aquatic Invertebrates
Tiny creatures such as brine shrimp, Daphnia, isopods, and mosquito larvae are useful feeders for aquatic animals such as salamander larvae, small newts and some tadpoles. Brine shrimp should be allowed to feed on nutrient-rich diets for a couple of days before being offered to pets, and should be rinsed to remove salt.