Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 
  Issue 2 February 2008
Taking Care of Crickets - Part 1 In this Issue

By Christina Miller

Crickets are probably the most common feeder choice for captive reptiles and amphibians. They are bred in the millions by commercial breeders, and are available in bulk or by the unit from breeders or pet stores. Losing crickets to unsuitable care can be costly, and healthy, nutritious prey leads to a healthy predator, so proper care is essential.

Natural history and anatomy

The House Cricket or Gray Cricket, Acheta domesticus, is originally a European species. They are insects of the order Grylloptera (or Orthoptera, depending on the reference), (Kuperus and Chapco, 1996) a group shared with grasshoppers, which have specialized strong rear legs for hopping.

Like all insects, they have a tough exoskeleton made up of a chitinous shell in 18 body segments, also called tagmata. They have two antennae, six legs in-total, two large compound eyes and three small ocelli. There are two small filaments called cerci at the tip of the abdomen, a long, dark ovipositor is located between the cerci in females.

Only adult male crickets produce chirping sounds, an action known as stridulation. They accomplish this by rubbing the inside edges of their forewings together. Despite the wings being functional, they have undeveloped flight muscles and cannot fly.

Crickets undergo eight larval stages, called instars, before reaching adult size about 48 days later. Each instar is marked by a molting of the exoskeleton, this process is called ecdysis but differs from ecdysis in reptiles. This life history is called gradual metamorphosis, or hemimetabolous metamorphosis. Adult crickets will live an average of two months.

Crickets are omnivores, and are not too picky about what they eat. They seek out warm places to feed and reproduce, and are mainly active at night.

Caring for crickets

A suitable enclosure for crickets is something that is easy-to-clean, has ample ventilation, and most importantly, is escape-proof. A 10 gallon aquarium with a locking screen lid, a plastic terrarium-style small animal cage, or a plastic storage bin with a tight-fitting lid. The last item needs to be modified by placing a screen portion on the lid or by drilling many small holes to allow for adequate ventilation. Without good ventilation, moisture will accumulate inside the container, and this promotes mould growth.

Easy cage furniture for crickets can be paper towel or toilet paper rolls, and cardboard egg crate. These are cheap and replaceable, and offer much-needed hiding spots for crickets. Crickets need enough surface area so that crickets do not have to pile on top of each other.

The cage floor is easiest to clean if left bare. Substrate tends to add more work to cleaning, and can hold odours.

example cricket tub for keeping crickets
This plastic storage bin has been modified for cricket-keeping. A portion of the lid has been cut out and replaced with aluminum screen. Duct tape was used to seal the screen to the plastic.
cricket hide in egg cartons
"Furniture" is important for crickets to hide in

Crickets should always have access to water. Not providing water is probably a big reason crickets die prematurely. But, crickets easily drown even in very shallow water. To prevent crickets from drowning, there are several methods for providing water:

Provide a shallow water dish with small pebbles or gravel, so that crickets may drink while walking in the dish
Soak a sponge in water, and place in the cricket bin; re-wet daily and replace the sponge often (it will be a breeding ground for bacteria and other microbes)
Water gel is available from many pet stores and supply dealers: This eliminates any chance of the crickets drowning, and often there are supplements added to the mix; however, it is unknown if there are any long-term health effects on the predator
Fresh food should be offered daily. Crickets will cannibalize if they are not fed adequately!

This plastic storage bin has been modified for cricket-keeping. A portion of the lid has been cut out and replaced with aluminum screen. Duct tape was used to seal the screen to the plastic.

"Furniture" is important for crickets to hide in.

 

Christina Miller has held an interest in animals for as long as she can remember. She is a graduate of Vanier College's Animal Health Technology program, and works as a veterinary technician. Currently studying for a bachelor's in Applied Zoology in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University she is particularly interested in behavioural problems and nutrition in captive herps.

Passionate about teaching and talking about these animals, she often gives guest lectures on Exotic Animal Care, Basic Animal Care and, you guessed it, herps. She occasionally does educational presentations for schools, daycares and Girl Guide groups, to expose local youth to the not-so-nastiness of reptiles and amphibians.

Her website is: http://www.herptiles.net

  1. Taking Care of Crickets - Part 1
  2. Feeding Tortoises - Part 1
  3. In the News
  4. Get Paid to write an article
  5. Tell Us What You Think
  6. Feedback and Updating

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Other Articles & Resources

 

Feeding Tortoises - Part 1

By A. C. Highfield

A practical guide to avoiding dietary disasters

Guidelines for:

Feeding Leopard tortoises - Feeding Mediterranean tortoises - Feeding Redfoot and Yellowfoot tortoises - Feeding Wood turtles and Box turtles - Feeding Russian tortoises - Feeding Hingeback tortoises - Feeding Desert tortoises

 

Florida Gopher Tortoise
A wild Gopherus polyphemus (Florida gopher tortoise) browses upon leaves and flowers in its natural habitat: providing adequate diets in captivity is a challenge for keepers, but it can be done.

 

Introduction

Almost no topic is as confused and difficult for a beginner to understand than feeding tortoises in captivity. It is also true that no other subject is as riddled with misinformation and myths. The proliferation of inaccurate and often lethal advice on this subject in books, in magazine articles and on the Internet is astonishing. It is no wonder that many new keepers find themselves totally confused, and often end up making basic, but serious mistakes.

Almost no topic is as confused and difficult for a beginner to understand than feeding tortoises in captivity. It is also true that no other subject is as riddled with misinformation and myths. The proliferation of inaccurate and often lethal advice on this subject in books, in magazine articles and on the Internet is astonishing. It is no wonder that many new keepers find themselves totally confused, and often end up making basic, but serious mistakes.

This is not a subject upon which it is easy to generalize. There are innumerable variables. Getting the diet right necessitates an understanding of an individual species’ nutritional requirements, an understanding of how environment affects nutritional needs, an understanding of basic food chemistry and some knowledge of the vitamin and mineral trace element metabolisms. Unfortunately, many of those who publish advice on this subject seem to lack such knowledge, and hence much of what appears in print and upon the Internet is incomplete, is based upon misunderstandings of these essential principles, or is a gross oversimplification. Whole books can be written on the subject of feeding tortoises and turtles in captivity, and indeed have been. Even genuine experts in this field often disagree upon the finer points. Most do agree on the basic principles, however.

The object of this present article is to ‘get you started’ with a simple, but safe and effective, basic diet which you can undoubtedly develop and refine further. The focus is on setting some basic ground rules that conform to the principle of ‘do no harm’. The guidelines presented here have been developed and tested over many years by the Tortoise Trust. We do not pretend that in the simple form presented here they represent an optimum in every case; they are, however, fundamentally safe and effective in practice. This is a good place to start if you are new to this subject and wish to avoid causing irreparable harm to your animals. More experienced keepers will refine these diets and optimize them for the individual species they keep, taking into account the age of the animal, its sex, alternative foodstuffs that may be available, and local environmental factors among other considerations.

Variety

In the wild, tortoises tend to be browsers. They wander over quite a wide area and in the process take small quantities of a very wide variety of seasonally available food. Some species are known to consume up to 200 different kinds of plants during the year. The exact combination of plants, and their status, young, fresh and succulent or old and dry, varies seasonally. Even some true tropical species experience major seasonal (rainy/dry) variations in food availability. Redfoot and Yellowfoot tortoises from South America, for example, will eat a diet comprised almost exclusively of leaves and flowers for part of the year, changing to a diet heavily biased in favour of fallen fruits later in the year. In the case of Savannah and semi-arid habitat species, food availability often peaks during early spring, but is sharply reduced during the very hot summers experienced in such zones. In response, the tortoises may enter a state of estivation to conserve energy, ceasing all normal activity at such times. A tortoise’s diet changes continually throughout the year. From a fairly high moisture and protein content in spring, to a very dry, and often lower protein content later on. By wandering over a wide area, and by consuming such a variety of foods, tortoises ensure that their overall intake is well-balanced and can supply the essential mineral trace elements that they require for reproduction and healthy bone development. Even the best captive diets tend to be very restricted when compared to these natural feeding patterns.

An excellent diet for a captive-bred Mediterranean tortoise at the Tortoise Trust. These animals live in well-planted outdoor pens that have been seeded with appropriate vegetation that aproximates that found in their natural habitats.

Calcium and Vitamin D-3

Tortoises tend to be found in regions where the soils are relatively rich in calcium and other essential trace elements. They also have free access to sunlight for basking. Natural sunlight contains UV-B radiation which is required by the tortoise to internally synthesize vitamin-D3. This is required by the tortoise to enable it to use the calcium it consumes in its food. Without an adequate level of D3, this calcium is useless for building bones. In order to synthesize D3 properly, both UV-B radiation and radiant heat is required. For more on this subject see the ‘Reptile Lighting’ article referenced below. True rain forest species obviously cannot and do not bask to the same extent as species from deserts or plains. Their diets tend to be very different, in that such species are usually omnivores. Much of the vitamin D3 component they require is, in this instance, met from the animal component of their diets. They are therefore far less dependent upon basking than exclusive herbivores. This is merely one example of how environmental factors influence diet, and vice versa. Tortoises have quite a high demand for calcium in their diets, especially when undergoing rapid growth (a juvenile, for example) or in the case of egg-laying females. Such animals tend to actively seek out extra calcium to meet these needs. If it is not available, they can rapidly suffer deficiencies.

 

Californian Desert Tortoise
This California Desert Tortoise was raised on a high protein diet. This promoted rapid growth. The diet was also seriously calcium deficient. Instead of developing a normal, rounded carapace shape, it developed the typical lumpy, flattened form characteristic of MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease)

Habitat and diet

Tropical rain forest species encounter carrion and fallen fruits quite often. It is a typical feature of these environments. Species that inhabit dry, grassland savannahs or arid desert environments hardly ever encounter carrion or fruit, however. Both groups of tortoises have developed different ways of dealing with the foods that they naturally encounter. If you feed arid habitat tortoises large amounts of fruit it will cause severe digestive tract upsets, diarrhea, encourage the proliferation of digestive tract parasites such as flagellate organisms, and can even lead to sudden death from a maladjusted gut pH. By the same token, you cannot expect to keep a tropical rain forest tortoise such as an African Hingeback (Kinixys sp.) healthy on a diet of mixed grasses and hays. Such a diet is very well suited to a Leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis), but is completely unsuited to the needs of a species that has evolved to consume a combination of live prey, soft fallen fruits, and carrion. These are not dietary “preferences” - they are dietary imperatives. They are not interchangeable. Any attempt to do so invites very serious consequences indeed. These ill-effects may not show up for some time. It can even take years. By the time it does show up, however, it may well be too late to do anything about it. We cannot stress this enough: learn about the real needs of the species you keep and try to understand the reasons why it has those needs, and then try to find out how best you can meet them.

Reprinted with permission from The Tortoise Trust

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In the News

Monsters of the deep

Mini Monsters of the Air

Seems to be no way to change old habits and edukatin some folks about the glories of slithery critters - in some parts of the world, even the deadlist are protected

Although some families fail to see the glory

Old theories come good

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