Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 
  Issue 3 April 2008
Taking Care of Crickets - Part 2 In this Issue

By Christina Miller

Cleaning

Cleanliness is key to keeping crickets healthy, reducing the odour of the cricket bin, and preventing mould from accumulating in the colony. Remove uneaten food and dead crickets daily to avoid spoilage. Crickets naturally have a distinct odour, but they will smell very offensive if a lot of waste accumulates in the bin. Changing the furniture often will also keep the bin clean and reduce the odour.

Scrub the bin down with hot, soapy water in-between crickets. A lot of organic waste will stick to the inside, it is important to start clean with each new batch of insects brought home.

If you find mould in your cricket bin, discard the entire colony. Insects fed mouldy food have been attributed to health problems in herps, it is suspected to be very harmful. (Hernandez-Divers, 2006)

Gut loading

Crickets need to be fed nutritious foods before being fed to your herp, because you are what you eat. Pet stores and wholesalers often feed their crickets a basic, "maintenance" food that is easy to provide, like carrots or potatoes. Herps cannot thrive on the nutrients that are found in carrots and potatoes alone.

One nutritional issue in particular is the insects' calcium content: Many insects like crickets naturally have a very poor calcium content. Herps need to have a certain amount of calcium in their diets, and 1.5 to twice as much calcium to phosphorus (both are important mineral nutrients) in the diet to stay healthy and avoid calcium-related metabolic diseases. Without gut-loading or supplementing crickets prior to feeding, they do not contain enough calcium to keep a herp healthy in the long run.

Good nutrition comes from somewhere, this is where gut loading comes in. Gut loading will ensure that the insect itself has a healthy variety of nutrients, and that the gastrointestinal tract will contain a variety of nutrients when the cricket is eaten. Crickets should be fed a well-balanced diet at least 24-48 hours before feeding to the predator. "Well-balanced" means providing a variety of nutrients. Common gut loading "recipes" include using chicken mash, a variety of chopped vegetables (dark, leafy calcium-rick greens like collard, dandelion and turnip are excellent choices), flaked fish food and commercial pre-made gut loads. A single food item should not be relied on- feeding a variety of foods will ensure a variety of nutrients reaches your herp. Supplementation may still be necessary to increase the nutritional value of crickets fed to your herps.

Feeding crickets to your herps

Insectivorous herps can typically be fed as many crickets as they can consume in a 10-15 minute period (during the herp's normal activity cycle), then the remainder of the crickets are removed from the herp's enclosure. This is a general guideline, other methods can certainly work well, and depending on the herp's mode of hunting (active forager versus sit-and-wait ambush predator) this method can vary. Sick, debilitated animals may benefit from being fed crickets using forceps (tweezers), from a dish, or be fed another food item that is easier to catch.

Adding supplements to crickets is simple. Take a container, add a small portion of powdered supplements, add the crickets and shake gently to coat them. Herpers often call this "shake and bake." Crickets will clean the supplements from themselves within a few hours, so it is important to be feeding crickets when the animal is normally active.

Variety!

Even well-fed and properly supplemented crickets should never be the only food in any herp's diet. Insectivorous herps will eat dozens to thousands of different species of invertebrate in the wild, all of which have varying nutritional contents. Restricting your herp's diet to one type of prey is comparable to restricting your own diet to one type of food (but taking multivitamin pills as "supplements"). There is a variety of feeder invertebrates available, take advantage of it!

Crickets as a source of parasites

The idea that crickets can give pinworm to herps is a myth. Crickets do not carry any species of pinworm that can be transmitted to your herp. A study was performed that analyzed 2500 crickets purchased from five different cricket-producing facilities, and no pinworm eggs were found. (Klarsfield and Mitchell, 2005) Pinworms, or oxyurids, are very host-specific, meaning they prefer to live and reproduce in one type of animal.

Loose crickets?

Cricket escapees can be a nuisance in the house. They are attracted to warm areas like behind the refrigerator or washing machine, which also happen to be places that are not easy to access! Placing sticky traps meant for cockroach or earwig control works just as well for trapping stray crickets.

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


Sources:

Fleming, GJ. 2007. Reptile Nutrition- What's New? Proceedings of the North American Veterinary Conference. 2007: 1536-1537.
Hernandez-Divers, SM. 2006. Insects as food: Nutritious and delicious. Proceedings of the North American Veterinary Conference. 2006: 1794-1795.
Kaplan, M. 2007. Breeding and Raising the House Cricket. Anapsid.org. <http://www.anapsid.org/crickets.html>
Klarsfield, JD and MA Mitchell. 2005. An Evaluation of the Gray Cricket, Acheta domestica,as a Source of Oxyurids for Reptiles. Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery. 15(1): 18-20.
Lennox, AM. 2002. Practical Nutrition of Reptiles. Exotic DVM. 4(3): 83-86.

  1. Taking Care of Crickets - Part 2
  2. Feeding Tortoises - Part 2
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Feeding Tortoises - Part 2

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

Commercial tortoise diets

It is worth commenting upon the canned (usually dried) 'complete tortoise diets' that are available in pet stores. These are advertized as complete, or almost complete, solutions to all of your tortoise nutrition concerns. Words such as 'scientifically formulated' and 'quality ingredients' are used to describe them. You may think you are safe relying upon such products. We have tested most of these products over the years, and in our view, they should be avoided. We have also seen numerous 'dietary disasters' attributable to their use. These products are usually extremely high in protein, and many contain high sugar levels in addition. They in no way approximate the natural diet of these animals. Rather than describe each one in detail, we will let the following pictures speak for themselves.

These two animals, a Terrapene carolina (American box turtle) and a young Geochelone sulcata (African Spurred tortoise) were both raised from juveniles using T-Rex brand 'complete' tortoise and turtle diets.

tortoise raised on commercial food alone

Note the severe deformity at the rear of the carapace: a condition typical of animals raised on high protein, high growth rates and inadequate levels of calcium.

sever deformity from high growth rate

This Geochelone sulcata demonstrates the thickened keratin and 'pyramided' scute formation again typical of high growth rates sustained on a mineral deficient diet.

healthy shell growth

This is what healthy shell growth should look like. A Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise) raised from a hatchling on the diet recommended by the Tortoise Trust. Note the very smooth carapace and even growth.

Our advice is simple. We see no need for these commercial feeding products and we believe their use is unsafe and is very likely to lead to the kind of severely deformed animals shown above. We strongly recommend that you avoid them.

FEEDING MEDITERRANEAN TORTOISES

The diet of Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo species) in the wild consists almost entirely of herbaceous and succulent vegetation, including leaves, grasses, flowers, and very, very occasionally fallen berries. Fruit is categorically not a regular or significant component of their diet. These tortoises are almost exclusive herbivores. They categorically do not consume meat of any kind in the wild, other than - possibly - on a very, very rare and opportunistic basis. It is in no way a regular part of their diet.

Look closely at this picture: it provides a rare insight into what Mediterranean tortoises really eat. This is a wild Testudo ibera in Turkey. Myself, Lin King and Jill Martin from the Tortoise Trust tracked these animals over many days to record their diet and behavior. No tinned dog food! No hard boiled eggs! No 'monkey chow'! No bananas! Just extremely healthy tortoises consuming a diet based entirely around the type of plants you see above....

I have personally worked with all of the Mediterranean species extensively, both in the wild and in captivity. In all of my years studying these tortoises in the field, I found not once single piece of evidence that any animal protein was deliberately consumed. The nearest I ever came was a Testudo graeca in Morocco that appeared to have consumed part of a dead beetle. This may well have been entirely incidental. At the Tortoise Trust we breed Mediterranean tortoises frequently. These hatchlings are reared to adults on 100% herbivorous diets. Claims that Mediterranean tortoises “need” meat in their diets are quite simply complete nonsense.

If Mediterranean tortoises "needed" meat or other high protein foods this extremely healthy, beautifully grown animal would be dead. It was reared exclusively on the type of diet recommended in this article.....

Drinking

During episodes of rainfall tortoises will drink from the puddles which form, and they may also approach streams or ponds. They frequently pass urine at this time as well, and will simultaneously dispose of the chalky white uric acid residues which form in the bladder. It is categorically not true that wild tortoises rarely drink. I have seen both Testudo ibera in Turkey, and Testudo graeca graeca in Morocco approach streams and ponds and drink copiously, in addition to regular observations of drinking following rain. During the dry season, and in the more arid parts of their range, tortoises rely mainly upon the water content of their food in order to supply their moisture requirements. In captivity, we suggest soaking the tortoise for 10 minutes twice each week in fresh, shallow water to ensure an adequate state of hydration.

General rule for feeding Mediterranean tortoises

In captivity, a high fiber, low fruit content, low protein and calcium rich diet will ensure good digestive tract function and smooth shell growth.

Mediterranean tortoises fed on cat or dog food, or other high protein food items such as peas or beans, frequently die from renal failure or from impacted bladder stones of solidified urates. Peas and beans are also very high in phytic acid, which, like oxalic acid, inhibits calcium uptake. Avoid reliance upon ‘supermarket’ greens and fruits which typically contain inadequate fiber levels, excessive pesticide residues, and are too rich in sugar. Fruit should be given very sparingly or not at all as it frequently leads to diarrhea, intestinal parasite proliferation, and colic. We do not use fruit at all with our Mediterranean tortoises and we suggest you do the same. Unfortunately, it is all-too-common to see totally inappropriate and dangerous advice on feeding these species.

This example is from a veterinary website:

“Tortoises (Testudo sp) eat a wide variety of plants including vegetables, fruits, grasses and flowers : alfalfa leaves, apples, banana, beans (runner and french), bean sprouts, bindweed, blackberries, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, buttercup, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chickweed, clover, courgettes, cucumber, dandelion, grass, hawkweed, lettuce, melon, nectarines, parsnips, peaches, pears, peas, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, watercress. They can also be given hard boiled eggs or a spoon of canned pet food once a week.”

This is a truly appalling diet for Mediterranean tortoises. It is heavily biased towards root vegetables and fruit (both of which cause major gastric disturbance in these species), it includes peas and beans which are far too high in protein, have a terrible calcium to phosphorous ratio and are rich in calcium inhibiting compounds. It also includes cabbage family leaves to excess, and finishes up with meat and boiled eggs, neither of which I have seen lying around in any Mediterranean tortoise habitat I have yet visited…

Although it is difficult to tell, due to the extreme deformity, this is a Marginated tortoise, Testudo marginata. This animal was also raised on a high protein, calcium deficient diet This is a terrible example of what poor dietary management, and the feeding of meat based products will do to a naturally herbivorous tortoise.

A diet like this fed to a rapidly growing juvenile will result in excess growth, poor bone density and metabolic bone disease, and it will throw in kidney damage for good measure. I would be surprised to see a juvenile reared on such a diet to survive for more than a few years. It would certainly exhibit severe shell and other developmental disorders.

Because they grow quite rapidly, and are actually developing their bone structure in the process, juvenile tortoises are exceptionally likely to suffer serious consequences from dietary mismanagement. There is no room for error at all when feeding hatchlings and juveniles. Just a few weeks on an incorrect diet can result in irreparable harm (adult female and her baby: Testudo kleinmani, the Egyptian tortoise).

A fully grown adult may survive longer, even on a truly terrible diet, but will slowly suffer serious liver and kidney complications over the medium-long term. Herbivores are not equipped to deal with large amounts of saturated fat, or with high protein intakes.

Unfortunately, advice of this calibre is in wide circulation, and many who do not know better (including many veterinarians), continue to assume that this is what tortoises need. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When planning a diet for captive tortoises, take their natural dietary behavior into account as fully as possible. In the case of Mediterranean tortoises, try to provide a mixture of edible flowers and leaves. Mulberry leaves and hibiscus leaves and flowers are excellent, for example. Opuntia cactus pads are also a great favorite and are rich in both calcium and fiber. A lack of dietary fiber, or roughage, will precipitate digestive tract disturbance, diarrhea and an apparently much increased susceptibility to flagellate and worm problems.

Root vegetables are far too high in readily digestible carbohydrates, and have no place in the diets of these species. Mediterranean tortoises should really be viewed as “goats in a shell”, and are similarly adapted to do best on what at first sight may appear to be a very “low quality” diet.

Although Mediterranean tortoises will take animal protein if offered (as will most normally herbivorous tortoises), in practice this leads to excessive growth and causes severe shell deformities, liver disease, and renal stress. It should therefore be avoided entirely. In our experience, tortoises that are fed animal protein suffer premature mortality. In other words - they die.

Another Desert tortoise raised on an unsuitable diet. This tortoise displays the raised, 'pyramiding' of the scutes that is so typical of poor dietary management. Juveniles are far more susceptible to this condition than adults as their bones become soft, porous and fibrous during growth phases instead of strong, dense and smooth. Compare with the smooth shell of the Mediteranean tortoise of the same age (reared on a correct diet) above.

A balanced diet for Mediterranean tortoises can include dandelion and a very wide range of naturally occurring non-toxic “weeds”. Do not use head lettuces such as iceberg, as these contain very little in the way of vitamins, fiber or minerals. There are several excellent resources available on the web where you find comprehensive lists of suitable food plants that are suitable for use in Mediterranean tortoise diets. Some of these are listed at the bottom of this page.

Captive-bred Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo ibera) raised exclusively on a herbivorous diet based upon the guidelines discussed here; high fiber, no fruit, rich in calcium, low in protein, no animal matter, and containing a wide variety of fresh edible "weeds".

Most Mediterranean tortoises fare best when allowed to graze, offering the other listed items as occasional supplements. Do not routinely offer cabbage, spinach, chard, bok choy, or any vegetable related to these, as they inhibit calcium absorption and can cause serious health problems. This is particularly critical in the case of juveniles or egg-laying females. The regular use of a cuttlefish bone or calcium block left in the enclosures allows tortoises to regulate the amount of calcium in the diet. Some tortoises like this very much, while others will refuse to eat it.

Allowing Mediterranean tortoises to forage and graze naturally helps the tortoise to maintain good digestive-tract health, and greatly assists in the prevention of obesity. If scute pyramiding is noted, this usually indicates that either too much of the ‘right’ type of food is being consumed, or, more likely, that the overall protein content of the diet is too high and the calcium/D3 supply is inadequate. We recommend the use of a good quality phosphorus free calcium and vitamin D3 supplement at least twice per week, more frequently for juveniles and egg-laying females. A “raw” calcium supplement may safely be used on a daily basis. If the tortoise is maintained indoors for any significant period, be sure to make provision for UV-B exposure. The “Lighting” article mentioned previously should be consulted before deciding which lamps to purchase and for advice on how to install them.

Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizzii) - in the wild it feeds on a variety of seasonal succulent plants, flowers, grasses and cacti. Like all arid-habitat tortoises it is a strict herbivore.

If you keep Desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) you will find that the above diet is also suitable, with minor modifications, as their requirements are very similar indeed to the Mediterranean Testudo species. The Russian tortoise, Testudo horsfieldii, though geographically not a Mediterranean tortoise, also has near identical dietary requirements.

The Russian, Steppe, Afghan or Horsfield's tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii): another strict herbivore from a harsh and arid environment. Overfeeding is a problem with this species in captivity.

 

Reprinted with permission from The Tortoise Trust

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In the News

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I'll just go and freshen up, dear...

Going to the zoo is dangerous in China...

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