Crickets can be considered one of the staples of the diet of most lizards, frogs and salamanders, although generally speaking it is not a good idea to make them the sole food item as your pet may get bored with them and need a bit of variety. They have the advantage of being easy to keep, easy to feed and easy to dispense, while not being as potentially destructive as, say, termites, should they escape.

What's on offer

In pet shops there are usually two species of crickets for sale: the smaller brown crickets (also confusing called "Grey Crickets", although to my eyes they seem completely brown), Acheta domesticus, and the larger black or field cricket, Gryllus spp. Both are sold in various sizes, although there normally seems to be only two sizes of black cricket available, medium to large, whereas brown crickets can usually be purchased from pinhead size (very small) to full-size adult. The crickets are normally kept in plastic cartons that each contain a piece of egg carton to which the insects cling.

Nutritional Value

It is important to realise that at the point of purchase the nutritional value of these insects is actually not terribly great. This is because they have been kept in these conditions for some days, if not weeks, without food or water, and so lack much dietary goodness. If you feed them straight to your pet(s) as soon as you get the crickets home, your animals will not derive much from them other than bulk. The way around this is gut-loading, a term much beloved of reptile- and amphibian-keepers. Basically it means you feed and water the insects for 12-24 hours before you feed them to your captives. This makes for a highly nutritious meal.

Keeping your crickets

I have found the following method of keeping crickets to be quite convenient and economical, leading to healthy insects and fewer losses. First you need something to keep the insects in. An old aquarium with a fitting lid will do, but I have found it just as good and more portable to use the small plastic "Pet Pal" tanks that come in a variety of shapes and sizes with fitting lids that snap into place. They also usually have a small hatch in the top. Whatever receptacle you use, the method is basically the same. Sprinkle a layer of bran or oatmeal on the floor to the depth of a few millimetres, then lower your plastic box of crickets into the tank and open it. You should find that if you carefully lift out the egg carton most of the crickets will remain clinging to it, though a few will leap off. Place the carton on the bottom of the tank and tip any remaining crickets out of the plastic box, which can then be disposed of. At this point you should clip the lid back on to prevent crickets from jumping out (a tendency found more in the brown variety than in the black).

Crickets do best when kept above 70 deg F, so I keep mine in the same room as my reptiles. At temperatures of about 80-82 deg F they will probably start to breed, although actually having breeding success with crickets is not so easy. In any event you should try to prevent escapes as much as possible as if too many get into the house you may find problems with things like synthetic carpet being nibbled or some escapees finding their way into your neighbours' dwellings, which will be disturbing to them and embarrassing to you. This is one area where a cat can be useful, as I have noticed that our two will eagerly hunt down any cricket they see on the ground. Really the keyword here is being responsible.

Feeding your crickets

Feeding the crickets is fairly simple, and really just requires a small dish or bowl, or even a clean jar lid (my own favoured technique). Chop up some fresh veggies and fruit, mix it up a bit and dole it into the dish, bowl or lid or whatever you are using, then carefully place it at one end of the cricket tank. After a while you should see the crickets begin to climb over the food and nibble at it. Good food ingredients I have found are chopped paw-paw, slices of orange, and particularly leafy vegetables and such salad-type items as cress. In fact crickets will eat most things, although obviously you should not give them anything which might be harmful to the creatures you are going to feed the crickets to. The crickets' main meal will be their first one when you get them home: after that they usually need "topping up", for which I like to use tropical fish flakes. Again they seem quite partial to these, and these can conveniently be offered without the risk of them going off. Food matter such as fruit and veg should be removed after a day or two as otherwise it becomes mouldy and generally unpleasant, which is not only offensive to the eyes and nose but is not good for the insects either.

Watering your crickets

Offering water is not as simple as it seems, since crickets, particularly the black variety, have a tendency to drown in even the shallowest of lids or other receptacles. I have found either of the following works well: a purpose-built reptile bowl with a rough, uneven bottom which is designed to stop creatures from drowning by giving them something to grasp onto and which can be filled to a shallow level with water, or a strip of toilet roll (two or three sheets) crumpled up, made wet under a tap and placed in a jar lid. I use both of these methods. In either case the water can be topped up each night by squirting the bowl or tissue with a plant spray. One of the most fascinating sights for a keeper is to see crickets come swarming over the water bowl or tissue when they are first taken out of their box.

Offering your crickets

When the time comes to feed your pets, the easiest way is to lower a plastic sandwich bag or similar into the tank, carefully pick up one of the pieces of egg carton and then tip it into the bag, giving it a couple of firm taps to dislodge the crickets. They should fall into the bottom of the bag, after which you can remove the egg carton and tie up the bag. Note that it is a good idea to put the egg carton back as any remaining crickets will use it as shelter, which they seem to need (stressed crickets are not nutritious crickets!). I normally find it useful to stun the crickets slightly before I offer them to my pets, so I place the sealed bag in the fridge (NOT the freezer) for 15-30 minutes. The cold reduces them to a state of torpor and slows them down for the first few minutes that they are in the recipient's cage. Some animals don't need this, being very fast and efficient hunters, but others do benefit as a fast-moving cricket can be a difficult target to some of them. The stunned crickets can be tipped into your pet's tank or living space either one or two at a time or in a group, depending on the animal's feeding strategy (some like to chase one or two at a time, others go berserk and attempt to devour them all at once). It probably goes without saying, but never feed your pets more than they need at one sitting. Apart from the waste, it will either encourage them to overeat or else the crickets left over may stress or even hurt the animals later, particularly soft-skinned creatures such as geckos or amphibians. Any surviving crickets should be tipped back into the tank for the next meal. Although inevitably you will find that some of the crickets die of natural causes in the tank, I have found that I can keep a reasonable quantity of crickets alive over a week or two, which is how long they would last before being fed anyway.

A Note on Sizes

It should go without saying, but captive animals should not be fed food items that are too large for them, nor too tough. A good rule of thumb I have found is that geckos and similar-sized lizards thrive on medium-sized brown crickets, while baby lizards do best with a diet of pinhead crickets. The adult brown crickets and adult black crickets are best given to medium- or large-sized lizards which have powerful jaws, such as plated lizards, monitors and tegus. Smaller black crickets which do not seem so shiny (ie their carapace is not as tough) can be fed to larger geckos such as tokays and other medium-sized lizards such as bearded dragons and water dragons. Male and female crickets can be easily distinguished, the females having an egg probe protruding from the rear of their abdomen. In adult crickets this probe can be extremely long and tough, and therefore I avoid feeding adult females to all but the biggest (and meanest) of my lizards, who I know will thorough chew up their prey before swallowing it.

Tank maintenance

At some point between a fortnight and a month you will need to clean out your cricket tank(s). This is because inevitably you will get an accumulation of dead crickets, cast off cricket casings (where they grow up to the next instar and discared the old exoskeleton), damp bran or oatmeal and a layer of old fish flakes and cricket droppings. The best way I have found is to have a spare tank for this, into which you can carefully lift any egg cartons (complete with crickets holding on). After you have removed all the cartons there will inevitably be some crickets still running around in the bottom, but these can be picked out carefully within about ten minutes (you'll get practised at it!). After all the crickets have been removed, simply tip the substrate and its attendant detritus into a rubbish bag and then clean out the tank with a rag and hot water. For best results use a substance like Tamodine that is designed for use with herps, as this will get the cricket tank clean without any danger to your pets through toxic substances being ingested by the crickets. Wipe clean with a paper towel and when you are sure it is dry, replace the substrate and put the crickets back in. You will find after a while that the amount of cartons will build up, so throw out the oldest ones (easily distinguishable by being spattered with tiny brown droppings and often having had holes gnawed in them).

Back to Food | Back to Reptiles | Back to Amphibians | Back to Main Page