There are two species of feeder crickets: Acheta domesticus (Brown Cricket or Common House Cricket) and Gryllus bimaculatus (Black Cricket, Black Field Cricket, Mediterranean Cricket, Silent Cricket, or African Cricket). Field crickets tend to be much more aggressive than brown crickets, making them more difficult to handle as feeders. Crickets are the most common live food for captive reptiles, spiders, frogs and turtles.
Size and Lifecycle
Crickets have an eight-week lifespan and reach breedable maturity between 5 – 6 weeks of age. The three stages of a cricket’s life cycle are egg, nymph, and adult. Crickets spend 14 days in the egg and hatch as nymphs. Nymphs look like smaller versions of adults but missing wings. Nymphs are often prey for larger crickets and should be housed separately. Nymphs will molt eight to ten times before growing wings at about a month of age. The new exoskeleton is soft and white but hardens and darkens within a few hours. Once crickets reach adulthood, they spend their time eating and attempting to mate. Once a female has mated, she lays eggs almost continuously. Females lay between 100 and 200 eggs in their life. Female Crickets will have a single long pointy appendage extending from their backside called an ovipositor. It’s used to lay their eggs. Males lack ovipositors.
Pros and Cons
Crickets are easy to care for and cheap to purchase.
They are flexible meals due to their different sizes during the multiple life stages.
Smaller, newly hatched crickets are ideal for smaller pets, and adult crickets are better suited to larger pets.
Crickets are high in protein and are highly nutritious when gut-loaded correctly.
They are also easy to dust with calcium and other vitamins.
Due to their common usage, they are easy to acquire.
Crickets are not picky eaters, so there is no difficulty feeding them.
Crickets have a short lifespan, and dead crickets must be removed regularly.
They release toxins that can be fatal to the remaining crickets.
Black crickets are also quite loud once they reach adulthood.
Crickets are mostly exoskeleton, so you may have to feed your pet more, smaller crickets to get more meat into your pet.
They move fast and can be challenging to handle.
Some pets may have difficulty catching crickets due to their speed.
You can slow down crickets by removing their hind legs.
Crickets’ voracious appetites mean that they will probably turn on your reptile, leaving bites that can get infected.
You must NOT leave crickets in the enclosure overnight; it’s best only to feed the number of crickets that your pet can consume in one sitting.
Crickets are also skilled at escaping.
They seem to have a higher chance of carrying parasites than other feeder insects, so wild-caught crickets should never be feed to your pet.
Crickets can be up to 65% protein by weight after a gut-load, meaning they can be more protein-dense than red meat or chicken. They also contain high levels of iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and omega fatty acids. In general, they contain about 21mg of calcium per 100g of cricket. Crickets fed a poor diet are about 21% protein, 6% fat, and 3% carbohydrates. The remaining 69% is water-based. These content levels are dependent upon what the crickets are fed, though.
Caring for Feeder Crickets
Crickets do best in temperatures between 80°F and 90°F. Provide heat with a heat mat, or place the enclosure on top of your reptile’s cage. Below this temperature range, crickets can still survive but will not breed. You can use their reaction to temperature to your benefit. If you cool the crickets in the fridge prior to feeding your pet, the crickets will be sluggish and inactive, making them easier to catch by your pet. Place the crickets container in a dry place where you can maintain a light cycle of 8 hours darkness and 16 hours light. You can use a deep tub made of plastic for the container, with good ventilation, an aquarium with a mesh lid, or a Cricket Keeper. Use metal mesh instead of fiberglass. Cricket Keepers are available for purchase in most stores that specialize in reptiles. Small Cricket Keepers tend to have a dimension of four-by-six inches, which will suffice for a modest number (<50) of small to medium-sized crickets. A large size Cricket Keeper will be needed to house large-sized crickets. These larger sized keepers work well if keeping bigger groups of small-medium crickets (50-100+). You can also use an enclosure of roughly five-gallons in size. Alternatively to the mesh, you can cut large air holes in the container’s lid and cover it with a pair of old pantyhose. Use a container with smooth sides since crickets cannot climb smooth surfaces well.
Crickets do not need any substrate in their enclosure since it collects odors and can make cleaning more difficult. Should you decide to line the bottom of the enclosure with a substrate, coconut fiber, wood shavings, or sand will work well. However, they need hiding places to feel secure, so add cardboard tubes or the bottoms of egg boxes in the enclosure. Arrange these surfaces to permit more standing room so that the crickets don’t smother each other. Additionally, the cardboard tubes make it easier to scoop the crickets out when it is time to harvest them. Clean the cage on a weekly basis, removing dead crickets and waste. It would be best if you also cleaned the cage before bringing in new crickets. Crickets are highly sensitive to chemical fumes. To clean the enclosure, tilt it to one side, and move the egg cartons to the end opposite the tilt. The crickets will stay on the cardboard, which clears the space to reach the materials that must be removed. If you need to clean the entire enclosure, remove the egg cartons and place them in a secondary container. Wash the enclosure with hot water and a mild solution of antibacterial soap and bleach. Rinse the enclosure until the smell of the solution is gone—dry thoroughly before reintroducing crickets.
Food needs to be high in calcium and low in phosphorus when you feed it to your pet. Unfortunately, crickets are naturally high in phosphorus and low in calcium. Gut loading is the easiest way to make them suitable for your pet to eat, and research shows gut loading to be effective. The simplest method is to feed the cricket food high in calcium less than 48 hours before feeding the cricket to your pet. However, a more effective strategy is to raise the crickets on high calcium food, such as dandelions and turnip greens. An additional food source for crickets is a mixture of cactus powder and agar.
Generally, any fresh produce will act as a water source, boost Omega-3 fatty acids, and help balance the amino acids. Colored cricket food cubes are better suited as hydration sources as they don’t provide any significant source of nutrition. You can also install a watering device designed for feeder insects or keep a damp cotton ball, paper towel, or sponge as a water source. A water bowl should not be used as crickets drown very easily. Check the water supplies to make sure they stay damp. If you use a watering device, refill it as needed and wash it once a week to prevent bacterial build-up. Only use dechlorinated water. Dechlorinators are available for purchase at most local pet stores. Crickets will drown in a shallow water bowl. To prevent this, place a sponge in the shallow dish, or use polymer water crystals. When mixed with water, they form a gel-like formation. Water crystals are sold in crystal form, fully hydrated.
Keep one type of food in the cage at a time and remove any uneaten produce at the end of the day to prevent mold and spoilage. When gut-loading, however, allow the crickets to gorge on a variety of foods for 24 hours. You can move the prey crickets into a secondary container for gut-loading.
A healthful diet for crickets is high in fresh produce. A well-fed feeder cricket will be healthy prey for your reptile. Carrots and potatoes make a good basis. Include various greens, such as collard greens, dandelion leaves, mustard greens, or romaine lettuce. Apples, berries, papaya, mango, and grapefruits are all suitable fruits to feed the crickets on. Crickets do very well in general with orange-colored produce, which is high in beta-carotene.
Avoid banana, iceberg lettuce, nightshade (tomatoes), watermelon, and citrus. Combine fresh produce with dry food to fully round out the diet. Options for dry foods include seeds, nuts, Wheat Bran, alfalfa, cricket chow, crushed dog or cat food, or vegetable-based chicken feed. Keep food available in the cage at all times since crickets are voracious and will eat anything, including other crickets.