Live food is generally transported in plastic tubs or sacks which are certainly not suitable for long term housing. We aim to offer some practical advice on the correct care of a variety of commonly used live food and also the correct methods of gut-loading.
Gut-loading is the process of providing adequate nutrition to the live food ensuring that your pet receives the maximum amount of goodness from its food source. If you fail to adequately gut-load the feeder insects it is much like making a sandwich with no filling so lacking, nutritionally. Our reptiles are deserving of high quality food and if we don’t care for our live food correctly we are failing them.
We must make it clear this is merely our opinion on the best methods to use and there are differing viewpoints on this topic.
One thing worth mentioning here that few people are aware of when it comes to caring for crickets and locusts, is the issue of temperature. If they are kept at too low a temperature then the food they eat is not able to digest properly in their gut. They are therefore not ingesting the correct nourishment and the undigested food will rot in their stomachs.
Crickets should be kept at approximately 80-85f(26-29c) and Locusts at 90-105f(32-40.5c). This is essential to ensure the insects digest their food correctly. This can be achieved by the placement of a small heat mat under one third of the base of the insects enclosure and by using a mat thermostat to set the correct temperatures. Failing that, if you have a suitably warm place such as an airing cupboard that may prove adequate.
In cold weather you may find that your live food appears lethargic and sluggish when you purchase it from the shop or it arrives in the mail. This is nothing to worry about as they can cope with low temperatures for a considerable length of time and once warmed up they will return to normal activity.
When it comes to housing, any plastic or glass tank will do but its vital that it has a well ventilated lid. One of the biggest killers of crickets and locusts is too much moisture. An ideal enclosure would be the Exo Terra Faunarium which is commonly available at reptile shops and online. A general rule when keeping live food is the larger the enclosure the better.
Egg cartons should be placed vertically in the tank for the insects to hide and live on. Wheat or oat bran should be fed as a staple diet and they also should be given salad greens and fruit daily to feed on. Feed just enough to be eaten in one day and this will help them in the shedding of their skin and also to ingest moisture. Good food examples are apples, leafy cabbages, spring greens, cucumber and romaine lettuce. All leftover fruit and veg should be removed at the end of each day to ensure the enclosure does not get damp or mouldy, which would cause problems. It is also very important not to overcrowd your live food, especially crickets, as you may find a lot die off as a result.
Mealworms will last much longer if kept cold at all times. When they are warm they very quickly start to morph and pupate. It is not uncommon for people to keep them in their fridge but of course that is not for everyone. They must be kept dry as any moisture will kill them. They can be fed on bran and readily take slices of carrot or root vegetables. It is advisable to allow them to come up to room temperature before feeding to your pets though, as this will make them more lively and appetising. A suitable dusting powder such as Nutrobal should be added to the bran to ensure the worms are correctly gut loaded and more nutritious as a food source.
Super Morio Worms
These worms should be kept at room temperature in an open topped container. They are long lived and do not morph as frequently as their smaller mealworm counterparts. They should be fed on bran and pieces of vegetable or leafy greens. These worms can even be fed on pinkie mice or meat scraps if you are wishing to load them up with protein before feeding to your reptiles. These worms can nip a little so its not uncommon for some owners to pinch off their heads before feeding them to their pets.
These should be kept at room temperature but not too hot or they will start to pupate. Any wax worms that darken or turn black should be removed as these can ruin the others. Wax worms do not require feeding as they are already at the stage where they no longer feed by the time purchase them.
Fruit flies should be kept at a temperature of approximately 75-78f(23.8-25.5c). Ordinarily the tubs you buy contain flies at the larval stage and if kept at the correct temperature they will hatch in a matter of days. If kept too hot the tubs will produce a lot of moisture which will kill the larvae so ensure you keep at the correct temperature.
Cockroaches are best kept in large plastic crates. With Dubia Cockroaches a lid is not strictly necessary but with other species such as Lobster and Turkistans a well ventilated lid is essential. A good tip is to smear Vaseline around the inner rim of the tub to ensure you have no escapees.
Cockroaches are best kept at temperatures of 75-80f(23.8-26.6c). A heatmat can be placed underneath or they can be kept in an airing cupboard.
Egg cartons are ideal for Cockroaches, as is screwed up newspaper as they appreciate hiding places as they are very secretive insects. No substrate is required which makes cleaning the Cockroaches a lot simpler.
Good food for Cockroaches include fresh greens, fresh fruit such as slices of apple or orange, grapes or banana. Wheat bran is a good staple food. They must be fed daily and each day any old food must be removed to prevent mould and dampness as this will kill the Cockroaches.
All of these feeder insects if well fed and kept at the correct temperatures, provide excellent nutrition for your reptiles. It is important that all insects are dusted with a suitable calcium/multivitamin powder before every feed. A great example of a good calcium/multivitamin powder to use is Nutrobal. Proper supplementation is discussed elsewhere on the site.
If you have any questions with regard to feeding your reptile live food, please contact a member of our nursing team who will be happy to advise you.
Written by Lee Biagi- Veterinary Care Assistant