In the United States, the brown cricket (Acheta domestica) is one of the most commonly used feeder insect for reptiles and amphibians. They are available from pet stores as well as from commercial breeders. A common problem most people who keep amphibians or reptiles have faced at one time or another is keeping crickets. There are about as many different ways to care for crickets as there are people who keep them. With this article I will outline the basics that are needed to keep them alive and healthy.
The container that crickets are kept in needs to be escape proof and well-ventilated. Many people that keep only a few dozen crickets at a time prefer to use plastic pet containers, sometimes called “critter keepers.” These work well when a few dozen are being housed. For keeping larger numbers, large plastic storage containers, garbage cans, or glass aquariums with screen covers can be used. Ventilation is important, though large numbers of crickets can start to smell so consider carefully where you choose to keep crickets and not only the container they are kept in.
The bottom of the container can be lined with a simple substrate, such as paper towels or newspaper. This will make it easier to clean the cage. A bare-bottom can also be used if the container is cleaned often. Inside the cricket should should have:
- Egg carton or crumpled newspaper
- Water source
- Warm temperature
- Egg-laying site (if breeding is desired)
The environment that crickets are kept in will play a large role in how many survive and live long enough to be used as food. Always keep crickets above 70°F (21°C), preferably warmer. This can be achieved in cool areas by using a low wattage heat lamp to heat the cage. It’s also important to keep the cage dry. Although crickets need moisture in their environment to drink from, they should never be kept in humid or moist areas. The other important part of their environment is cleanliness. Dead crickets should be removed from the cage regularly to prevent disease from spreading.
In order to keep crickets alive, they need to be fed. Neglecting to feed is probably the most common reason people have trouble keeping them alive. Many pet stores do not feed their crickets and when they are purchased they are already starving. In order to get the most out of crickets, it is best to house them for a day or two with food so that they can fill themselves prior to being offered to your pets.
Crickets should be fed a healthy diet before being fed to reptiles and amphibians. This will restore the nutrients that were lost during the time they spent in transit or at the pet store. Feeding feeder insects healthy foods prior to feeding them to other animals is often called gut loading. A good diet should consist of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as a dry component. Good vegetables and fruits to offer include lettuces and dark greens, apples, oranges, sprouts, carrots, sweet potato, squash and melons. Good dry diets to use in combination with the vegetables and fruits include high quality fish flake, dry dog food and rice baby food.
If you are just looking to keep crickets alive for a few days before feeding them to your pets, a large slice of orange and small pinch of fish food will provide enough moisture and food for a day or two.
There are also many commercial cricket diets available. Some work reasonably well while others just don’t seem to cut it. It’s important to understand what the intended use of the diet is before offering it to the crickets. Many cricket foods are designed to put vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to reptiles and amphibians into crickets. Unfortunately, crickets don’t have the same nutritional needs as reptiles and amphibians and often these foods will kill large amounts of crickets if they are the only food offered over a long period of time. When buying a cricket diet, try to find one that is designed to sustain the feeder insects rather than to put large amounts of vitamins and minerals into them. The vitamin and mineral content of a cricket is better changed to suite reptiles and amphibians with high quality powdered vitamin and mineral supplements rather than with only commercial gut loading products.
Providing a source of moisture is vital if the crickets are going to be kept for more than a day. Crickets readily drown in standing water. A moist sponge or piece of foam rubber can soaked in water and then used to provide drinking water. Replace this every few days. Alternatively, you can choose to feed crickets fruits or vegetables that have a high moisture content instead of offering water. This will force the crickets to consume these vitamin-rich foods in order to stay hydrated.
Breeding is not difficult. The hard part is raising the tiny hatchlings which emerge from the egg too small for all but the tiniest of amphibians and reptiles to eat. Generally it is not worth your time to breed crickets unless you have a large collection of animals to feed or require lots of tiny insects.
Mature females can be told apart from males by the long tube that extends from their abdomen. This is called an ovipositor and is used to deposit eggs in soil or other egg laying media. The more adults in the breeding colony, the more eggs and offspring will be produced. One adult female can lay over 500 eggs in her lifetime.
To breed crickets, simply place a container with moist soil or sand in with the adult crickets. This will be what the females lay their eggs in. The container can be as large as you like but does not have to be any deeper than an inch or two. For a substrate, I have used coconut husk fiber, moist sand as well as a mixture of the two and all of these work just fine. This substrate should be moist but not wet. If it is squeezed in your hand very little water should drip out. Leave the container in with the crickets for up to 48 hours, remove it, and then cover it.
If the egg-laying medium dries completely the eggs will die and you will need to start over. Store the eggs between 75°F (24°C) and 90°F (32°C). At lower temperatures the eggs will hatch after two to three weeks of incubation. At warmer temperatures the eggs may hatch in as little as one week. It is important that the soil or sand stays moist during incubation. It may be necessary to lightly mist the medium once or twice during incubation to prevent it from drying out.
Once you notice tiny crickets hatching, move the container into a small aquarium or plastic tub. This container must be kept warm, 75°-85°F (24°C-29°C), or there will be high mortality. Remove the lid from the container, and spread crumpled up newspaper or paper towels on top of the egg laying container and around the aquarium it has been placed in.
The hatchlings can be fed a similar diet to adults. They are very susceptible to dehydration so it is a good idea to replace their source of moisture daily. When kept warm, they will grow quickly and can reach adult size in as little as two months.