Keeping and Breeding Crickets (Acheta domestica)
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 cricket 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 sustain crickets and show examples of the way that I keep mine.
Housing: 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 only a small number of crickets are being housed. For keeping larger numbers of crickets, large plastic storage containers, garbage cans, or glass aquariums with screen covers can be used. The lids of plastic storage containers can be modified to allow better ventilation by cutting out a large hole and duct-taping aluminum window screen over it. There are also a number of cages that are specifically designed for keeping crickets that work well.
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. Other things that will need to go inside of the cage are a material like cardboard egg carton or crumpled newspaper, a water source, food and an egg-laying site (optional).
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.
Food: In order to keep crickets alive, they need to be fed. Neglecting to feed crickets 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 the crickets are often starving. In order to get the most out of the crickets, it’s 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 in the crickets 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 cricket diet should consist of both 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.
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 commercial cricket food 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 commercial gut loading products.
Water: Providing a source of moisture is vital if the crickets are going to be kept for more than a few days. 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 offerring water. This will force the crickets to consume these vitamin-rich foods in order to stay hydrated. Sliced oranges work particularly well for this.
Breeding: Breeding crickets is fairy simple to do. The hard part is raising the tiny hatchlings which emerge from the egg at around 1 or 2 mm. Generally it is not worth your time to breed crickets unless you have a large collection of animals to feed.
Mature female crickets 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 medium. The more adult crickets in the breeding colony, the more eggs and offspring will be produced. One adult female cricket 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. I use small 8 oz. deli cups full of moist coconut husk fiber mixed with play sand. Larger containers can also be used. The soil or sand 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 out the eggs will have died and you’ll 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 you will have 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 hatchling crickets can be fed a similar diet to adults. They are very susceptible to dehydration, and it's a good idea to replace their source of moisture daily. When kept warm, they will grow quickly, and can reach adult size in 5-8 weeks.
Last updated 06.27.05
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