Desert locust by georgeoide
Locusts make fantastic reptile live food. The most commonly bred locust for live food is the desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria. This is the bright yellow and black locusts which you will be accustomed to seeing in your local pet shop. Locusts make a fantastic live food and are often regarded as the “best” staple you can offer your pet due to their nutritional content and rich gut flora. Not to mention that most insectivorous animals relish them. However the cost of purchasing locusts from commercial breeders often makes their use as a regular foodstuff costly and therefore restrictive.
Locusts have also developed something of a reputation within the hobby as being rather difficult to breed- and don’t get me wrong this can be the case. However, as with anything regarded as difficult in this hobby it boils down to one simple thing – routine. In order to maintain a healthy, thriving locust colony you simply need to get in to the correct routine and stick to it carefully. Provided you are strict with how often you replace the food stuffs, clean out the enclosure and monitor the temperatures then you should find that breeding locusts for live food is little more difficult than breeding say, crickets or waxworms.
I think the notion of routine is actually quite an important note to make when it comes to anything difficult in this hobby; it is a point I want to take the time to elaborate on. If something is difficult or complex to do, all you need to do is get in to the right routine. Even the most difficult and complex set of requirements can be compacted in to a routine which is stringently followed. Breeding locusts for live food is exactly this situation. It is very easy to do when you follow the right routine.
Due to the complexity of breeding locusts (ie you tend to need more than one relatively large enclosure to properly breed these, and some rotation of these enclosures may be required) you should only really undertake the process if you need a large supply of locusts. The thing with breeding locusts for live foods is generally once you get it right you end up with lots of locusts. Seriously, loads of the things. Breeding locusts isn’t like crickets or cockroaches where you can do it on a comparatively smaller scale, generally there is a certainly degree of commitment required here.
However if you do opt to breed locusts you will be very pleased with the results and save yourself alot of money should you use them regularly.
You will need two vivariums or DIY Storage boxes (often called RUBs – really useful boxes) which are approximately 24x12x15in. This should be considered as minimums – larger enclosures mean larger colonies which mean more productivity which means more live food for your pets. I don’t have a crazy demand for locusts (my demand is large enough to justify breeding them, however I don’t have a huge set up so two lots of 2ft vivariums), I have seen some really impressive locust breeding set ups. One which springs to mind was a set up consisting of three 4x4x2ft enclosures filled to the brim with various sized locusts. In addition to this the breeder had a fourth tank the same size which was full exclusively of his breeding adults. The breeder in question appeared to be building some kind of bearded dragon army and commented on the fact that every now and again he would suffer from a locust shortage. Incredible really isn’t it?
Of your two enclosures, you will have one which contains your breeding adults, and another which contains your offspring and growing individuals (or feeders to give them another slightly morbid name). Depending upon your demand, and the size of the colony, you may find you need multiple locust offspring enclosures. Doing this also allows you to cycle so you have a tank of adults, a tank of medium-large locusts, and a tank of baby/juvenile locusts for example. This also makes sorting out your locusts for feeding much easier. Speaking from experience it can be rather frustrating trying to harvest 5mm babies from a tank full of 2inch locusts hopping around.
The more surface space you have in the enclosure the more locusts you can have in there. You should maximize space as much as you can. Some breeders opt for the use of branches – which works quite well in your breeding adult locust enclosure, as it does increase surface area. Personally I, and most other breeders, make use of empty cardboard egg crates. You can stack these providing loads of surface area in an enclosed space. The babies and youngsters to particularly well in this kind of set up because they can squeeze in to the crevices in between the stacked egg crates and feel secure.
Locust housing by Gilles San Martin
Breeding locusts eat a lot of food. They should never be allowed to run out of food. Feed them a mixed diet of leafy greens, salad and vegetables. As a tip to get cheap vegetables, visit super markets a few hours before they close and you will often find their vegetables heavily reduced in price. Ensure you wash the food thoroughly before feeding to the locusts. I also like to give a little sprinkling of calcium and vitamin powder on the leaf vegetables before offering them to the locusts.
I know I have said this before but locusts really do eat a lot, be prepared for this. It is actually their heat and food requirements which make locusts one of the more expensive live foods which you can purchase commercially.
Locusts don’t seem to need a water bowl, they appear to get all of their moisture from the food they eat.
Locusts temperature and humidity
Temperature is very important when breeding locusts, as they are a desert species they like it hot. Within reason, the hotter the better is true when breeding locusts. An interesting point to note here is that due to simple enzyme kinetics (if you can remember back to high school science) temperature is directly proportional to growth and reproductive rates, as well as feeding rates. This means if your colony is being too productive you could always reduce the temperatures, or if you’d like to see your locust colony grow faster you need to increase temperatures.
As a general rule, you should keep your locusts at about 30-35c – however 25c is ok if you wish to slow colony growth, and up to 40c is good if you wish to maximize productivity. I have found the easiest way to do this is via a powerful heat bulb (light bulb) or a ceramic heater positioned at the top of the enclosure. You can provide a guard over the bulb if you like – I have never bothered personally.
So long as the locusts can move freely there will be a nice temperature gradient there and you will find they regulate their own temperatures.
It is very important that you keep your locusts as dry as you possibly can - humidity will very quickly devastate a colony. With this in mind you should ensure that at least one side of the enclosure is completely made of mesh, however I prefer to have 2 sides personally. So long as you maintain a high degree of ventilation the high temperatures of the set up will ensure that humidity does not become a problem.
Within your adult breeding enclosure you should place egg laying sites. There are a number of options here, cheap plastic tubs and empty jars are your best bet. I like to use empty coffee jars or ice cream tubs (a fantastic excuse to drink lots of coffee and consume ice cream). These should be filled with damp sand (read: damp not soaked! Remember humidity in the colony kills and these will be a great source of humidity). The sand should be at least 3inches deep as the female locust will use her ovipositor to bury the eggs rather deep. Take care to periodically top the moisture up as these egg laying sites will dry out quickly in the heat.
In a thriving colony you will want to transfer these tubs from the adult locust breeding enclosure to the juvenile enclosure once a week in order for the youngsters to hatch in the appropriate enclosure. Locusts take about 10 days to hatch, hence cycling the tubs every seven days to ensure none hatch in the adult enclosure. Upon moving the egg laying tubs you will want to replace them with fresh ones – so in affect you are constantly cycling the egg laying sites, taking eggs from the adult enclosure and placing it in the juvenile set up once a week.
Depending upon the size of the colony you may need multiple egg laying sites, use common sense as it is very difficult to advise on an individual basis without seeing the colony. Personally my set up contains two old ice cream tubs as egg laying sites which I cycle. This means four are in use in total (two are present with the adults for them to lay their eggs in, and two are in the juvenile set up hatching).
As locusts from within your juvenile enclosure(s) start to mature you will want to upgrade them to the breeding enclosure so they can contribute to the future generations of the colony. An alternative way of doing this is to cycle your enclosures. IE as your juvenile enclosure begins to mature it becomes your breeding enclosure, and you set up a new juvenile enclosure (which you can either do by using a third enclosure so you have a 3 tank set up, or you can do by allowing your adults to die off and making use of their enclosure). There is more than one way to skin a cat as they say.
Desert locust by Pickersgill Reef
Setting up your locust live food colony
In order to properly set up a locust breeding colony you need some starting individuals. Resist the urge to buy adults to kick start the breeding instantly – when you buy adult locusts you have no idea of their age and how long they have been laying eggs. Instead, I like to buy what pet shops often sell as large or extra large locusts. I normally buy a bulk bag of these containing a few hundred locusts to kick start a colony. There are a few obvious advantages to this. Firstly you have a large number of locusts to start your colony, but secondly and more importantly is you tend to get a greater deviation in the size of the locusts you get in a bulk bag. The majority of your locusts will be large and nearly at breeding age, but there will be a good proportion which are smaller.
The result of this is that you get a longer period of egg production. As the first locusts mature and start to lay eggs, you have others which are still growing and may take a further month or so before they reach breeding age. This gives you a long window of opportunity to establish your first generation of breeding individuals and gives you a better age spread in your colony. This increases its chances of success and helps mean that you have a more constant spread of locusts of various sizes once your colony is established.
There is actually a very strong argument for buying multiple different sizes of locusts when establishing a colony. Buying a small number of small-medium locusts to supplement your main bulk of larger locusts will help ensure that you have a steadier locust production later in the colonies life (rather than an initial large boom followed by a crash).
Hope you enjoyed the guide and good luck!
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