Live Food Care
Getting the most out of your live food
Image from wikipedia
This article takes a look at the care of store bought live food. Proper care of your live food can be the difference between a tub of crickets lasting you a week or a tub of crickets lasting you a month (or until your pets have finished them off). It doesn’t take a genius to work out it makes sense to take a little bit of time and effort to look after your live food, it will save you money as your tubs last longer and you can generally assume that live food that lives longer is healthier and therefore a better source of food for your pets.
It should be said that this guide concerns itself with only with maximizing the lifespan of food you buy and intend to feed, this doesn’t look at the process of breeding/culturing live food. That is a whole different ball game and I suggest you take a look at our breeding live food section if that is your interest.
We’ll start by looking at a few “general rules” which can, for the most part, be applied to all live food, after which we will focus individually on common live food options such as crickets, locusts etc. Finally we’ll conclude the piece and offer a few final words and tips.
1. More space is generally better.
When you buy live food from the shop it will come in a small tub which has been designed to be a storage vessel rather than a place where you can really keep the live food for any duration of time (one exception to this is waxworms, which can be left in the tub they come in). Don’t get me wrong, if you have plenty of reptiles and are likely to use the live food up in under a week then you can get away with leaving them in their original tub. If however you are trying to keep them alive for a decent duration of time, it is recommended that you transfer them to a larger container with good ventilation. Personally I keep my live food in the appropriate sized plastic faunarium. They come in a tonne of sizes, are easy to clean and have good ventilation.
2. Moisture is important.
Moisture is important. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? Moisture is important in two ways, firstly that it is obviously necessary to provide it because it is essential for life, and secondly because too much of it is more or less without exception fatal to your live food. Build up of moisture in live food tubs will cause mould build up, mites and other problems. Your live food will therefore not live for very long at all in a humid environment (I’ve had 90% of the contents of cricket tubs perish over night due to negligence with moisture). As such it is important to provide a moisture rich food such as cucumber, apple, lettuce, carrot etc, but it is also important to ensure you have plenty of ventilation available so moisture does not build up. If you notice moisture building up you should immediately increase the ventilation and/or temperature to try and clear it out as quickly as you can. After that take more care with the moist foods you include, either using less or keeping more of an eye on the live food and moisture build up. Avoiding build up of moisture and mould growth is one of the most important aspects of keeping healthy live food.
3. Food is important.
Another obvious statement, but its one that applies throughout all live food (again with a couple of exceptions, such as waxworms, calci worms and silkworms) and it is a very important factor in keeping your live food healthy and alive. It is therefore important that you feed a diet which is nutritious and appropriate for the animals. Appropriate food types will be discussed when we come to discussing the different types of live food. An important point I’d like to make here is that healthy live food equals a healthy pet. In many ways your live food can be thought of as a simple vessel used to deliver nutrients to your pet. Therefore it is imperative you feed your live food on a healthy diet; not only will it maximize their life it will result in your pet being happier.
4. Temperature is important
These obvious statements are getting a bit much now aren’t they? Temperature is important because it directly affects metabolism and growth of your live food (as they’re cold blooded they’re very temperature dependant). Generally speaking, if you’d like your live food not to grow much you should keep it cooler, whereas if you’re happy for it to grow up a bit (like for instance, if you could only get food which is slightly too small) you should keep it warmer. Naturally the warmer you keep them the more they will eat, so you will need to compensate for this.
Generally speaking, the warmer you keep live food the happier it will be (up to about 30c as a rough guide) as things like crickets and locusts come from warmer climates. The knock on affect of this however is they will be far far quicker and as such harder to catch – which means more escapees – so its a bit of a balancing act.
Care of live food
Now we have covered some of the basic points that apply to most live food, lets take a look at some more specific examples...
Image by 'Pickersgill Reef' (flickr)
Certainly one of the easier live foods to keep alive (with the exception of hatchlings which can be tricky, but we’ll come to them), crickets are best transferred to a larger enclosure and provided with extra hiding spaces in the form of egg crates/toilet roll tubes etc. Cramped crickets are canabalistic crickets (as are thirsty ones, so make sure moist food is available). Food wise, broadly thinking you should think of their diet as being based on two constituents; the wet part and the dry part. The primary purpose of the wet diet is to provide moisture, however it can also be a key opportunity to provide nutrients and the like. You can offer cucumber, carrot, mixed lettuce or even grass (grass is surprisingly nutritious, is high in calcium and makes a good gutload).
For the dry part of the diet I like to use really cheap dog biscuits with a sprinkle of calcium/nutrobal on them as they contain a good amount of protein, nutrients and the like. I’ve found a higher protein diet really reduces cannibalism within groups of crickets. Alternatively I’ve had a great success using commercial gutload formulas which are generally based upon cereals and the like.
Provided you offer adequate food and moisture, along with plenty of space and ventilation (to avoid the previously discussed moisture problems which will kill of crickets very quickly) you should have great success with crickets.
Previously I discussed that hatchling crickets can be a little trickier to keep alive for any duration. The key with hatchling crickets is a tip which was bestowed upon me on an online forum years ago, I can’t remember where but I am very grateful for the suggestion. The key with hatchling crickets is to keep them as you would the adults, offering a good amount of space and a similar dry diet as you would the adults. The difference is that with hatchling crickets (both brown crickets and black crickets) is that they require fresh water provided every day, it is essential you change their source of water daily. The best way to provide water for hatchling crickets is to take a piece of tissue paper, fold it over and moisten it by either giving it a liberal spray with your water mister, or giving it a quick run under the tap. This should then be placed on the floor of the tub you have them in for easy access (you will need a tub with a good amount of floor space as well as ventilation, it is important that the cardboard egg cates which the crickets hide within do not come in to contact with the wet tissue used to give them moisture (going so will dampen them and cause mould problems). It is then essential that you change this piece of tissue every day or else mould growth will occur which will quickly decimate your hatchling cricket collection. So there you have it, thats the ‘secret’ to keeping hatchling crickets alive for a duration of time; give it a try, you’ll be surprised how successful it is.
If you’d like to learn how to breed crickets, please click here: breeding crickets.
Desert locust by georgeoide
Once again locusts are best transferred to a larger enclosure, a plastic faunarium of appropriate size as previously discussed is ideal. Diet wise, you should feed them a diet of mixed greens, they particularly relish lettuces and other leafy greens. Try to avoid iceberg lettuce as it carries poor nutritional value – darker leafy greens are ideal. Grass is also a great option for food, it is surprisingly nutritious (being particularly high in calcium) and is obviously free. You just have to be prepared to look like a bit of a nutter when you go and collect it. When collecting grass make sure you do it in an area where you can be sure pesticides aren’t in use.
In addition to the leafy element of the diet you may wish you feed with one of the commercial gutload formulas as they are very nutritious and relished by locusts.
Temperature can be a bit of an issue for locusts, particularly in winter. They don’t do well in cooler temperatures so try to keep them at atleast 15c (20-25c is better, any more than that and you’ll have lots of fun when you try to catch them to feed to your pets...).
If you’re interested in learning how to breed locusts for livefood, please click the link: breeding locusts.
Waxworms are a bit of an exception to most of the rules we’ve previously talked about. When you purchase waxworms they are generally the largest they are going to get; they are towards the end of their life as waxworms, waiting to pupate in to moths. During this stage they do not feed and can simply be left in the tubs they come in. They’re very much the definition of a low maintenance live food. Waxworms are best kept in the fridge for longevity, where they may last as much as a couple of months. Keeping them in the fridge simply slows their metabolism and keeps them from pupating.
It should be said that waxmoths make fantastic live food (especially for praying mantids, chameleons, arboreal geckos, etc) so you may wish to leave a tub out in a warm room and let them pupate. A couple of weeks in a warm room should result in plenty of waxmoths.
If you’re interested in learning about breeding waxworms, please click the link.
Image by jon18 (flickr)
Mealworms are a slight exception in that if you really want to, you can leave them in the small plastic tubs they arrive in (however the “more space is better” rule does still apply). The best way to keep mealworms is in a substrate/medium upon which they can feed. An inch or so layer of bran, oats, commercial gutload, etc works well. In addition to this you will want to provide a good source of protein as they seem to relish it and it reduces the risk of cannibalism within the group (they tend to really pack mealworms in to tubs so cannibalism can be an issue). For protein cheap dog biscuits work well, as they are dry and a great source of protein.
I have heard success stories of people keeping/ raising them on a medium of oats and whey protein (like body builders use) which provides a nutrient rich diet. I haven’t tried this myself however so I can’t really comment beyond saying give it a try!
Once again mealworms need their moisture, so offer foods like carrot, cucumber, mixed greens etc. So long as you’re providing a good dry diet you can largely think of the wet foods as a source of moisture and little else. Make sure you place these foods on a platform of some sort to keep them separate from the dry food medium because moisture can be a real problem for mealworms. If moisture spreads in to the dry medium it can be something of a recipe for disaster. Mites are a bit problem in mealworm groups and the medium will be very nutrient rich which means any moisture build up will quickly result in a mite infestation and you’ll need to throw the mealworms out.
Mealworms should also be kept cool in the interests of longevity, once again its a simple case of if you increase the temperature you increase the growth rate which shortens the time it takes for them to pupate in to beetles. Some people opt to keep them in the fridge and whilst that is an option which will certainly increase longevity, I prefer to let them gutload properly (which they won’t do in the fridge) so I just keep mine in a cooler part of the house.
If you are interested in learning how to breed mealworms instead, please click the following link: breeding mealworms.
Phoenix worm care
Keep phoenix worms in a similar way to how you keep waxworms, ie in the fridge in the tub they arrived in. They should last a long time this way – you’ll probably find that you’ve fed them all off before they’ve died via other causes.
Whilst cockroaches have been bred by keepers for some years now, they have only recently started to appear as a commercial live food, ie a live food you buy in a tub on a regular basis as a food stuff, much like you do crickets, locusts, etc. As such I wasn’t sure whether to include cockroach information but I figured they are only going to increase in popularity so I best include them.
In short, keep them as you would crickets. I don’t like repeating myself, so simply scroll up to the cricket section again and give it another read over. With cockroaches extra emphasis should be placed on providing moisture and a high protein diet because hungry or thirsty cockroaches are particularly prone to cannibalism.
If you are interested in learning how to breed cockroaches, we have guides for Byrsotria fumigata (Cuban burrowing roach), Nauphoeta cinerea (lobster roaches) and Blaptica dubia (orange spotted cockroach).
Fruit Beetle Grub Care
Another slightly “niche” live food, but once again worthy of a mention. Fruit beetle grubs are often used as live food and their care is very simple, keep them much in the way you would waxworms. They usually arrive in a tub of peat/compost and can be placed straight in the fridge, allowing you to dip in and grab some feeders as and when you need to. You can expect them to last a few months (or as long as it takes for you to feed them off – which ever comes sooner) when kept in this way.
A Final Word...
I think thats largely it, hopefully I haven’t missed anything off (if I have, please to get in touch and I’ll do my best to cover them). Remember the first key principles are the most important ones: feed a good nutritious diet, be careful of moisture build up and offer them plenty of space.
I hope this has been of use to people. Good luck and any questions get in touch via the contact page.
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