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Many pet reptiles eat a diet that includes insects. Among the common exotic pets that enjoy an insect diet are bearded dragons, geckos, and chameleons. Most of these pets require the majority of their food to be live, not dried. But sometimes it’s inconvenient to buy fresh insects. When that’s the case, it can be helpful to have a stock of live insects available. Let’s take a look at the most common feeder insect for reptiles—crickets—and how you can breed your own at home.

Keeping a cricket colony

To breed crickets yourself, you will have to make a small investment in initial supplies. You will first of all need several secure cages to keep rogue insects from taking over your house (and losing your herp’s next meal). You should have one cage for the cricket colony while they are not being bred, one cage for use during breeding, and one for the crickets that will be fed to your reptile.

The cages for the colony and feeding should be set up the same. You can use a glass aquarium topped with a screen lid. The aquarium should have no substrate and contain a few items the crickets can hide in, like paper towel tubes and cardboard egg cartons. Crickets require moderately warm temperatures, so you will need to run an incandescent lamp over the aquarium about 16 hours a day to maintain a temperature of about 75F to 80F.

To get started, you will of course need to buy cricket breeding stock. Starting with a stock of about twenty live crickets should yield a decent number of cricket hatchlings. And of course you will need to feed your colony with a balanced cricket food. You can also supplement with produce like pieces of lettuce or orange for added nutrients and hydration. It’s important to feed your feeder insects a healthy diet because all the nutrients they absorb benefit your reptile.

Clean the enclosures about once per week by wiping the bottom and replacing hiding places, except when hatchlings are present. Their enclosure should not be cleaned until they are at least a quarter-inch long.

Cricket hatchlings

The breeding cage (where the hatchlings will emerge) is the same type of cage, but you will line the bottom with a substrate as well as providing a few hiding places. Coconut substrate or soil works well. The main thing is that you keep it moist by misting it with clean water. Female crickets will use the substrate to bury the eggs.

Place a few adults crickets, male and female, in the breeding cage. The females have an egg depositing tube that protrudes from their abdomens. You can leave them in the breeding cage for about a week and then return them to the colony. The eggs hatch in about 16 days from when they are laid. Keep the substrate and the eggs moist.

You feed and care for the hatchlings in the same way as the adults. You can provide a damp sponge or wet paper towel in the cage for hydration, or provide a container of cricket drink. This goes for adults as well. Never place a water dish in a cricket enclosure because they could drown.

When the hatchlings are grown, put about half of them back into your breeding colony and the other half into the cage for feeding your reptile. It’s best to sort them by size so that your reptile gets appropriately-sized crickets to eat. With these basic tips, you are on your way to becoming a bona fide cricket farmer.

For more details on breeding crickets and other feeder insects, reach out to the staff at The Tye-Dyed Iguana.