Spring 2003
Breeding Crickets

 

by 

Martin Hilton

In 1989 I was given a cricket colony by a friend from Adelaide.      I have found them to be an ideal food for Fat-tailed Dunnarts, lizards, green tree frogs, small frogs, kingfishers and other softbills.      I would think that any insect eating marsupial would also find them a welcome change in their diet.      I have read in John Weigel’s book “Care of Australian Reptiles in Captivity” that crickets are both high in food value and easily digested; however, they should not be given to the exclusion of other foods but only as an additional or supplementary item.

HOUSING 

My colony is housed in a veneer covered wooden box which is approximately 500mm high, 450mm wide and 450mm deep with a hinged lid and very fine fly wire covering two ventilation holes on the top and front. (See sketch)


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

A small wattage light globe is connected on the inside to keep the internal temperature between 28 and 30 degrees C.     It must not be allowed to become too hot and I use a fish tank thermometer to monitor the temperature. 

Place approximately 50 to 100mm of vermiculite (which can be purchased from any reputable garden centre) in the bottom of the box and then place two plastic containers of builders sand so that the vermiculite is level with the tops of these containers.     The crickets will lay their eggs in these.     The small plastic tubs from Chinese Take-aways’ are ideal for this purpose but you can use anything you happen to have on hand.     I use the lid of one of these containers for their food. Also you will need items like the cardboard tube from a toilet roll (with the ends crushed), light globe wrappers or pieces of egg carton, all of which can be used for places in which the crickets can hide.

LIFE CYCLE 

The eggs hatch eighteen to twenty-one days after laying and then go through five growth stages to mature at six weeks. At eight weeks they start the cycle all over again by laying their own eggs in the sand trays. These trays must be kept damp, but not wet, at all times. I was originally given about two dozen crickets and some three months later these had increased to two hundred.

FEEDING

My crickets are fed Harpers Puppy-Chow and flaked or rolled oats.    Fresh lettuce leaves, slices of carrot, apple or pumpkin are given on a daily basis and any leftovers are removed.     It is surprising just how much food they will consume for their size.

You should avoid giving them containers of water as they will probably drown.     Mine seem to do perfectly well obtaining their moisture requirements from the fresh fruit and vegetables that are provided, but if you feel happier providing some water, then the use of a wet sponge is a good idea.

Overcrowding and/or the lack of suitable shelter can be a problem in that it may cause some cannibalism.     Any dead crickets should be removed from the colony.

USING CRICKETS AS LIVE FOOD

Any animal that is kept in an aquarium type situation is easy to feed.     All you have to do is to pick up, say, a toilet roll centre from your cricket colony, being careful to not let the crickets escape (either from the colony or the toilet roll) and tip the contents into the aquarium.     Dunnarts will continue to looking for crickets long after the last one has been caught.

For injured (or otherwise) birds such as kingfishers I hold adult crickets with a pair of tweezers and feed them one at a time.     For “shy” or timid feeders the bony part of the hind leg of the cricket can be snipped off with nail clippers which will slow the insect down without the loss of valuable body fluids.     Another way to offer them is to coat them with mince-meat, Wombaroo Insectivore mix or any other sticky food.

GENERAL COMMENTS

If you are going to use a lot of crickets then I would suggest that you run several colonies otherwise you are going to run out very quickly.

Another point well worth bearing in mind is that crickets, unlike mealworms for example, are fairly noisy.    It is not an unpleasant noise but can become tedious after a time.     I am lucky in that I have an animal room for this purpose so the noise is not a problem and it has the added advantage that it keeps the cricket colony away from young children. Crickets are very adept at escaping particularly if given a helping hand by young children who seem to love to play with them.

Obtaining breeding stock should not be too difficult if you ask around, alternatively you can catch your own but make sure they are all the same species.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Adelaide herpetologist Paul Curtis for his assistance in starting my cricket colony.

 
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