Breeding and Raising the House Cricket
©1995 Ian Hallett
There are several things to consider before you decide to raise crickets:
One of the main problems encountered with most descriptions of cricket breeding is that the eggs hatch in the same container as the adult breeding colony, usually in a substrate placed on the bottom of the breeding enclosure. This requires one to sort the crickets before feeding to various sized animals. The breeding substrate also quickly becomes littered with dead crickets and droppings. It is also difficult to keep moist if egg cartons or other hiding material is placed on top of it.
The method described here provides a removable egg-laying container, separating the eggs and adults, thereby raising yields and providing crickets of various sizes. Depending on the number of crickets desired the system can be set up in the corner of a room or the bottom of a closet - space is not a major consideration. The cost to establish a basic system is about $30.00 plus the cost of the initial breeding colony of crickets. To start such a colony at least 200 crickets are required, and the colony should not be used for feeding until well established and your first babies are adult-sized. If you plan to use some of the crickets for feeding, a batch of 1000 can be purchased quite inexpensively from a cricket supplier.
Description of the Basic Setup
Maintenance of the breeding colony comprises of filling the food, keeping the nesting material damp and filling the water when empty. A 1 litre waterer will last 4-5 weeks. Every 2 months or so the entire colony and fixtures should be moved to the second container. The cricket waste and ex-crickets can then be dumped out of the first container and it can be washed. It is best to do this outside, if possible, as escapes are inevitable. Over time, cricket droppings will accumulate on the egg cartons and the cartons will need replacing. The egg cartons are most easily handled if they are glued together in sets of 4 or 5 for easy removal from the container.
Commercial cricket foods are available in large and small quantities. The large sacks of cricket chow may not be available everywhere, check with a local feedshop. The smaller jars of cricket food sold at pet shops are very expensive and I have heard mixed results about some brand's quality and acceptability to the crickets. Tropical fish flakes have also been recommended as food but the expense is astronomical if you are raising a large number of crickets.
As an alternative, I use the following recipe. It is inexpensive and several dollars worth will last several months or more, depending on the number of crickets you are producing. The same food is used for all sizes of crickets. The food is based on commercial dried cat food. In addition I provide a supplement of 10 parts skim milk powder (by volume) to 1 part of a good quality calcium supplement intended for reptiles and amphibians. The cat food is shaken in this mixture until coated and then given to the crickets. More supplement can be sprinkled onto the food as the crickets eat it. To provide a balanced diet this is supplemented with alfalfa pellets and, whenever available, raw vegetable scraps. Top up each as they are eaten. The food can be placed in a small plastic container on top of the egg cartons in the breeding container. Crickets can be removed and 'gut-loaded' with higher quality food several days prior to feeding them to your herps if desired. However, this diet has proved sufficient nourishment for the crickets used to feed a number of amphibians and several breeding groups of Dendrobatid frogs.
Since the crickets have no other substrate in the cage, the crickets tend to burrow into the nesting medium and disturb the eggs. However, if it is packed gently, the crickets will only disturb the top ½" or so and lay their eggs below. Use a container at least 2-3" deep so the crickets can lay their eggs down below, where they will not be disturbed. One or more of these containers can be placed in with the crickets. No matter how many containers of nesting material are placed in the container, the crickets will inevitably lay some eggs around the water dish. These generally will not hatch.
The nesting material requires constant attention. It must be checked every few days and sprayed if dry. Peat will need to be checked far more frequently than 'turf'. The nesting material can dry rapidly due to the heat pad above it. Once a batch of eggs is completely desiccated it is useless.
After 4-7 days the nesting material will be positively packed with oblate white eggs positioned vertically about 1-2" below the soil surface. The nesting dish should then be removed and incubated.
of the Eggs
The nesting material must be kept damp and warm while the batch of crickets hatches - which can take up to a week. Snap the lid off the nesting container before placing it in the rearing box, but set it loosely back on top, with spaces for the baby crickets to get out. Without a cover, the nesting material will dry out and the water will condense inside the rearing container, drowning the baby crickets. If this is a problem, even with a covering on the nesting container, place the lid loosely on the rearing container with a gap to allow the water to evaporate. Put the nesting container at one end or the rearing container and place it on top of the heat pad to keep it warm.
Thus it is possible to heat the breeding colony, incubate several batches of eggs, and raise a batch of eggs, all on the same heating pad, within a small area. The rearing containers require more attention than the breeding colony, and the water dish must be kept damp with a spraying at least every two days. There is no doubt room for improvement in this stage of the described process.
Once the eggs have all hatched, the nesting dish is removed, the nesting material is discarded and the container recycled. Recycling the nesting material can cause problems with mold and small, mite-like insects infesting it.
The batch of hatchling crickets can be raised in the sweater box until about 1/2" long. The end result is a batch of several hundred to possibly thousands of small crickets, all of similar size, and all contained within their individual rearing container. Successive batches of crickets, each of a different size are then available to feed to your collection. The number of batches will depend on the desired output and size. Additional heating pads can be used to warm stacks of growing crickets.
Once the crickets have reached 1/4" , about 50-75 should be returned to the breeding container. This is extremely important. The adults live for only a few weeks and if the breeding colony is not replenished regularly it will die out or contain only small crickets, unable to breed yet.
the Crickets to Your Animals
Although these instructions for breeding crickets may sound extensive, an established colony as described can be maintained with only a few minutes of attention every few days. It must be stressed that constant care and attention is required. If you have only a few animals it may be better to purchase half-sized crickets in bulk and keep and feed them as outlined here. (Purchasing large numbers of mature crickets is not recommended unless you can use them in 3-4 weeks - their average life span). The set up as described has been found to be more than adequate to supply several hundred small (pinhead to 1/8") crickets and a few dozen adult crickets weekly. Larger outputs are possible and several breeding colonies can be set up if you have the space and the need.
Permission is granted to herpetological societies, private individuals and not-for-profit organizations to freely use and distribute this information as long as credit is given to the original author.
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