Those of us who keep the smaller varieties of insect-eating reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates (dwarf leaf chameleons, bark scorpions), or who raise the young of others (many newly-transformed frogs and baby lizards), are faced with great challenges when it comes to providing a balanced diet. Many of these animals consume dozens if not hundreds of different types of invertebrates in the wild. Yet in captivity they must get by on very limited number of commercially bred insects – pinhead crickets, fruit flies and springtails. Although vitamin/mineral supplements help, the situation is far from ideal, especially where little-studied species are concerned.
The problem is particularly acute because nutritional deficiencies suffered early in life are difficult or impossible to reverse later on…reptiles and amphibians that remain small never outgrow this dilemma. Those of you with an interest in invertebrates may face similar concerns when you breed mantids and certain spiders and scorpions.
An Ideal Food Source for Smaller Pets
A very simple (and free!) solution to this problem lies as close as the nearest pile of decaying leaves – leaf litter invertebrates. A vast army of tiny decomposers and scavengers – ants, slugs, millipedes, sow bugs, beetles, mites, springtails, bristletails and termites – inhabit accumulated leaves in city gardens and pristine forests alike.
Even excluding earthworms, the weight of the invertebrates in a single acre of New England forest leaf litter can top 3 tons – greatly exceeding that of all resident mammals and other vertebrates! So how do we get at them? More on that next week.
Other Sources of Tiny Insects
The Zoo Med Bug Napper, a very effective insect trap that I rely upon throughout the warmer months, will attract tiny gnats, moths, beetles and flies along with larger insects. These too make fine foods for your smaller pets.
For information on a simple method of gathering termites, please see my article Building a Termite Trap.
Next time I’ll explain how to harvest and use this bonanza of free food, and my unexpected find when visiting reptile collections overseas.