Home | Field studies and notes | Leaf Litter Invertebrates as Food for Small Insectivorous Amphibians and Reptiles – Part 2

Leaf Litter Invertebrates as Food for Small Insectivorous Amphibians and Reptiles – Part 2

Please see Part I of this article for further information.Last time we took a look at the amazing diversity of tiny invertebrates that inhabit leaf litter, and their importance as food for small terrarium animals such as poison frogs, dwarf leaf chameleons, and young frogs, lizards, mantids and scorpions.

Collecting Leaf Litter Invertebrates
As mentioned in Part I of this article, the springtails, ants, mites, millipedes and other creatures inhabiting a single acre of fallen leaves can add up to an astonishing 3 tons in weight! So how do we harvest all of this free food?

A technique borrowed from professional entomologists (insect scientists) works quite well. Simply place a handful of leaf litter into a funnel, suspend the funnel over a jar and position a 100 watt bulb about 6 inches above the leaves. The heat will drive the resident invertebrates down the funnel and into the jar. A damp paper towel placed at the bottom of the collecting jar will assure that the more delicate animals survive.

Using Wild-Caught Invertebrates
Remove potentially dangerous animals such as biting ants and centipedes, and dispense the rest to your poison frogs, baby anoles and other such creatures. Their reactions to this novel food will convince you of its worth – most terrarium animals become noticeably excited and feed ravenously each time they are presented with novel prey species.

Use Petri dishes if you prefer to keep your pets’ meals confined to one area. Springtails, sowbugs and others may colonize the terrarium substrate if allowed to disperse, which is also useful in some cases. You can also place small piles of leaves directly into the terrarium (after checking for dangerous species) – its great fun to watch frogs and other creatures search through them for tasty snacks.

Zoo Experiences
Others far more inventive than I came up with this technique, but I have long championed it in my articles and books…usually without much luck! Even among my zoo co-workers, my pleas fell on deaf (if amused!) ears.

So, upon touring several zoos in Japan recently I was thrilled to learn that several keepers, after reading about the topic in a book that I wrote some years back (Newts and Salamanders, which for some reason is popular in Japan), tried it out. Their results were so positive that the technique is now a regular part of the husbandry regime in several collections!

Trapping Tiny, Flying 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.

Further Reading…Meadow Plankton
“Meadow plankton” is a term given to the myriads of insects and other invertebrates that can be gathered by sweeping a net through tall grass in fields and in overgrown areas along roads, farm edges, parks, etc. These creatures can also be fed to smaller reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. Please look for my future article on this topic.

Until then, a partial species list of insects that might be encountered in a typical temperate zone meadow, along with other information, is available on the website of the Invertebrate Conservation Trust.


About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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