Home | Amphibians | Reptile and Amphibian Foods – Breeding and Rearing Grasshoppers and Locusts

Reptile and Amphibian Foods – Breeding and Rearing Grasshoppers and Locusts

Hooded GrasshopperHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The Domestic or House Cricket is perhaps the world’s most popular herp food, the closely-related locusts, grasshoppers and katydids have been neglected as a food source here in the USA.  However, many are easily collected and bred in captivity, and offer important nutrients lacking in commercially-bred insects.  What’s more, they are colorful, active and extremely interesting to work with – don’t be surprised if you begin keeping them as more than just a food item!

Natural History

Grasshoppers, crickets, locusts and katydids are classified in the Order Orthoptera.  Over 20,000 species, inhabiting environments ranging from deserts to mountain tops, have been described.  The USA is home to 1,000+ species. 

Many grasshoppers sport a fantastic array of colors and shapes; some are barely visible to the naked eye, while others, such as New Guinea’s Phyllophora grandis, top 5 inches in length (please see photo of a Hooded Grasshopper).

Several species are important crop pests.  Swarms of Africa’s Desert Locust, Schistocerca gregaria, may exceed 50 billion in number and reach densities of 200 million per square mile (please see video below).  A swarm of this size weighs an estimated 70,000 tons, and each day consumes as much food as does the combined populations of NYC, London, Paris and Los Angeles!  In 1949, a locust swarm in Oregon and California cleared 3,000 square miles of every speck of vegetation.

Locusts (Short-Horned Grasshoppers)

Large size and tremendous breeding potential render locusts a great food source for larger herps, spiders and scorpions. Nymphs can be fed to nearly any insectivorous pet.

The Migratory Locust, Locusta migratoria, is the only species (other than the House Cricket) to be bred commercially. It is readily available in theUK, but difficult to find in the USA (biological supply houses and private breeders are the best sources).  

Locusts can be reared in aquariums, but do better in large wire enclosures, as air flow and low humidity (below 30%) are critical to their health.  Provide as much crawling and climbing space as possible, and maintain a temperature of 88-95 F. They will eat nearly any type of green produce or grass, along with wheat bran…providing a varied diet will ensure a nutritious meal for your pets.

Females will deposit up to 200 eggs in containers containing 5-6 inches of moist sand and peat moss; shallow containers will impede egg-laying.  The egg-containers are best removed to a separate enclosure for hatching and rearing.  The incubation period averages 2-3 weeks, and the nymphs reach adult size in approximately 2 months.

North American Grasshoppers and Locusts

Migratory LocustI’ve raised Red-Legged Grasshoppers and Carolina Locusts and have found them to be generalists that will accept most any type of native grass or store-bought produce. Their appetites are truly amazing…it’s easy to imagine the havoc a swarm can bring down on farmland.  I place grasshopper food in water-filled jars (stuffed with cotton) so that it remains fresh.

Unfortunately, the eggs of most US natives require a period of cold temperatures if they are to hatch.  I’ve had some luck refrigerating eggs at 38 F for 4 weeks, but the technique needs fine-tuning.  Collecting (in pesticide-free areas) via sweeping a net through tall grass is more effective than breeding.  If you collect in the spring, you’ll have plenty of nymphs that are easy to rear to the size you need.

Hatari Invertebrates stocks an ever-changing array of live grasshoppers, crickets and katydids that can be purchased and used as breeding stock (8 species currently listed).  The eggs of species native to the extreme southern USA may hatch without a cooling-off period. 

Please note that Lubber Grasshoppersand most other colorful species contain toxins and should not be used as a food item.

Katydids and Tree Crickets

Katydids and tree crickets usually stay high above ground, but may sometimes be collected around outdoor lights or by “foliage-beating” (please see article below).  Most are specific as to food choice and egg-deposition sites, and are best used shortly after being collected.

These nocturnal songsters lack the hard exoskeletons of grasshoppers, and are a great food for arboreal herps and those without strong jaws. Treefrogs, anoles, chameleons and many geckos become, for lack of a better phrase, “very excited” when offered katydids.

Interesting note: Adding 40 to the number of chirps made by a Snowy Tree Cricket in 15 seconds will tell you the temperature in degrees F!

Native Crickets

Camel Crickets, Field Crickets, Mole Crickets and other native and introduced species contain different nutrients than House Crickets, and are often easy to collect.

Most need humid retreats, and readily accept fish food flakes and vegetables.  One species that I collect in NYC matures at the size of a 10-day-old House Cricket, and is a valuable addition to the diets of smaller animals.   Adult Field Crickets have very strong jaws and should be used with caution.

Canned Grasshoppers

Canned grasshoppers are an excellent alternative to live insects for certain pets.  Exoterra’s Grasshoppers are large and fully winged; Zoo Med’s Grasshoppers are wingless and a bit smaller.

Grasshoppers as Pets

I’ve had some fantastic experiences keeping grasshoppers and their relatives in zoos and my own collection.  From carnivorous Katydids to huge, colony-dwelling Cave Crickets, they have never failed to surprise me with interesting behaviors.  Please write in if you’d like to more information on this fascinating hobby.

Please check out my posts on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/findiviglio and Facebook http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000972624553.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

Please also post your questions and comments here…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

 

Thanks, until next time, 

Frank Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

Video: Billions of Locusts swarming (Congo)

Collecting Katydids and Tree Crickets

Orthoptera Natural History and Photos

 

Hooded Grasshopper image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by J.M. Garg
Migratory Locust image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by http://www.tiermotive.de/
Katydid image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Alessandro Zummo

10 comments

  1. avatar

    Great articals Frank.Good to know that more and more people appreciate these amazing animals. I’ve been pretty busy with life’s endeavors nice to be back.Recently I’ve been watching my immature fall field crickets and notice them actually hunting down and eating wax worms placed for a few of my Calosoma beetles. I’ve wittnessed tug of war with waxworm between crickets and crickets and calosoma. I’ve yet to wittness a calosoma beetle hunt down field crickets.These guys are pretty aggressive however they don’t pose any direct threat to my beetles. I also give them blueberries which both crickets and beetles relish. In another tank I have an immature katydid which I think I mentioned before. This guy seems pretty hardy and has been steadily growing. I also recently collected a pair of small meadow katydid nymphs.Indeed sweeping with a net can be fruitful in collecting Katydids. Peak season is upon us here in the northeast.A note about captive field crickets is that they can be kept in an open window terrarium year round and if kept cold eggs always hatch in spring. My set up is unique in the fact that I can keep my windows open year round and keep my terrariums in sync with the seasons. Im still able to maintain comfortable temps within my room for myself. I keep these crickets and other orthoptera as pets and food for my beetles etc. I still have a lot to learn about rearing other insects but thats the fun learning new things. Hope your enjoying your summer.
    Best Wishes
    Noel Morales.

  2. avatar

    Hi Noel,

    Very interesting, thank you. Crickets have carnivorous leanings, although it is not common to see them catch and eat other insects. Domestic crickets have been known to injure smaller herps, and field crickets have stronger jaws…the tug of war is quite a unique observation…a first I’d bet!

    Temperature variations are the way to go…necessary for many herps as well; good that you can do that. Heard my first katydid calling a few nights ago; a few cicadas on July 3th, and a day or so later, but not since,

    Ordering some Promethea moth cocoons soon, for my nephew to rear.

    Was to Evolution on Spring Street today, spent alot of time upstairs with the insect collection. Had a friend who prepared insects for them years ago, moved on now, but one young man there was very knowledgeable.

    Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    I collected a female katydid maybe 4 weeks ago. She’s been doing quite well in a screen topped cage kept supplied with rose leaves…she also loves crested gecko diet.

    She’s since laid about a dozen eggs on the edges of a brown paper bag. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    ~Joseph

  4. avatar

    Hi Joseph, thanks for the note. Very interesting to hear that she eats gecko diet; I always try rose on caterpillars, stick insects and others if I don’t know their actual diet. Many take it, good to know about the katydid. Probably good to mist eggs lightly every day or so;

    Is she living past the normal season? Here in NY adults die in late Sept/early Oct, but some will live into January indoors.

    please keep me posted, Enjoy, Frank

  5. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    I am interested in breeding grasshoppers on a commercial scale here in Uganda.
    Kindly provide me with some guidelines and information about this.

    I thank you,
    Jude Lumala
    judelumala@yahoo dot com

  6. avatar

    Hello Jude,

    The biology of each species, and what spurs them to breed, varies greatly; unfortunately, I’m not familiar with any species there; some locusts have been bred in Europe; if you can send Latin names of those that interest you,I’ll see if any info is available, best, Frank

  7. avatar

    Thanks for the article! It’s so hard to find decent information on captive care of invertebrates and herps, so I appreciate what you do.

    I have a few Eastern Lubber grasshoppers that I would like to breed. They’ve been mating quite a bit, but the only thing I’m worried about is the actual hatching of the eggs. You mentioned in the article about refrigeration. Do you think this method would work with this particular species?

    Thanks!

  8. avatar

    Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated.

    Eggs from adults in the northern part of the range likely need a cooling off period; in the south, some grasshoppers produce several generations per year, and eggs may hatch at room temperature; I’m not sure if this is so with lubbers, but can check further in you need.

    They are interesting in their own right, but not suitable as food for most herps…toxins, which could cause fatalities if consumed; foul-tasting chemicals are also released upon attack. I’ve observed large orb-weaving spiders (Nephila spp) feeding upon a in Costa Rica, but local naturalists did not know of any herps, birds or mammals that would take them. Pl let me know if you need more info, enjoy and pl keep me posted, Best, Frank

  9. avatar

    Thanks for the quick reply!
    These are from Florida, so perhaps the dormancy is not necessary?

    Yeah, I heard about the toxicity issue. These are for pets/display. It’s mostly an experiment. I always like to try new things :)

    Ideally, I would like to get several clutches so I can try a number of different methods. I’d like to keep some at around 80 degrees, some at 60 degrees for a month or so, and some with the refrigeration method.

    Any thoughts?

  10. avatar

    I would base incubation on what occurs in the the area from which they came, as winters differ greatly in the northern and southern portions of Fla. if unknown, then I’d do as you suggest. there may be some flexibility, but then again there could be differences between n and s. populations (i.e. green anoles from s Fla cannot tolerate winters in the north.Great that you are dpoing this…take notes, we have much to learn, Please keep me posted, enjoy, frank

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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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