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Crickets and Carotenoids – Study Examines Cricket Nutrient Levels

veggiesCaptive insect-eating reptiles and amphibians (and perhaps invertebrates) are often plagued by nutritional deficiencies. A highly-varied diet is a great way to ensure adequate nutrition, but most keepers have access to only a few feeder-insect species; gut-loading (providing nutritious diets to feeders) is helpful, but detailed studies are lacking. While touring several Japanese zoos a few years ago, I was intrigued by the number of cricket species being bred as herp food, and resolved to investigate the species and diets I saw in greater detail. A recent article in Zoo Biology (2011, V. 30), which provides insights into carotenoid supplementation in three different cricket species, has re-sparked my interest. I’ll summarize below.


Carotenoids are pigments that occur in plants. Animals, as far as is known, cannot manufacture carotenoids but rather must obtain them through their diet.

Carotenoids benefit the immune system by acting as antioxidants, function in the reproductive and other systems, and are believed partially responsible for the health benefits enjoyed by people who regularly consume fruits and vegetables.  We know little of their role in reptile and amphibian health, but many zoo nutritionists believe them to be important.

Diets Tested

Three cricket diets were examined in the Zoo Biology study: wheat/wheat germ, fish food flakes and fresh fruits/vegetables.

As might be expected, crickets that were fed fruits and vegetables proved to have the highest carotenoid levels.

The fish flake diet resulted in intermediate carotenoid levels, with the lowest levels being seen in crickets feeding upon wheat germ.

These results held true for all 3 cricket species tested.

Cricket Species

Three species of crickets were used in the study.

The Domestic, Brown or House Cricket, Acheta domesticus, the species most commonly used for pet food in the USA, is native to southwestern Asia but is now established nearly worldwide.

The Tropical or Decorated House Cricket, Gryllodes sigillatus, is not commonly seen in the trade, but is worth more attention.  Hailing from Southern Europe, Africa and Asia, it is now established in Florida (surprise, surprise!), southeastern Texas, Louisiana and several nearby states.  The Tropical House Cricket bears tiny wings and therefore contains less indigestible matter than other species. Like the other popular crickets, it breeds year-round when kept warm.

African Field CricketThe Two-Spotted or Mediterranean Field Cricket, Gryllus bimaculatus, resembles G. veletis and some other American Field Crickets, but is larger and “meatier” (please see photo). However, it is equipped with powerful mandibles, so caution is warranted. Commonly used by European and Asian keepers, it is not often seen in the US. Japanese keepers informed me that the males fight savagely, but a single male can accommodate many females. It has also been reported as feral in Florida and Texas.

In the Zoo Biology study, Mediterranean Field Crickets achieved higher carotenoid concentrations (on all diets) than did Domestic or House Crickets.  No species retained carotenoids for very long, so the timing of feeding is important, and bears further study.

Other Crickets and Grasshoppers

The world’s 20,000+ species of crickets, katydids, grasshoppers, locusts and their relatives (order Orthoptera) provide exciting opportunities for those interested in herp nutrition.  Many of the 1,000+ species native to the USA are easy to collect and rear.  Breeding is not as simple, especially for temperate species that need a period of dormancy, but well-worth investigating.  Please see this article for further information on collecting and rearing native species, and write me with your ideas and experiences.

Some Orthopterans, such as the various wetas (please see photo), are among the world’s heaviest insects, and seem capable of being more herp predator than herp food!

In response to a virus that threatened House Cricket supplies, commercial breeders have begun working with the Jamaican House Cricket, Gryllus assimilis.  Adults are equipped with formidable mandibles capable of breaking human skin and injuring various pets.  Their use requires careful consideration…please see the article below and write in for further information. 



Further Reading

Tropical House Crickets in Florida 

House Cricket Care and Breeding

Collecting and Rearing Grasshoppers 

Jamaican Field Crickets: one keeper’s experiences


African Field Cricket image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Danny Steaven

veggies image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by mhaller1979


  1. avatar
    flybyferns( Frog Forum)

    Thanks Frank,
    I always enjoy reading your articles !
    I had better go throw some veggies in the cricket bins !

    • avatar

      Thanks so much for taking the time to post here. I like feeding them vegetables in any event – they really go to town on them – a last fling of sorts!

      Enjoy, best, Frank

  2. avatar

    Here is a link I found detailing the virus in the illegal crazy reds (which look very similar to Gryllus Assimilis)
    This link also provides a very descriptive nutritional chart for crickets, superworms, mealworms, etc.
    I find that diet in your crickets will result in a healthy diet in your critters.
    Just remember: You are what you eat!

    • avatar


      Thanks for the info and the link (readers: see next post). Ghann’s is well known, and I assume their info is sound. Yes re cricket diets – their nutritional content, as with other feeders, can be improved/ varied easily.

      Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Would it be a good plan to feed my ball python after she’s pooped out her last meal?

    Cheers, Alex

    • avatar

      Hi Alex,

      Nice to hear from you. No need to time meals to occur right after. Depending on age, temperature, and meal size, once every 7-10 days is fine; long fasts are common with Ball Pythons as well. The longest lived captive snake (published record, anyway) was a 51 yr old Ball Python at the Philadelphia zoo. I believe it regularly fasted for 2-4 months at a time.

      Best, Frank

  4. avatar

    Hmmm, I think mine does the exact opposite. Seems to be always hungry, roaming around the enclosure all day and looking for a meal. I’m out of rodents anyway so I’ll just wait a couple more days til the weekend.

    Cheers, Alex

    • avatar

      Hi Alex,

      Good sign; feed him regularly when he’s in feeding mode. It’s typical for them to feed ravenously for a time, then fast. Seems tied to circadian/internal rhythms, but not all behave in this way…may depend upon the range of the ancestors, what sort of seasonal changes they were exposed to. Please see this article.

      In adults, roaming can also be related to male mating urges or females’ need to deposit eggs.

      Enjoy, beat, Frank

  5. avatar

    Would be interesting to see a study done on Blaptica Dubia roaches and if they are nutritionally better, worse or the same as crickets. If it hasn’t already been done. I hate crickets, I rarely buy them and when I do they are already dead in a can lol.

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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