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Collecting Insects as Reptile and Amphibian Food – Traps and Tips

 

CICADAS ON SHIRTAlthough it’s below freezing here in NY, my thoughts are straying to a favorite warm-weather activity – collecting insects for my herp collection.  Invariably, I find species that are new to me, and others that I wind up keeping alive in small terrariums.  Drawing on a lifetime of collecting for my pets and the animals under my care at the Bronx Zoo, I’ve written articles on capturing, using, and breeding many invertebrates, including sap beetles, leaf litter dwellers, “meadow plankton”, earwigs, sow bugs, grasshoppers, and many others.  In this article, I’ll summarize my favorite collection techniques and traps.  Links to articles containing further information are also included.  As I and other herp-keepers have barely scratched the surface of this topic, please be sure to post your own thoughts and experiences below.

 

The Best Method, Bar None

The best collecting tip I can provide is that you team up with a small child.  As you can see from my photos, their enthusiasm cannot be out into words, and it is contagious.  What’s more, a child’s curiosity, size and sharp eyesight will increase your catch – and your enjoyment of the experience – immensely.  My little collecting partner has found invertebrates that I’ve never seen before, even in areas I’ve explored for decades!

 

t239545The Zoo Med Bug Napper Insect Trap

The Zoo Med Bug Napper is a scaled-down version of the traps I used to collect food for the Bronx Zoo’s reptiles, amphibians, and birds. It is very effective at snaring moths, beetles, midges, and other flying insects.  Along with field sweeping (see below), this trap has the potential to yield the greatest numbers and varieties of insects.  Checking it each morning is a thrilling experience, and finding a species new to you – or even to science – is a real possibility.

 

VICTORY DANCEMeadow Plankton

This term is used by entomologists to describe the astonishing variety of invertebrates that can be collected by simply sweeping a net through tall grass.  The accompanying photo was taken after collecting in a tiny, overgrown field in the middle of a busy park.  Twenty minutes of “work” yielded 30-40 species, including spiders, leafhoppers, aphids, grasshoppers, mantids, bee flies, caterpillars and many others…and my nephew later spent hours poring over his books trying to identify our prizes.

 

Leaf Litter Invertebrates

A single acre of fallen leaves can be home to 3 tons (yes, tons!) of springtails, ants, beetles, spiders, millipedes and other invertebrates.  Many are tiny, and readily accepted by Poison Frogs and other small herps that must generally make do with only 2-3 food items.

 

To sample what’s out there, 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.  Creatures seeking to escape the heat will move down the funnel and into the jar.  A damp paper towel placed at the bottom of the collecting jar will assure they survive until removed. More information.

 

NET, LOOKING, CRAYFSHTermite Traps

Termites feature heavily in the diets of animals ranging from tiny toads to huge monitor lizards.  To make a termite trap, simply take a small plastic storage box and cut several holes of 2-3 inches in diameter into the 4 sides.  Stuff the box with damp cardboard (a termite delicacy, it seems) and you’re all set.  Search for termite nests beneath rotting logs, and place your trap about a foot away, buried so that the top of the box is flush with the surface.  The termites will establish feeding tunnels to the box, and can be removed as needed (leave the box in place so as not to disturb the tunnels).  More information.

 

Pitfall Traps

A bewildering assortment of creatures will stumble into a jar or can buried flush with the ground, but you can increase your catch by adding bait. A bit of ripe fruit, molasses, honey and some tropical fish flakes will lure beetles, snails, sow bugs and other invertebrates.  Be sure to keep some dead leaves in the trap to provide hiding places, and cover the opening with a board that is slightly elevated by small stones, to keep out rain.  More information.

 

Bush Beating

This simple yet effective collecting technique was developed by entomologists.  To collect insects in this manner, place a white, un-patterned sheet below a bush or tree, and beat the foliage with a stick.  That’s it!

For me, the biggest drawback to bush beating is the distraction factor – I just can’t resist closely checking the incredible assortment of caterpillars, beetles, ants, tree crickets, katydids, spiders and other tasty morsels that rain down.  Your catch will consist largely of arboreal species, which are especially-relished by tree frogs, flying and day geckos, smooth green snakes and other tree-dwelling herps.  More information.

Random Searching

By keeping a jar and net in my yard and near outdoor lights, I can easily add variety to my pets’ diets by collecting as time permits.  I also turn over rocks, look among flowers and weeds, scatter cover boards about, smear honey on trees and try anything else that comes to mind – some invertebrate will show up.

To explore other possibilities, please see my articles on collecting sap beetles, earwigs, sow bugs, grasshoppers, houseflies, mantis egg cases, cicadas and aquatic isopods.

Cautions

Be careful when examining your catch, as potentially dangerous (to you and your pets) spiders, scorpions, hornets and other such creatures may be present.  Have a good field guide on hand if you are unfamiliar with local species, and use feeding tongs to handle animals if in doubt.

 

Do not use fireflies, “hairy” caterpillars, or any brightly-colored insects that you cannot identify.  Unless you are well-acquainted with local spiders, it is best to avoid them as well…harvestmen, or “daddy long-legs”, however, are harmless (and judging by my pets’ reactions, quite tasty!).

 

Please also see the articles linked below for information concerning possible pesticides and parasites.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   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 below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Collecting Insects for Reptile Food: Pesticide Concerns

Wild Caught Insects as Herp Food: Dangerous Species

 

How to Feed Insect-Eating Pet Lizards – the Best Live Foods

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  From tiny Day Geckos to stout Water Dragons and lumbering Savanna Monitors, many popularly-kept lizards feed primarily upon live foods including insects and other invertebrates. The most important point for insectivorous lizard owners to remember (and one that my regular readers are sick of seeing!), is that crickets and mealworms alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet for any species.  Dietary variety is essential.  Fortunately, with a bit of planning, we can collect, breed or purchase a huge array of nutritious invertebrates for the lizards in our collections.

Beetle grub

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Toby Hudson

From specialists such as Horned and Caiman Lizards to Tokay Geckos and other generalists, the needs of individual species vary greatly.  Please post below for specific information on the lizards in your collection.

Wild Caught Insects

I firmly believe that reptile keepers should place much more emphasis on collecting insects and other invertebrates.  While caution concerning pesticides and toxic species is warranted (please see articles linked below), the risks can be managed. Some notable successes that I and colleagues have had with a variety of delicate reptiles can be credited in part to the use of wild-caught insects. Read More »

Earwigs as an Alternative Food for Pet Reptiles and Amphibians

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Throughout my long career as a zookeeper and pet keeper, I have used wild caught insects to improve the diets of the amphibians, reptiles, fishes, invertebrates and birds under my care.  While some cautions apply, the benefits conferred by the nutritional value of such foods far outweigh the risks involved.  I have covered the collection and care of sow bugs, sap beetles, leaf litter invertebrates and many others in the articles linked below.  Today I’ll discuss earwigs – common, hardy, and largely-ignored insects that have great potential as pet food.  They are also extremely interesting in their own right, with females caring for their eggs and actually carrying food to the young!

Female with eggs, young

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nabokov

Why Earwigs?

Earwigs are readily accepted by a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, tarantulas, fishes, and scorpions, and provide nutrients absent from commercially-reared insects.  They are quite common even in large cities, and can provide a significant amount of food for captive herps during the warmer months.

Earwigs are an ideal size (1- 1¼ inch) for both small and larger pets, and will be taken by animals ranging in size from Green Anoles to American Bullfrogs.  They climb well, and quickly attract the attention of treefrogs and arboreal lizards.  Despite the tough wing covers and pinchers, earwigs seem readily digestible, are not known to cause any related problems.  As with crickets, earwigs should not be offered to ailing or debilitated animals, or to expectant females, as they have carnivorous tendencies. Read More »

Poison Frogs – Sap Beetles as an Alternative Food for Small Frogs

Picnic beetle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Miroslav Deml

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Keepers of Poison Frogs, Mantellas, newly-transformed frogs, and other tiny amphibians face difficulties in providing their charges with a varied diet.  Wild frogs consume dozens to hundreds of invertebrate species, but captives are usually limited to fruit flies, flour beetles, pinhead crickets and springtails.  Vitamin/mineral supplements help, but dietary variety remains critical.

Throughout my career at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos, I have relied heavily upon wild-caught invertebrates.  I recently “re-discovered” an old favorite – the various Sap or Picnic Beetles (Family Nitidulidae).  I first used Sap beetles when rearing Wood Frog metamorphs decades ago, and later fed them to Spring Peepers, Red-Eyed Treefrogs, Poison Frogs and others in zoo collections.  Many small amphibians will eagerly gobble up Sap Beetles, but Poison Frog and Mantella keepers will find them especially useful.  Sap Beetles never fail to bring an enthusiastic feeding response, and can save us some time and money while providing nutrients missing from standard foods.

Natural History

Sap Beetles are classified in the Family Nitidulidae, which contains nearly 3,000 members.  Most top out at 1/8 inch, with the largest barely reaching ¼ inch in length.  Several species, commonly known as “Picnic Beetles”, show up when sweet foods are served outdoors.  Some feed upon over-ripe fruits, corn and other crops, while others take nectar, sap, fungi and carrion. Read More »

The Best Foods for Poison Frogs, Mantellas and Other Tiny Amphibians

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  I began working with Poison Frogs and Mantellas in zoos just as the secrets to longevity and breeding were being discovered.  Today, captive-bred animals are almost mainstream.  This is wonderful, but there is a downside – they are sometimes viewed as “simple to keep”.  But while these tiny gems can be surprisingly hardy, they will not thrive long-term if their unique nutritional requirements are not met.  Friends of mine who have broken new ground with Poison Frogs – in one case years before most zoos did – have always expended a great deal of effort on providing a varied diet.  The following information is drawn from their and my own experiences over several decades, and may also be applied to the care of many other small and newly-transformed amphibians.

General Considerations

Golden Poison frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Marcel Burkhard

Although we do not know the exact nutritional needs of any species, certain principles have become evident.  Chief among these is that a highly-varied diet is essential. Crickets alone, even if powdered with supplements, are not an adequate diet.  There are exceptions, but nearly every study of free-living amphibians reveals that a surprising range of prey species are consumed. Read More »

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