Evolution of a Lizard Room, Part VI: Generating Food In House

Adult Gryllodes (image from http://www.just-green.com/)

In a previous post on the evolution of the Glor Lab’s lizard room, Julienne discussed our general strategy for acquiring anole food.  As Julienne discussed, the crickets for our adult lizards are obtained primarily in the form of bi-weekly shipments from Fluker Farms.  However, we also have a fairly large cricket breeding operation that provides many of the small crickets required by our hatchling lizards.  One reason for maintaining this colony is that Flukers does not reliably supply pin-heads that are small enough for some of our newest additions.  Another reason for maintaining this colony is the hope that this colony will eventually grow to the point that it also supplies feeder crickets to the remainder of our colony.  One somewhat unusual thing about our colony is stocked with Gryllodes rather than Acheta (the type of cricket that you get from Flukers and other large cricket farms).

Why Gryllodes?
Gryllodes are an established laboratory organism and are widely used by labs studying insect behavior. Although they grow more slowly than Acheta (and may also be somewhat less productive), they are far less smelly and noisy.

Plastic totes used to house crickets.

A peak inside a cricket tub.

Housing
Simple 21-gallon plastic tubs available at places like Target or Home Depot are great for keeping crickets, although we’ve recently scaled up to using 216 quart Rubbermade tubs from Home Depot. The only modification you need to make involves cutting a big hole in the lid and covering it with wire insect screen. The simplest way to attach the screen is to use a hot glue gun. Place two or three 10×10 inch egg crates in each tub to serve as shelter for the crickets. We clean and sterilize our bins once every few weeks. Hatchling can be maintained in the same enclosures, just be sure that they have constant access to water and that the sides of the bin don’t accumulate so much dust that the crickets are able to climb he sides and escape.

Soil moisture crystals used to provide water to crickets

Chicken feed is the primary diet for our crickets.

Food and Water
As Julienne mentioned previously, the best way to keep your crickets hydrated is to use the moisture retaining crystals available at home and garden shops. We provide these on the lid of a small deli cup to avoid fouling the rest of the cage with moisture. You can usually re-wet dried crystals one or two times before needing to replace them. The primary food for our crickets is chicken feed purchased from a local feed supply store. We supplement this diet with left-over greens and other vegetables.

An egg laying cup. The eggs are the narrow light-brown layer in the middle of the soil.

Breeding
There isn’t any trick to breeding Gryllodes, just put males and females together and let their instincts take care of the rest. The one thing you will need to do is to provide the females with someplace to lay their eggs. We provide a deli cups full of moist, sterilized soil for egg-laying. We replace these cups weekly, by which point they are generally packed with eggs. The eggs need only a week or so to incubate before hatching, particularly when kept at high temperatures (see below).

Growth and Maturation
At room temperature, Gryllodes can take three months or so to go from hatchling to maturity. You can dramatically speed this process up if you keep your crickets at warmer temperatures. We maintain an old incubator at 39C for use as a growth chamber. Keeping Gryllodes at this temperature significantly speeds up all stags of development, including egg incubation times. We don’t have good quantitative records on just how much the process is sped up by this increase in temperature, but we can very conservatively say that you will get at least a two-fold reduction in growth times (in reality, we think you’re likely to see growth that is three to four times faster than that at room temperature).

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