Livefood Lowdown

Desers Locusts - The best selling bug by far!

If you want to get ahead with reptiles you need to be clued up about their food. Insect live-food is the foundation stone of any retail reptile business, with customers retuning week after week to buy fresh bugs. Here’s an invertebrate insider FAQ to keep you ahead of the game with your insect investments!

Q. I don’t stock reptiles so why should I stock reptile live-food?
A. Most people stock live-food in order to make a profit believe it or not. Reptiles are the fastest growing sector of the pet industry and it’s estimated that over TEN MILLION crickets are bred for the reptile market each WEEK. Reptile owners will usually buy fresh bugs each week and so need a convenient local outlet. Many shops offer only live food without wanting to stock actual reptiles.

Q. What should I be stocking then?
A. Tubs of crickets and locusts are the most popular live-food making up approximately 80-90% of sales, split almost equally between the two. The rest of your stock should be tubs of mealworms, giant mealworms and wax worms. Demand for other bugs such as pachnoda, mini mealworms and curly wing flies is usually small and these are usually stocked to order in most shops. You can also buy crickets, locusts and mealworms in bulk bags and shops will often use these for feeding their own stock.

Q. But aren’t there different types of crickets and locusts?
A. Yes there are, and it’s quite an important difference too. Be sure to read our Live Foods Lowdown for all of the information you will need.

Q. Does size matter?
A. Yes it does and understanding live food sizing is quite useful. As invertebrates, crickets and locusts have an exoskeleton that is shed each time they grow, with each shed being called an instar. They start off as hatchlings as they leave the egg and most suppliers will allow the hatchling a day or so to harden its exoskeleton before they sell the bug. A few days later they will shed their skin and become a 1st instar. The next shed they become a 2nd and then a 3rd, right up to a 5th instar before they acquire fully developed wings and become an adult.
Most suppliers and shops sell live food graded into small, medium, large and XL sizes although some do use instars. I think instars are a more accurate and less ambiguous description of size and help everyone to avoid misunderstandings when ordering specific sizes of live food. Your supplier will be able to give some advice on which are the most popular sizes, although you’ll need to adjust to your specific local market.

Q. My tubs seem to be dying off after a few days. What am I doing wrong?
A. The most common mistake is keeping tubs of live food too warm, so storing them near vivariums is not a good idea. Ideally they should be kept somewhere dark at around 15°C which makes the bugs dormant. A warm bug will feed, but unfortunately the moist stuff that comes out at the other end is also considered edible by the bug and eating their own faeces simply kills them. Keeping them cool will mean your bugs stay fresh and have a longer shelf life.

Q. What’s all this about Gut Loading then?
A. Live food Gut Loading is a very important part of reptile husbandry. In order to ensure the live food is of high nutritional quality it is necessary to feed your bugs before you feed them to your lizards. Unfortunately most people who buy live food simply sprinkle them directly from the tub into their reptile vivarium. Discerning shop keepers will advise their customers about gut loading and swotting up on the subject is a good idea. There’s a great book which explains the process brilliantly and is essential reading for anyone who sells or uses live food. It’s called “The Lizard Keeper’s Handbook” by Phillipe de Vosjoli and is available from all good herp suppliers. I’d recommend you stock copies to sell to your customers.

Q. OK, I’m sold on the gut loading idea. Can I sell Gut Loading products to my customers?
A. Yes, certainly! One of the benefits of offering excellent advice is that you can up sell other products. Some shops offer a “Gut Loading Starter Pack” which contains everything your customers need. It would include a larger container (such as a large Fauna Box) to re-home the bugs from the tub along with one of the branded bug foods. (Crickets, locusts and mealworms all have specialist foods so you could stock them all!) It should also include a heater such as a mini heat mat and ideally a cardboard egg tray or two to use as a perch. You should also offer powder supplements such as calcium or vitamin D3; some manufacturers even make species specific nutrition supplements. I’d also offer a copy of “The Lizard Keeper’s Handbook” too, just to round off the package nicely!

Q. Sound’s great! All I need now is a small leaflet to explain about Gut Loading to my customers and entice them to buy a starter pack!
A. Feel free to photocopy or reproduce the one below, courtesy of PBW News..

The PBW Guide to Gut Loading.
By Tony Jones

It is often said that you are what you eat. If you are a predator like a reptile then it is also true to say that you are what your prey eats. This leaflet gives handy hints and tips used by the experts on how to look after your live food.
All insects, such as Crickets, Locusts and Mealworms, are invertebrates and so has a hard outer shell or exoskeleton. This exoskeleton is made of chitin (the same stuff your nails and hair are made of) and is of poor nutritional quality. The nutritional part of a bug is in the contents of its gut. In the wild the bug would eat a varied, balanced diet and this goodness is passed on to the lizard when it is eaten.

It is important that we replicate this varied diet for live food with our pet reptiles in captivity and all good reptile breeders will feed their bugs a quality food. The exoskeleton of a Cricket, Locust or Mealworm is of low nutritional value and so it is important to “Gut Load” the bugs before we offer them as food to our reptile. Thankfully there are several high quality bug foods on sale here to make Gut Loading easy.

The Easy Way to Gut Load Crickets and Locusts.

1. Empty your bugs into a tall ventilated container such as a Large Fauna Box.
2. Add a shallow dish of specialist Live Food Diet specific to your bug.
3. A low wattage heat mat will enable the bugs to feed and digest properly.
4. Crickets and Locusts like to perch, cardboard egg trays such as the ones you find in live food tubs are ideal for this. Add plenty of perching material.
5. Water makes up a large proportion of an insect’s diet. Offer slices of potato or carrot to provide liquid and change the slices every couple of days.
6. It is often advisable to “dust” your bugs with a supplement prior to feeding. This can be done by adding a pinch of supplement to a plastic food bag and shaking your bugs around in the dust. Check which supplement is recommended for your animal.

Live Food Uncovered (Box out)

If you want to get ahead with reptiles you need to be clued up about their food. It is estimated that TEN MILLION crickets are bred EACH WEEK in the UK. Insect live-food is the foundation stone of any retail reptile business, with customers retuning week after week to buy fresh bugs. Here’s some invertebrate insider info to keep you ahead of the game with you insect investments!


Crickets are the most popular food for insectivorous reptiles and amphibians. But all crickets are not created equal and the discerning shop keeper can be ahead of the game. Most suppliers breed the Banded Cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus) due to the huge yields obtained from a breeding culture. During the summer months Banded Crickets are fine and dandy, but come winter their susceptibility to cold weather causes problems during dispatch. Many suppliers will ship Banded Crickets at your own risk in cold weather but despite using chemical heat packs in transit, live arrival is something of a lottery.

A better choice in cold weather is the hardy Silent Cricket (Gryllus assimilis) which fares somewhat better in the cold. I think Silent Crickets are a superior bug in many ways as they are also beefier, quieter, less aggressive and much slower than their Banded cousins. You may find that your supplier charges slightly more per tub, but I think it’s worth it.
Black Crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus) are similarly resilient to cold and are slightly bigger than both of the other species mentioned above. These are great for feeding larger lizards such as adult bearded dragons, monitor lizards and water dragons and are often ordered in bulk.
Until relatively recently all of these types of cricket had been rare or non-existent in the trade as the bulk of crickets sold in the UK were Domestic Crickets (Acheta domestica). Unfortunately this species was wiped out by a virus a few years ago and are now impossible to breed across Europe. Several breeders both here and on the continent have tried to re-establish breeding cultures since then but to no avail. Breeders in the US seem to have avoided getting the virus although most here believe it’s only a matter of time.


Creepy looking they may be but Locusts are the most profitable live-food. Despite their appearance many customers prefer to use locusts as escapees are more easily retrieved. (Escaped crickets will scarper and hide, chirruping from some unfathomable hidey hole, much to the annoyance of partners and neighbours alike.) You’ll most likely see the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) although the less attractive Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria) is sometimes available.

Worms and grubs.

Again, there are a few different varieties of feeder worms available. Regular Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) are the industry standard but suffers from a poor reputation for being of low nutritional value. This not entirely deserved as just a little effort makes mealworms a great staple diet for most lizards. Indeed, some large scale Leopard Gecko breeders use mealworms exclusively. (See the Gut Loading leaflet.)

Giant Mealworms (Zophobas morio) are exactly that, being around three times the size of the Regulars. Both Regular and Giant mealworms turn into beetles as part of their life cycle and so proper care of your live-food will give you a longer shelf life.

Mini Mealworms are the same species as regular mealworms, just a little younger (and therefore smaller) and are great for smaller lizards such as Leopard Geckos and Crested Geckos.

Wax worms (Galleria mellanela) are a popular supplement for lizard diets but should be used sparingly as they have a high fat content; you won’t need to stock many. Fruit Beetle Grubs are surprisingly better known by their scientific name (Pachnoda marginata) and are very much like an obese giant wax worm to look at. These are usually stocked to order by most shops and suppliers, but it’s nice to let your customers know they are available.


Flies make up only a small part of the market but Curly Wing Flies (Musca domestica) and Fruit Flies (Drosophila) are sometimes requested by customers for small species of lizards and frogs, such as Arrow Poison Frogs and Mantellas. Again, these are usually available if pre ordered.

And watch out for…..

Phoenix Worms.

The latest in live-food from the States is the phoenix worm; a super-high calcium feeder worm with a low phosphorous content. It is a fantastic step in the right direction to address the calcium deficiency problem we sometimes see, and could negate the need for separate calcium supplementation. At least one supplier in the UK offers Phoenix Worms in their catalogue and I think it is only a matter of time before we see more Phoenix Worms in shops over here.

Published: Pet Business World News


~ by Tony's Desk on July 8, 2008.

One Response to “Livefood Lowdown”

  1. Thanks !

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