Gut Loading 101

If you spend any time working with or owning birds or insect eating reptiles, you have heard the term “gut load”. What exactly does that mean??

Basically, it means that you are giving the insect sustenance that will be eaten by the “predator” thus giving the ‘predator” nutrition.

When you acquire crickets, meal worms, grasshoppers etc, from a vendor, they are usually, dehydrated and hungry. If they are fed to an animal right away, there is actually very little nutritional value. To correct this, the insects should be fed and hydrated for a bare minimum of 24 hours (48 hours would be better).

What do you feed insects?? There are a couple of commercial products available or you can make your own. Being the skeptic that I am, I would rather put together my own concoction and know what my animals are getting.

Crickets: When crickets are housed at the local pet store, there are typically hundreds of them in a plastic container. These are then packaged up in plastic bags for sale. There are several food products available for crickets. However, my favorite is to take alfalfa based rabbit pellets soaked in water (made real mushy). I also use the commercial product Cricket Bites. This is a gelatinous water replacement. There are several “flavors” available. I use the calcium fortified one. I also like to feed orange/yellow vegetables to my insects. With these food items, I am providing protein, calcium and vitamin A to my insectivore animals.

Meal Worms : These insects are kept in the cooler/refrigerator to prevent them from maturing and turning into beetles. You need to take them out once weekly for about 24 hours and let them warm up, eat and drink. You can feed them cold, but if they aren’t given the opportunity to feed, they are of no nutritional value to the insectivore. I set my meal worms up in a mixture of multi grain or high protein human baby cereal (can also use avian hand feeding formula) or any high protein, whole grain breakfast cereal. This should be changed every 2 or 3 weeks to keep it fresh. I also feed them the Cricket Bites and orange or yellow vegetables (sweet potatoes or pumpkin).

There are “canned” insects available that are supposed to be nutritionally complete. I personally have not been able to get anything to eat them, but if you needed to force feed an animal and had to make a puree or mush, these might work well.

Making sure that your insects are well fed and hydrated will help provide quality nutrition to your insectivore.

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