Unless you buy your bearded dragon at full adult age, you’ll need to feed him a lot of crickets. Growing dragons need a lot of protein and other nutrients that live insects provide, and crickets are probably the easiest to obtain and provide while not causing many digestive problems. Of course, you’ll want to vary the insect diet with various worms and roaches, but crickets will still be your mainstay.
Baby dragons will eat 25 to 80 crickets per day, while juveniles will eat 25 to 60 per day. At about nine months of age, you can start gradually changing his food ratio from 75 to 80 percent insects to the adult diet that’s 75 percent plant-based food. Since beardies don’t stop growing until they are at least a year old, you can see that you’ll need a lot of insects, especially crickets.
This brings up the possibility of breeding your own crickets, especially since crickets only live eight to ten weeks, and you probably won’t know the age of the crickets you buy.
How Old Do Crickets Have to Be to Breed?
Crickets usually are about six weeks old when breeding starts, but this may vary. They should have fully developed wings covering the body when they reach adulthood. If you don’t know how to tell male from female, crickets are one of the easiest animals to identify. Look for little tails that look like hairs on the rear.
They will be easily visible. Males have two; females have three. That third one in the middle is the ovipositor, through which the eggs are laid. Often, you’ll see crickets that aren’t quite ready with a short ovipositor. Usually, it extends past the ends of the other two tails when the cricket is old enough to breed.
How Many Crickets Do I Need to Start Breeding?
Usually, you can start with 20 to 30 large adults when learning how to breed crickets. This should give you a good breeding population even if some die before breeding and you should get a mix of males and females. They should lay enough eggs even when some eggs don’t hatch and some babies die, both of which are inevitable. Crickets lay five to ten eggs a day with about 100 total.
Does it Matter What Kind of Crickets I Breed?
Your best bet for breeding crickets is to breed the same kind you buy in the pet store. They will stock species such as the banded or tropical house cricket, which has a softer outer skeleton to prevent intestinal impaction and are immune to a virus other crickets can get. Jamaican crickets are also immune to the virus.
You may also see the black field, two-spotted, African or Mediterranean field cricket. The common crickets that may be around your house or your yard are not suitable for feeding to your dragon. They are vulnerable to a virus and may also have internal or external parasites which can cause problems for your beardie.
What is The Easiest Way to Breed Crickets Cheap?
You can find info that can boggle your mind, urging you to use as many as seven different containers, each with a different purpose, and moving the crickets around from one to the other. Actually, this is what commercial breeders do with a much larger stock of crickets to manage.
The average home breeder doesn’t have to go through all that when learning how to breed crickets. You’ll just need three housing containers. If you set them all up at once, it won’t be as big a chore.
You can buy kits online for breeding crickets. Some are mostly enclosures, while some provide everything you’ll need except for the enclosure. It wouldn’t hurt to look these over to get an idea of what’s involved, and you’ll be sure to notice that some of the things included with these kits are things you already have in your home, such as egg trays or sandwich containers for the eggs.
Many people use an aquarium, but any plastic or glass container will do as long as it’s spacious enough to make caring for them easy. You also want to avoid overcrowding, as it may cause the crickets to start eating each other.
Your enclosure should also be tall enough so that your crickets can’t easily jump out. They don’t jump far like grasshoppers, but you still don’t want to have to chase down escapees every time you open the lid to feed or otherwise care for them.
While you don’t need to buy a kit unless you really want to, looking over some of the cricket food may be a good idea. It’s not necessary to buy commercial cricket food, but some of the food offered for sale contains calcium and other nutrients to “gut load” your crickets. This means that this food is fed to specific crickets the day before you offer them to your dragon to provide extra nutrients and is a good way to provide those nutrients.
Your container should have a vented top, and screen is great, but be aware that crickets can chew through nylon screen, so your top should be metal screen or some other ventilated plastic cover. Keep your habitat away from both you and your dragon, as you’ll both be driven nuts when they start to chirp. Keep it about 85 degrees F. The temperature shouldn’t fall below 70 degrees or over 95. You’ll probably need heat lamps for this.
You’ll need a shallow dish with a raised part in the middle, and another dish for veggies or cricket food. Vegetable scraps from your kitchen are usually fine, and bits of fresh fruit will provide moisture as well. Make sure to remove uneaten food, as it could become moldy.
An inch or two of vermiculite, perlite or something similar will make a good base. Don’t use dirt for the general floor covering, as this is where the females will want to lay eggs. Put in a couple of toilet paper tubes or paper egg trays for climbing.
Add a breeding dish for your crickets to lay eggs. A storage container about two inches deep will be fine. Fill it with dirt untreated with chemicals or something like commercial potting soil but be sure to choose soil that is not treated with additives like fertilizer. Add about a half-inch of water to moisten it. The females will look for dirt to lay their eggs.
Some sources urge covering this container with screen to keep adults from eating the eggs, but most don’t. They can still stick the ovipositor through the screen to lay the eggs. The whole enclosure should get a general misting each day, with specific attention to the egg-laying container. That soil has to stay moist for the eggs to hatch. Check the food and water daily as well. Remove old food and any dead crickets daily also. This can be done with long tweezers.
When mating starts, so does the chirping done by the males. After a couple of weeks, sift through the dirt to look for eggs. They’ll usually be about a half-inch down in the dirt.
When the egg-laying is done, take out this container and put it in a separate housing container set up just like the adult one, except that the temperature should be a bit higher for hatching, 85-90 degrees F. They should start to hatch in about two weeks. Make sure your screen is tight enough to keep the babies inside.
The eggs are long and cylindrical, but small, like rice grains, and your newly hatched babies will be the same size. Put the newborns into another housing container for 7-10 days, after which you can put the babies in with the adults.
You can also use one of these to hold your crickets when cleaning their enclosure. Another solution is to transfer them to a large metal bowl, as they can’t climb out. Any paper items such as egg cartons and paper tubes should be discarded and replaced.
If you use vermiculite or another substrate, it will need to be replaced as well. One idea is to use paper towels for a base instead of vermiculite, which can easily be removed along with the waste when cleaning. This should be done at least once a week. Some do it more often if the smell bothers them. There is a full range of foods you can feed your bearded dragon in addition to crickets, check out my article What Foods Can I Add to My Bearded Dragon Food List? for more information and tips on feeding your bearded dragon.
How Long Does It Take to Raise Crickets till Harvest?
Crickets reach adulthood at about the age of two months. However, when you harvest your crickets will depend on the age of your dragon more than the age of the cricket. The rule of thumb is not to feed a dragon an insect longer than the space between his eyes, so if you have a young beardie, you’ll want to feed him younger crickets.
How Many Crickets Should I Buy to Start Breeding?
About 20 to 30 adults will be a good starter amount. You’ll be covered in case any of the adults die, as you should still get enough eggs. You’ll also be assured of a good mix of males and females.
Is it Cheaper to Breed Them or Buy Them?
While you can buy large numbers of live crickets, even online, for not much money, it’s definitely cheaper to breed them. Once you get your containers set up, you can feed them vegetable and fruit scraps from your own kitchen. The only food you’ll need to buy is the food you’ll use to gut load crickets the day before feeding them to your dragon.
The alternative to this is to dust the intended crickets with special powder containing calcium and other nutrients before feeding them to your dragon. However, if the cricket leads your beardie on a long chase before he’s caught, much of the dust may be brushed off. Gut loading them is much more effective and is really less work.
Actually, the main determination for the question of breeding versus buying is one of having a place to keep the enclosures so they won’t bother anybody when chirping all night, and the extra work involved. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really not much work, just feeding and misting your crickets daily and removing old food and dead crickets.
The other work is mainly gut loading or dusting the next batch of dragon food. If you have a young beardie that eats mostly crickets, you’ll definitely save money by breeding them. Also check out my article What to Feed a Bearded Dragon [The Complete Guide] for a complete list of foods they can eat.
What’s the Best Cricket Breeding Kit to Use?
There are many crickets breeding kits that are available. Many provided everything that’s needed except the outer enclosure. Some just have the enclosure and an extra dish or two. Many include tilting tubes that make getting individual crickets out of the enclosure easier for feeding.
Some can house a lot of crickets but are only intended to keep them for a week or two. This is the kind meant for people who routinely order new crickets every so often and not for breeders, so read the product descriptions when choosing one. Keep in mind that you’ll need two or three enclosures for breeding.
Some kits include things you’ll have around the house anyway, such as egg cartons. These will need to be discarded when doing your weekly cleaning, so they won’t last long. You can use plastic jar lids for water and food dishes instead of buying them or a kit containing them.
Many kits include commercial cricket food, which isn’t really necessary, except for the food needed for gut loading the crickets intended for the next meal or dusting powder. Some include things such as shakers for dusting the crickets with nutrients before feeding them to your dragon, which you won’t need if you gut load them.
As far as the best kit for you, you’ll need to decide just how you intend to care for your crickets and things such as the choice between gut loading and dusting. If you have this in mind, you won’t buy a kit containing items you don’t need.
If you want to buy a kit to get started and don’t have a container, you might consider focusing on the size and kind of container you want as the most important point. You can switch from commercial cricket food to vegetable scraps later on as you use up the commercial food.
Buying a commercial enclosure or kit might be a good idea if you have doubts about being able to keep your crickets in their home and want a mostly foolproof lid. Those dispensing tubes can come in handy to keep from having to try to catch crickets for feeding as well.
This all may sound a bit overwhelming, but once your cricket farm is set up, you’ll soon fall into a routine and it won’t seem like any trouble at all. You’ll have an almost endless supply of fairly free food for your beardie. If you should ever need to part with him, you’ll be able to sell your cricket farm along with him or to another reptile keeper, as crickets can be fed to almost any reptile. Investigate the possibility, and you’ll probably opt to be a cricket farm