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June 30, 2006

Keeping Crickets and Gut Loading

Finished Cricket Container

One of the most frustrating aspects of keeping chameleons is dealing with crickets. We either find ourselves running back and forth to the pet store several times per week, or we try to keep enough crickets at a time at home in order to be able to feed our pets for days or weeks at a time. I have chosen the latter aspect of the cricket problem, so I purchase crickets 1000 at a time. (I buy them at 3 weeks old). Even with just one chameleon, this works out well. I buy them from an excellent supplier, by the way, The Cricket Factory, and if you're in the western United States, I can recommend them fully. In fact, they might be great nationwide, but since they're located in California and crickets need a short journey, I think I'll keep my recommendation to the west only.

I found the design for my set-up on another website, and I wish I could find it because it really gave excellent instructions. The best pages I've been able to find while looking for the one I want are this one, but it isn't as good one I saw earlier (maybe you can find it!). Let me give a little advice: absolutely, positively, use a hot glue gun to glue the screens to the storage bin. Do not try other glues or you'll be sorry (I did; I learned the hard way).

Why Crickets Die

Obviously, the way you want your crickets to die is by them being eaten by your chameleon. You don't want them dying for any other reason - that's money down the drain. If you have to choose a second favorite reason for them to die, that reason ought to be old age. The main frustration that people have when they try to keep crickets is that they don't live long, so from my experience I'm going to share the primary reasons crickets die:

1) Lack of ventilation. Someone told me, while I was getting crickets from a pet store, that when crickets die they give off a gas, and that the gas they give off kills the other crickets.

Cricket Keeper

Ever see these Kricket Keepers? As you can see, they provide very little circulation. There are holes on top, but there's no way for air to flow through them. Anyone who has ever kept a few dozen crickets in one of these keepers and has opened the top knows that the crickets give off one heck of a stench - and that stench is largely trapped within the container...it just builds up and builds up and builds up. They've probably also noticed that when they die, they die several at a time. If you choose to use one of these Kricket Keepers, and I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't, be sure to only keep a few crickets in it at a time, maybe 20 max, and keep it next to an open window or some other source of air flow. Otherwise they're going to die at the rate of about 1/2 dozen at a time. (By comparison, when I buy a 1000 crickets at a time with my set-up, I doubt if I have more than 20 or 30 die over the course of 6 weeks.)

2) Lack of water (or other source of moisture). You should never allow your crickets' water to run dry. Even if you're using Cricket Quencher, or Cricket Pillows, you should continually add water to them as they dry out (at least once daily).

3) Lack of nutritious food for the crickets. In the short term, you can feed them just about anything. You can even use Fluker's, which seems to me to be made more for the purpose of keeping costs down than for nutrition. It sells well, I think, because it appeals to buyers looking for something cheap. Also, people want to be able to walk into a store and pull the product off of a shelf, and Fluker's is well packaged for that process (in fact, I save the Fluker's jars and re-use them with a different grain based food that is typically shipped in sandwich baggies!). But there's a huge warning about this: gut load is incredibly important for your chameleon, and you've got to do better than merely a grain product. (Here is a much better grain product, by the way, and I'll go into more detail about gut loading below.)

4) Temperature. I have no experience with temperature killing crickets, but I find warnings about this everywhere. Most pages which warn about temperature make an issue about low temperatures killing crickets and they recommend using heaters. I have not experienced this. Instead, I've found that keeping crickets between 65 and 70 degrees slows down their growth rate, and I lose less due to old age. So, I've included temperature simply because I've seen so many other keepers include it, but I'm skeptical.

Ventilation

Finished Cricket Container

As you can see, this design allows plenty of airflow through the cricket's enclosure. The top and both ends are almost entirely screen. About three inches is left above the screen on the ends to prevent the crickets from being able to climb to the top. You may wonder why, if they can't climb to the top, we should bother with a top at all. Well, crickets also jump, occasionally, and we don't want them hopping out.

Creating this kind of airflow will do more to prevent cricket deaths than anything else you do. Providing inadequate airflow is the mistake that people make the most. And without it, you can expect significant shrink of your cricket supply.

Food and Hydration

I present these two topics as just one topic because they blend into one another. You'll see what I mean.

I have had significant problems with my chameleon suffering from edema. This was brought on by a deficiency in its nutrition. I've had the edema come on three times, and was cured twice before we, my veterinarian and I, figured out what was wrong. Its first experience with edema resulted from it being fed exclusively crickets which were gut loaded only with the "greens sauce" mentioned a bit down the page. The second time it was being fed exclusively crickets which were gut loaded only with the grain based product which I'll describe first. Information about those experiences are on another pages, but you should consider the information below about cricket feeding and hydration within the context of proper gut loading.

The driest food that I give to the crickets is a grain based cricket food. I feed it, and the other foods, to the crickets using feeding trays which come with the purchase of the aforementioned Kricket Keepers:

grain-based-cricket-feed.jpg

This food, Premium Blend Cricket Feed, is highly nutritious, not just for the crickets, but also the chameleon. I have also found that it is enough to sustain crickets throughout their 6-8 week lives, but it is definitely NOT nutritious enough to be used as the crickets' only gut load; if you use it exclusively, your chameleon will suffer (well, mine did, anyway).

The next food that I give to the crickets will probably surprise you. But, owing to my experience with edema with my chameleon (and lots of consultations with her veterinarian), we've found it to be the cure for the nutrition deficiencies which led to her edema. I recommend this highly:

A/D Canine/Feline Food

A/D Prescription food for cats and dogs.

I don't know where to buy it online (perhaps try eBay), but chances are good that the closest veterinarian to your home will sell you a case. Buying by the case tends to be the best buy, and it'll last a long time.

The importance of this gut load for the crickets (according to my chameleon's veterinarian) is that it provides more and/or different building blocks for protein (amino acids) than are available with the other foods alone. It was the introduction of this product to my chameleon which cured her of her edema. In my experience, the only substitute for using this as a gut load is feeding the chameleon a variety of other insects: superworms, mealworms, butterworms, etc. Personally, I think you should do that anyway, but this prescription dog and cat food will not only go a long way toward ensuring adequate nutrition for your chameleon, but it'll simplify the cricket keeping process. Also, there's quite a bit of moisture within the food, helping to ensure that your crickets remain well hydrated.

Next, and this food is even wetter than the A/D, comes the gut load most highly recommended by my veterinarian: a "sauce" made of dandelion greens (extremely high in calcium, extremely high in beta carotene, this is about 40% of my mixture), watercress (extremely high in calcium), collard greens, mustard greens, and endive.

I put all of these greens together through my juicer, which has an attachment which forces the pulp and the juice to be mixed together (I call it the "applesauce attachment"), and it makes a big mess of pulp and juice - sort of like baby food. It's very very nutritious for your chameleon and your crickets, and as a bonus it is very very wet. It helps to prevent cricket death from dehydration.

I buy the dandelion greens from a local health food store called, "Wild Oats". I also try to buy the other greens there as well, because they tend to have them available as "organically grown", which means that they don't use pesticides. Obviously, since we're feeding these greens to crickets, pesticides should be avoided! I try to make a lot of the applesauce mixture at a time, since it can be a pain, and then I divide the mixture up into sandwich baggies, place one in the fridge for daily use, and put the rest of the bags into a container in the freezer for safe keeping:

Dandelion, collard, mustard greens, and watercress, pulverized into an applesauce like mixture

Incidentally, the choice of greens is an important one, and other choices are available. The Iguana Society web page has a food chart which gives nutritional information for a lot of greens. The greens should be chosen in a very similar manner as to how they recommend that they be chosen for an iguana. Here are the keys: AVOID oxalates; CHOOSE high calcium greens; and to a lesser extent, try to stay away from the goitrogens.

Next is not a food at all, but is intended just for hydration: Calcium Fortified Cricket Quencher:

Calcium Fortified Cricket Quencher

The main point of using the Cricket Quencher is to prevent crickets from drowning. I use it by filling a feeding tray to the top with the Cricket Quencher, then I add water until its just about running over. Every day, at least once, I add more water to the feeding tray. If you do this, the Cricket Quencher will last a long, long time, and you won't be purchasing it very often. You'll also go a long way toward making sure that your crickets are properly hydrated.

Last, I also use Cricket Pillows. These are little pillows with plastic on one side and a sort of gauze type of mesh on the other side. Inside, they have the very same type of gel (or powder, when dry) as is found in the Cricket Quencher. The bonus of these things, however, is that the gel is somewhat unavailable to the crickets. If they run out of all other sources of moisture, they'll burrow into the pillow to get at the gel. When this happens, it ruins the pillow and is a great indicator for you that you haven't been giving your crickets enough moisture. I find that my pillows last a long, long time.

Cricket Hydration Pillows

What else?

You also need something in your enclosure for the crickets to climb on. They like darkness. Interestingly, they also seem to like togetherness. The ideal product is, of course, egg trays. You tend to get enough from your cricket supplier with your cricket order, but if you have another source of them, get them. Crickets defecate, but they also seem to urinate some kind of wet brown stuff. It soaks into the egg trays and causes them to take on an odor. Over time, you'll wish for replacements.

Incidentally, it's good to buy not just one, but two storage bins. You'll need the second one for midterm cleanings. Below are some photos which should give you the idea. It's not a very pretty sight, and the enclosure should be actually cleaned with soap and water between batches of crickets, but a general sweeping is enough most of the time.

cleaning1.jpg cleaning1.jpg cleaning1.jpg

When removing the egg flats to the temporary container, be sure to turn them upside down so that the cricket feces can fall into the bottom of the cricket enclosure where it can be swept out. Do it slowly enough, and the crickets will hang on as they're being turned upside down. Do it quickly, and you'll spook them and make them jump. So be careful.

cleaning1.jpg cleaning1.jpg cleaning1.jpg

Finished:

cleaning1.jpg

Good luck!

Posted by Jeff at June 30, 2006 05:37 PM

Comments

ONE OF OUR CLIENTS BROUGHT IN A VEILED CHAMELEON,HER DOG FOUND IT IN THE YOURD AND TOSSED IT AROUND R-F ARM HURT BEEN TREATING IT SINCE IT IS A VET PLACE CAN'T MOVE ARM LIKE NORMAL BUT CAN STILL GRAB THINGS WITH IT SO I TAKE IT THE ARM IS NOT BRIKE , BUT I SURE USE ALL THE INFO I CAN GET ON THEM IF YOU HAVE MORE THAN WHAT THIS SIGHT OFFERS YOU CAN E-MAIL ME AT TONYARWILES@YAHOO.COM.

Posted by: tonya at July 25, 2006 02:02 PM


We have 2 veiled chameleons, ones a male the others a female, they are about 1.5 years old. How many crickets should we feed them and should we feed them each day? They are pigs. We were feeding them 50 every other day but the eat all of them in about 30 minutes.

Posted by: bonnie at October 6, 2006 09:22 AM


hi my name is samantha and my chameleon is always black, he is never black when im holding him but he is when in his cage......im scared of him dying, his cage is big and all screen except 4 the front of it, it is glass, so please tell me how 2 deal with it please ASAP thank you!!!!!!!

Posted by: samantha at December 8, 2006 07:37 PM


My chameleon is about about 9 months old but he has no claws on his front feet so cannot climb. What is the best thing for me to do?

Posted by: nikki at December 30, 2006 11:23 AM


You have a TON of great information. Can you feed crickets that are going to a bearded dragon the same things as you are feeding yours?

Posted by: Shaw at February 9, 2007 09:24 PM


I have my baby veiled chameleon in a 15 gallon glass enclosure...But i heard on your site that it stresses them out .. is it bad that i have him in there ???... and if so i have a cage at least three feet high and 1 and a half deep screen walls and roof , would that be beter ??? cause i also heard that it isnt good to hold them in a huge cage like that .....can u help me out please it would be greatly appreciated

Posted by: smitty at March 12, 2007 05:33 PM


your info is great, i was just wondering if my TOKAY gecko will benifit from this info. my vet said she needs gut loaded food, your help would be great.

Posted by: native at March 17, 2007 06:31 PM


Thanks for the info , I did purchased the Cricket keeper and decided to put more ventelation holes on the bottom , then I drilled out the tubes to let air flow, Im testing it out with a 50 count of crickets , and lost 4 in 2 days , Im also feeding my crickets "Natural Zone" total bites, which has gutload and water all in one , I'll see what happens at the end of the week , thanks for the info again , Bob C.

Posted by: Bob at March 18, 2007 03:36 PM


I bought one of these Cricket Keepers.. as I live about an hour from the pet store.. Last night I noticed that there were some crickets that had escaped. I but the whole keeper in a plastic bag... poked holes for air and noticed that by this morning there were about 40 of them in the bag and not in the keeper.. I am freaking out that they are all over the house. Why are they getting out? Can I stop this?

Posted by: Tammy at March 20, 2007 06:28 AM


Can you recomend a chameleon for beginners? not a very big one if possible about 20" max
thanks alot!

Posted by: elliot at April 17, 2007 09:53 AM


ok i just got a baby veiled chameleon and i was wonderin how many crickets a day can it eat and if it runs out of crickets what can else can it have in place of the crickets

Posted by: preston at May 31, 2007 06:21 PM


I have a young veiled chameleon..he is bright green and seems happy but he has a hard time lifting his body its like his legs are too week what can i do? i spray her daily with electod3ize i dont want her to die

Posted by: robert at June 11, 2007 07:31 PM


A vet told me to feed my crickets a combo of commercial gut load, apple, potatoe, orange (for vitamin C) and tropical fish food. He stressed that it could only be the tropical fish food and no other. The crickets seem to love the fish food the best and so far other that a calcium deficiency, which I realized was my fault, he has been happy and healthy so far.

Posted by: Heather at July 16, 2007 08:24 PM


I was at my local pet store today and found a vitamin supplement for cameleons. You just dust you crickets with it once a week to give them extra vitamins. Has anyone tried any of these products? The list of ingredience and vitamins seem to be good. Just wondering before I try them on Herman.

Posted by: Heather at July 18, 2007 04:37 PM


Hi...my husband bought me a veiled chameleon and I am wondering how often I should feed her. I'm not sure of her age but she is a little longer than my thumb.

Thank you

:)

Posted by: Angie at September 6, 2007 06:45 AM


erm, have some question here, how do u control the escape of the baby crickets?
because i now onto breeding crickets, and a lot of the babies escape

Posted by: zoe at November 4, 2007 12:20 PM


I am the new owner of a male veiled chameleon. He is great. I'm glad to find a site with such a large wealth of knowledge.
One question though, how often should my chameleon be drinking ? I mist the enclosure three to four times a day, and have a dripper too. I only see him drink one time a day if I'm lucky.

Posted by: Joe at December 20, 2007 07:16 PM


Reading these comments makes me alarmed at how many people acquire chameleons without the slightest knowledge of how to care for them.
Chameleons are NOT like the little lizards you keep in a fish bowl. They need proper care and understanding and that can only come from researching and learning abour chameleons before obtaining one.
The people to help you with that are Liddy & Ed at Kammerflage Kreations.
www.chameleonsonly.com
Trust me, you won't be sorry.

Posted by: Christopher Robert Mohr Senior at February 11, 2008 06:41 AM


Hi I have a baby Veiled hes i believe 4 1/2 months old. His total length tail and all is a little over 5 inches. He has a 3'x2'x2' cage with plants and sticks and evrything. Ive been gut loading the crickets and everything im supposed to do. I was wondering how many crickets to offer each day. I dont want to over feed him or under feed him. thanks!

Posted by: Kevin at February 13, 2008 05:24 PM


Yeeh me tooo have a baby 5inch chameleon and wondering how many crickets should I feed him.. Thanx

Posted by: lizardlover at February 14, 2008 09:12 PM


i just wanna say hi, and thanks for the great information!it will help me.

Posted by: BEARDIE at March 21, 2008 11:47 AM


i just wanna say hi, and thanks for the great information!it will help me.

Posted by: BEARDIE at March 21, 2008 11:48 AM


My chameleon has been catching the crickets, but she spits them out after she catches them. This has happened with the calcium dust and without it on the crickets.

Posted by: Joe at June 17, 2008 08:13 AM


I had a chameleon in my classroom for three months, in a cage that is glass at the bottom and screen on top with lots of hanging plants, etc. I fed him/her crickets daily and everything was fine. I just brought him/her home for the summer and he looks like he is about to die. Same cage, same crickets, same heating fixture...and now he looks very sick. What happened?

Posted by: Ellen Cahill at June 24, 2008 06:45 AM


I have Crickets and i want to know if there is any alternives to egg cartons and store bought food?

Posted by: Andy at July 2, 2008 06:34 PM


We have a pear tree and want to start feeding them to our crickets. Would that be ok for our chameleon?

Posted by: Marie at July 14, 2008 05:46 PM


Most of the health-related questions being posted on here should be directed towards a veterinarian who specializes in exotics. You can't just ask people in a random forum and always expect to get an educated answer...or any answer at all! And for the random questions about how much to feed your chameleon, people have better things to do than to answer your silly questions that you should have asked when you purchased your chameleon in the first place.

Posted by: Julie at August 7, 2008 01:55 PM


You will need to be feeding about 10-12 crickets a day also locusts can be used but you need to make sure theyre no bigger than their heads orherwise it can cause paralysis. You can buy locusts and use less because they are larger so it saves money. hope this helps

Posted by: Alex at September 14, 2008 02:14 PM


I think the comment by Julie on 8/7/08 was very rude. If you don't like the forum don't look at it. Sometimes asking chameleon owners is better than asking a vet, your vet may not have much experience with the species and it seems best to ask someone that has had experience. Apparently asking how much to feed your chameleon isn't a silly question because it seems a lot of people have that concern. If you trust a pet shop where some may have purchased their chameleons then that's wrong all they do is sell them not breed them. So again it is best to ask someone who knows, a chameleon owner.

Posted by: Jennifer at October 12, 2008 12:01 PM


i have a frog that i have to feed crickets to, #1 is all this the same for my crockest even though it's a frog eating them and not a chameleon, and how often should i feed my crickets i only keep about 24 at a time? i know you're not a frog expert but if you could help that would be great. thanks. :)

Posted by: courtney leggett at January 13, 2009 03:45 PM


how could u tuch thoes things?

Posted by: kels at May 10, 2009 01:59 PM


Well i have a chameleon and we have had it for 2 days. the owns of the pet shop said it is not even a year old how many crickets should i feed him?

Posted by: Alexa at June 22, 2009 05:04 PM


What a brilliant article, now i know why our crickets don't live long!! We bought a 'cricket keeper' since reading this we are on the lookout for a box like the one above. Thanks for this its very informative

Posted by: Patricia Kilmore at June 28, 2009 06:56 AM


im having trouble findin the right amnount of crickets for my cham, also i can only get the temp up to 85 degrees

Posted by: wyatt at July 25, 2009 02:55 PM


Hi, I have had a veiled chameleon for about 7 months now. I got her when she was a baby. I think she has become calcium deficient due to what I have read she is shaky and doesn't move for her crickets like she once did. I have gutloaded the crickets the proper way. I don't want her to die...can I prevent this somehow??? How can I get her healthy again??

Posted by: Jessica at August 19, 2009 03:00 PM


Hi, My boyfriend got me a Veiled Chameleon and i find out that it was a female. So we adjustid her enclosure for her. She eats every day that we have had her, but now she is not her self. She has been sleeping walking, i had her in my hand and she wont open her eyes, she stay green, she is not changing colours. Plases help me..

Posted by: Jayme Byrne at August 24, 2009 05:22 PM


Can a young veiled chameleon determine if the cricket is to big to eat

Posted by: Gonzalo at September 9, 2009 03:46 PM


No, it will try to eat the too large cricket and either choke to death or paralyze its self. FEED BABY VEILED CHAMELEONS 8-12 CRICKETS PER DAY!!! and stop asking :P

Posted by: Chris at October 1, 2009 01:12 PM


Does the screen have to be metal?

Posted by: aaron monson at October 25, 2009 09:58 PM


My finace' and I just purchased a juvenile male veiled. He was very pale when we bought him but as soon as we got him home to his new enclosure and got him to eat he turned more brown and black. I think he's doing good now, my question is about your cricket keeper, looks great, instructions?

Posted by: Diana at November 8, 2009 01:09 PM


Yes the screen on all cricket containers should be metal.

Otherwise they can and very often do chew their way out of the container you wish them to reside in.

Maurice Pudlo
Owner Maurice's Exotic Pets

Posted by: Maurice Pudlo at December 3, 2009 08:03 PM


my crickets are all diying they roll over twitch and then die whats wrong?

Posted by: sarah at March 6, 2010 03:46 PM


I have a question. If I get a veiled and a jackson's at the same time and they are the same size can I keep them together in the same enclosure for life?

Posted by: Jim at March 23, 2010 07:42 AM


Who do you get your butterworms from. I live in Kentucky so I would need to order them in. I want my chameleon Pascal to have the best food.

Posted by: Janey pease at September 9, 2012 12:02 AM


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