RAISING LIVE FEEDER FOODS
As it is for us, our pets are what they eat. Whenever possible, try to make your pet's diet consist of or be supplemented by fresh, live foods. And when raising these feeder animals yourself, the better diet and care you provide for them, the more benefits for your own pet. Here are some brief how-to's for raising your own feeder foods.
Mice (eaten by most snakes, some lizards, large frogs and tarantulas) -- See our Mice and Rats articles for more detailed information.
Setup: You can establish a small breeding group of one male and three females in a ten-gallon enclosure. Make sure you have a lid with good ventilation, though you need to clean the substrate regularly. Larger breeding colonies require larger facilities. Use a two-inch layer of aspen shavings as a substrate. Old (but clean) toilet paper rolls make inexpensive hide, play, and chewing material. Room temperature is ideal for mice.
Feeding: Provide your mice with a healthy, varied diet, including fruits, vegetables, seeds, oats, and other grains. Rodent lab blocks designed for mice and rats are a good staple, as well. Provide clean water at all times in a water bottle with a metal spout. Keeping your mice well fed and watered (as well as maintaining proper and clean cage conditions) will keep your litter numbers up.
Reproduction: Mouse gestation (pregnancy) lasts about 20-30 days. After giving birth, females can usually become pregnant again right away. It will be about 4 weeks, however, before the newborns are weaned. At this time, you should separate any males other than the original breeder to eliminate competition. Otherwise, breeding colonies will do best if you disturb them as little as possible. Another reason for separating mice, however, is if the mother begins killing and/or eating the babies, which is quite common in her first litter only.
Crickets (eaten by some snakes, lizards, some birds, some turtles, frogs, toads, salamanders, tarantulas)
Setup: A ten-gallon glass or plastic container will maintain between two and three dozen crickets, as long as it has a tight, metal-screened lid. You will also want another enclosure, as well as a heat source, for incubating the eggs and hatchlings. Lay down a thin layer of paper towels for the substrate. You will also need to provide a place for the crickets to hide, and most people use empty egg cartons for this. Depending on how many crickets you have, place a whole or half egg carton in the bottom of the enclosure. To lay their eggs, female crickets will need a small, shallow nest box filled with peat moss, soil, or sand, which should be kept damp at all times. For best results, keep the crickets at above room temperature; 85 degrees F is best.
Feeding: Crickets should be fed a diet of mainly fruits, vegetables, and a little bread. There are commercial foods made especially for crickets, too. For water, you can soak a sponge in water and place it in the enclosure. There are also commercial products, usually in a gel-like form, that can be used.
Reproduction: To tell the difference between males and females, look at the tail end of each cricket. Females have a long spike protruding from the back end (looks like a tail). That is the ovipositor. Males are the only ones that produce the well-known cricket call. Once they start calling, if conditions are correct, mating will begin soon. The females will then lay tiny white eggs in the nest box (over the period of one week), which should be removed and placed in a separate enclosure. In about 30 days, you should have baby pinhead crickets, which need to be kept warm, and fed the same as the adults. In the meantime, continue caring for the adults, and clean the enclosure as needed. When the new crickets reach ¼ inch, you can move a third of them back to the adult tank to continue the breeding cycle.
Fish (eaten by some snakes, some turtles, some large fish)
Setup: Feeder fish (typically guppies and minnows) are best kept in a medium-sized aquarium that has plenty of swimming room, but is also well-planted to give the fish a sense of security and to increase oxygen levels. This will promote regular breeding and give the eggs/babies a place to hide until grown (or you may choose to move the adults to a new tank after birth). Also, minnows often prefer fast flowing water. Equipment and maintenance required is identical to any aquarium setup (see our articles in our fish section for more information). Temperatures will vary depending upon the species you choose to breed (guppies a steady 73-80 degrees F, minnows 65-75 degrees F). Water hardness should be moderate to soft.
Feeding: High-quality fish food will keep your fish healthy and pass on nutrients to your pet. Be sure to take into consideration whether your fish are herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous. Breeding fish should be fed regularly, and babies should be monitored to make sure they are able to find food. Offer live foods when possible, and for babies, daphnia, paramecium, and mosquito larvae are small enough to try.
Reproduction: Two of the most commonly bred feeders are guppies and various minnows. Guppies have gestation periods of 4-6 weeks, birthing 20-100 live babies that will be full grown in 6 months. Minnows are egg-layers, and will lay eggs on the undersides of rocks, caves, or other aquarium decorations. Eggs hatch within 5 days. Generally, if all care conditions are met, breeding will happen on its own with little effort. Plants are key to the setup, because they give the adults a sense of security and the babies a place to grow safely from being eaten.
Fruit Flies (eaten by frogs, toads, salamanders, tarantulas, some fish)
Setup: For a small fruit fly setup, take a plastic deli container with a lid (32 oz. is good) and put about 1/3 of commercial fruit fly medium in the bottom and add 1/3 cup of dechlorinated or distilled water. Add a few grains of active, dry yeast to the container. Then cut a small hole in the lid, use a piece of foam or sponge to plug it, add 20-25 fruit flies (flightless or wingless are easier to handle), and then put the lid on the container. Room temperatures should be 77-83 degrees F for the fastest production, and no lower than 54 or higher than 91 degrees F. The media should not be allowed to dry out. If you see any signs of mites or mold, you should move the flies to a new setup and clean or throw out the old one.
Feeding: It is important to use a quality medium for your fruit flies, and there are many commercial culture products available to choose from. Fruit flies will also survive on small chunks of ripe to over-ripe fruits or vegetables. Common choices are bananas, strawberries, and citrus fruits.
Reproduction: Females will lay their eggs on the surface of rotting fruit. The eggs will then hatch, and the larvae will feed on yeast and fungi in the fruit until they are ready to pupate, which typically takes place in dry areas of the enclosure (for example, on upper sides). The lifespan of a fruit fly is only around 20 days, so at least 2/3 of the adults should be fed to your pet as soon as new larvae are present. Larvae take about one week to 10 days to become full-grown.
Mealworms (eaten by frogs, toads, salamanders, some birds, lizards, some turtles, tarantulas)
Setup: Start with a ten-gallon aquarium or other sturdy container (like a sweater box). Fill with three to four inches of rolled oats or bran, which serves as both substrate and food. Keep the temperature in the 75-80 degree F range.
Feeding: The mealworms will eat the substrate, but you should also provide a juicy fruit or vegetable (like apples, oranges, or potatoes) once or twice a week for water. Do not provide a dish of water, because the worms will just drown in it. You can also sprinkle a vitamin powder (made for your type of pet) on the water source if you choose. Replace the fruit or vegetable slice before it begins to spoil. Reproduction: Mealworms themselves are the larvae. About three months following this stage, they form white pupae. Then, from the pupae come black beetles (common name: Darkling beetles) after a two-week period. Adult darkling beetles will eventually breed and lay between 500 and 1000 eggs to start the cycle again. Eggs hatch in less than two weeks.