Crickets 101

Crickets are often one of the primary feeders used for chameleons as they are easily obtainable and easily gutloaded.

Where to Get Crickets:
Many local pet stores and even bait shops will have a year round supply of crickets. There are also places that will ship large amounts (250 or more) of crickets straight to your door, which is convenient and often times the same price or less expensive than the equivalent amount locally. But if you do not order in bulk it may be more reasonable to buy them locally. Some companies that sell crickets online:
Online Cricket Suppliers

How Many Crickets to Get:
This depends on how many chameleons and other reptiles you are feeding, how much they eat daily, and how well you can keep crickets alive. When I had only one chameleon I would buy 30-50 at a time from a local petstore and that would last for 1-2 weeks. When I had 2 chams I would buy about 100 at a time. Now that I have 4 chams I buy 1000 online at 1/2" and let them grow, which lasts me at least a month and often more before they run out or grow wings. Calculate how much your chameleon(s) eat each week and decide how often you want to make a run to the petstore to decide how many you'll need and how often.

What Size Crickets to Get:
The crickets are either advertised by length in inches or by age. This is a general conversion chart that most companies follow to give you an idea of what the ages and sizes mean.
  • Hatchling - pinhead
  • 1 week - 1/8"
  • 2 week - 1/4"
  • 3 week - 3/8"
  • 4 week - 1/2"
  • 5 week - 3/4"
  • 6 week (adult) - 1"
Petsmart/Petco have only "large" or "small" crickets. "Large" is usually ~3/4", and "small" is usually ~1/4". Always look to make sure they will be the right size for your chams.

Only adult crickets will have wings! If you get a large amount of the exact size you need then they may grow too large by the time you need to feed them off depending on how many you have ordered. When kept at warm temperatures (>90F) the crickets grow about a size each week. However, if they are kept cooler then they grow slower. When kept at normal room temp (~75F) they take on average 2-3 weeks to grow a size. Some crickets will grow wings in their adult form that is smaller than 1", especially when kept cooler (like those in Petsmart or Petco). If you do not want the sound of crickets chirping in your house you can order a smaller size than the adult 1". However, they will continue to grow and get wings if not fed off in time. Crickets don't live very long once they've reached their adult stage and will naturally die off within a few weeks when kept at warmer temperatures despite adequate food and water.

The rule of thumb is to use crickets that are no bigger in length than the width of your chameleon's head between the eyes. If ordering in bulk I'd recommend at least one size smaller than needed to allow them room to grow without becoming too large for your needs.

What to Keep Crickets In:
There are many options for crickets keepers and the one that will work well for you depends on several variables. Crickets produce a lot of heat and moisture, which is part of why they stink so bad, and they're also sensitive to humidity. They basically suffocate themselves if too many are kept without enough ventilation. And the smell is virtually eliminated with good ventilation! Overcrowding leads to cannibalism and higher mortality rates so adding several toilet paper rolls or pieces of eggcrate allows crickets to have their own space. The "Cricket Keepers" sold at petstores have very poor ventilation and even the largest one cannot support more than 100 or so without having quite a few die in my experience. If you are going to keep larger numbers, or just want a higher success rate, then a homemade cricket keeper is very recommended. Small storage containers from places like walmart are very inexpensive and with some modifications for better ventilation are very successful. Just cutting two large panels and covering them with metal screen significantly improves ventilation enough to drastically reduce smell and improve longevity of your crickets.


Read more on Keeping Crickets in Bulk here

What to Feed Crickets:
Crickets by themselves are very poor in natural nutrition. One of the appeals of using crickets as a feeder source is that they are easily gutloaded to improve their nutritional value. Gutloading is the process of feeding the insects with the nutrition that your chameleon (or other insectivore pet) needs to use the bugs to deliver the good nutritional content. While convenient, most commercially available gutloads (Fluker Farms Cricket Food, Nature Zone Cricket Total Bites, etc) are low in calcium, imbalanced and/or insufficient for good nutrition. Some of the newer commercial gutloads (Cricket Crack, Bug Burger, Dino Fuel, etc.) are higher quality and can be used as a primary ingredient, however I still recommend complimenting those with fresh fruits and veggies.
Read more on Gutloading and which Veggies to use here

I gutload right before I go to bed the night before feeding so when I toss them in the cham cages in the morning I know the crickets are fat and happy off all the good stuff I want my chams to get. In between chameleon feedings I will often just throw in some more gutloading veggies for the crickets, even though they don't need to be gutloaded, because the veggies keep them from eating cardboard and have enough moisture to help with hydration. Some people will use a low quality food (like the Flukers food) just to sustain their crickets and then remove only enough that they need to feed off and gutload only those the day before feeding. That's a hassle for me and I don't eat the leftover greens used for gutloading so I just prefer to use it all on them and not let them go to waste, but to each their own.

You only want to feed as much as the crickets can eat in a 12-24 hour period. If there is uneaten food after that time it can quickly start to grow mold or bacteria and cause your crickets to die or become poor feeder choices for your chameleons. Remove any uneaten food (especially fruit) promptly.

Water should be provided so that crickets can never actually get in it because crickets will drown themselves in less than 1/4" of water almost immediately. Water sponges or rehydrated water crystals/gel are an easy way to provide water without letting them drown themselves. Fresh veggies also provide excellent hydration. Water should always be available in some form.

Breeding Crickets:
When you have a large collection, or a clutch of eggs getting close to hatching, breeding your own crickets may save a lot of money in the long run. Only adult crickets (with wings) can breed. Females are recognized by their ovipositor - a long black spike off their rear - which they insert under the surface of the soil to deposit eggs. Males will not have this long spike and will be much louder when chirping. You will need at least 50 or so adults, more females than males, to get a good number of eggs. I place a small shallow tupperware container of damp soil with screen secured just over the surface of the soil into the adult cricket bin. The screen over the soil still allows the females to lay eggs, but prevents the males from digging them up and eating them, which they will do otherwise. The eggs looks like very small white/yellow long capsules and are buried just under the surface of the soil. After about a week in the adult bin I take it out and place it in another container that is mostly sealed to trap humidity and incubate it at 90-95F. After 7-14 days there will be hundreds to thousands of pinhead size crickets running around and they will continue hatching for about a week. Make sure they have fresh food and water crystals each day and humidity stays very high for the first few weeks of life. There are several methods of breeding crickets that other members have had success with.
Breeding Crickets by Ataraxia
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