Aflactoxicosis, crickets and moldy grain

JacksJill

Chameleon Enthusiast
@JacksJill without going too much off topic, do we know of any cases where aflatoxins actually hurt a reptile? Not arguing. Genuinely curious how much of a threat it is. I've had my dry gutload get moldy before and i toss it, but it worries me if any of the feeders got into it.
I remember that, but I also remember it being speculation. I don't doubt it, but I don't think anyone ever found solid proof of it, just educated guesses. Other than that, I know of no one else that has had that happen. With all this said, I'm still very much for using roaches!
I mean yes, it was speculative, but speculation by Vets and Biologists, so I guess I have to trust that, may have been incorrect but something happened, thats for sure. Chams dont just start dropping dead.
Let's have this discussion over here and try not to muddy up Becca's thread on coccidia.
 

snitz427

Chameleon Enthusiast
Thank you! I feed crickets as part of our rotation because they are convenient, and my chams really seem to enjoy hunting them... one of the only feeders they can truly hunt (vs. me trying to spread silkworms on their branches faster than they can eat them). I hate them because they jump, chirp, smell, and are generally annoying little buggers.... but I do keep them as an alternate. All of the parasite and illness risks associated with them are making me reconsider, especially since we often restock vs breeding our own (in bulk through Rainbow).

I don't use dry gutload for the crickets, but I obviously keep my superworms in oatmeal and bran. Is this toxicity limited only to crickets? Or any insect potentially exposed to moldy grain? Is it a temporary toxicity? For example, I do know of a time that my super worm bin very quickly developed mold, due to offering them fruit. I have since changed the bedding, but kept the worms ( haven't fed any in months). Would they be at risk?

I'm hoping to get a katydid / grasshopper colony going this summer... but I've only found maybe a dozen small, various species so far. I think they would be a great feeder, but are also susceptible to similar risks.

My last question (for now)... why feed grans? I know dry gutloads are very popular with roaches and crickets, but I never use it. I offer fruit, veggies, and bug burger - that's it. Am I missing a valuable nutrient by skipping the grains? I know they can offer nutrients that are harder to come by, but it just seems less convenient to use so I skip it all together.
 

JacksJill

Chameleon Enthusiast
Most of what I know is from @jajeanpierre 's thread and a smidge of toxicology from clinical chemistry in college. I'll include her description here.
I just went through Hell with aflatoxin poisoning of my collection. I believe the collection was poisoned by contaminated crickets.

Alfatoxins are toxins produced by fungi the Aspergillus family, usually Aspergillus flavus that infects grain crops. Aflatoxins are very powerful toxins.

I had many vets consulting with me, some out of the goodness of their hearts. I had an exotic pathologist (the same pathologist the San Antonio Zoo uses) come to my house and look over my collection and my husbandry. He took two ill animals for pathology. Four more became so ill over the next few days, I took them and prepared them for necropsy per the pathologist's instructions and gave them to the pathologist. There is a huge benefit to kill and immediately preserve the animal for pathology, but it is not for the meek. The pathologist sent the slides from the six animals off to another pathologist who is an expert in reptile pathology. I've got a few more jars of other chameleons sitting in formalin just in case they want to do more.

All agree--I think they all agree--that a toxin is involved.

Aflatoxicosis is not easy to diagnose in a living animal and are usually only diagnosed by culturing the food sources and that was not done. By the time we started to look at a toxin, it was too late to culture the crickets.

A dear friend of mine, an avian vet who did a research fellowship at London Zoological Society working on reptile and avian projects was the first to suggest aflatoxicosis. He's now convinced that is what I was dealing with. He told me toxic changes are not specific and it would be nearly impossible to implicate aflatoxins unless fungal cultures had revealed the presence of fungi from the genus Aspergillus in the crickets.

I am not sure whether the crickets were contaminated from moldy feed fed to them at the cricket farm or my own poor cricket husbandry as at times they were kept too crowded and too wet. I also wonder if the crickets ate moldy vegetation from soggy pots of plants. Moldy grain is the usual source of aflatoxins. I only fed the crickets fresh veggies, but Aspergillus flavus is common in the soil and in decaying vegetation. I do know that as soon as I removed crickets as a food source they improved. The improvement was immediate and for some dramatic.

I think aflatoxicosis is a lot more common than we realize. Having gone through this with so many affected animals at once, I recognize similarities in stories from people describing symptoms of their sick chameleon.

The pathology reports were all similar and inconclusive but all showed evidence of a slow intoxication.

Symptoms in the living animals started with depression, poor growth, and dark colors. As they got sicker, they ended up seeming to avoid light and ended up on the ground. Some exhibited neurological symptoms and at times appeared blind and having seizures. There seemed to be skin infections or skin integrity issues as I marked up the cheeks of many just from restraining them when I was supplement feeding. Many ended up writhing on the ground in apparent agony for days at a time. Some would appear fine and then be on the ground rolling around a few minutes later. Others lay in a crumpled heap on the ground, sometimes on their backs or sides. I think they had a suppressed immune system as some of my captive born and bred babies had very heavy parasite loads that they could only have gotten from the feeder insects.

The animals most affected were the babies and the gravid new imports. Some animals, including babies, were never affected or were hardly affected at all.. Some of my adult long-term captive female quads and graciliors developed very bad edemas that I have not been able to clear. One long-term captive female ended up with huge black necrotic patches on her body after laying her clutch--it was as if her skin was too fragile to cope with brushing against any surface. She's slowly healing. My long-term captive males seemed unaffected.

Some of those animals that lay for days on their backs or writhing in pain and blind are now well on the road to recovery. At least two of the vets I have consulted with believe they will make a full and complete recovery--the other vets have not weighed in on that yet.

It was awful to see so many in my collection suffering so terribly and not be able to do anything about it. I wanted to euthanize but the vets all wanted me to keep them alive until they had an answer. I think I now have the answer. I've removed crickets as a food source although the vet friend who was the first to identify the problem wants me to breed my own.

I wonder if edema caused by crickets--something many of us have experienced--is really a mild case of aflatoxicosis.

I hope my disaster can help others. I would hate anyone to go through what I just did.
 

snitz427

Chameleon Enthusiast
I did read most of that post fro the other thread. Thank you, it was useful info, and not something I had known was a risk. I'll have to do some research to learn if it is something that comes on quickly, or with repeated exposure... and likewise... does the toxicity lessen after correcting the food issue. Similar to how some of Jan's chameleons improved after stopping crickets, would the crickets improve after stopping the grain.

Just thinking out loud... but this is an interesting topic. As someone who (tries) to raise all their own feeders, I'm very interested in learning about insect care and risks.
 

JacksJill

Chameleon Enthusiast
Many of the commercial dry gut loads are grain based. They are cheap and convenient to feed when you have large numbers of crickets. I use the dry and carrots to raise the crickets and only use my quality gut load on those I'm about to feed off. If you have a smaller collection you probably don't need dry gut load. I am very careful to keep it dry and check it frequently. Maybe you don't even need crickets but the price per bug thing does become an issue with larger collections. Some chameleons only seem to take too crickets probably because that is what most are raised eating.

I don't know how long the crickets can store the toxin. I believe jajeanpierre tossed all of hers as a precaution and started raising her own. I don't know if other insects can absorb and store it. We know so little about so much.
 

snitz427

Chameleon Enthusiast
I am working my way up there, with soon to be 6 chameleons. o_O We've been breeding crickets, but the supply/demand is a little out of whack, since we only feed them once a week or so. We have had mixed results with breeding ... partly because the eggs hatch on their own schedule. Some hatch in 2 weeks, some in 9 weeks!

They are an active feeder with lots of moving parts. I can see the allure, as weird as that sounds. I think if Dubia were more active, my chams would get more excited about them. I feed small dubia... and I'm lucky if they all eat 1 or 2. But if they see a similarly sized isopod running around they'll leap like an Olympian on the parallel bars down the branches to snag it!
 

snitz427

Chameleon Enthusiast
I feel like toxicosis was a very good diagnosis because of the way it moved through her collection.
For sure, and the almost instantaneous improvement once she removed crickets from the equation. What a shame, you wouldn't think such a small insignificant bug could be the demise of your animal, especially someone as passionate and knowledgeable as she.
 

JacksJill

Chameleon Enthusiast
Found this:
"Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize (corn), peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts. The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are abundant in warm and humid regions of the world."
So it's not just grain
 

JacksJill

Chameleon Enthusiast
"In the short term, aflatoxin poisoning may cause:
  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  • Convulsions.
  • Pulmonary edema, which is fluid buildup in the lungs.
  • Cerebral edema, which is fluid buildup in the brain.
  • Blood abnormalities, such as an increased risk of bleeding out.
  • Severe damage to the liver. (makes sense as the liver is the organ that deals with toxins in the body)
  • Death."
 

cyberlocc

Chameleon Enthusiast
Found this:
"Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize (corn), peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts. The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are abundant in warm and humid regions of the world."
So it's not just grain
Nope it's not, she said that as well. That it can be on the plants ect.

I am curious as to if Roaches can be effected as well. I have seen some say they cannot.

I personally took from this, just swear off crickets lol :p. Roaches are much much better from a nutirtion standpoint and just cleaner insects.

I think your right, about Chams only liking crickets as they are fed it in CB. They are Fed it in CB, because that's all the pet stores seem to sell, and the viscous cycle continues.


As to Snitz observation, I would also say that Dubias are not the ideal feeder for Chams either. As you stated, Dubia don't really move and when they do it's not too fast. There is many other roaches, that move very fast, like to climb, move alot, some even flutter. They make much more attractive prey.


The reason they are not kept, or fed as commonly is they don't breed as fast, or their care is a little more involved than a Dubias. Most roaches require high humidity and a substrate. People like to have their empty bin with egg flats and for alot of roaches that doesn't work. Such as Hissers and Banana roaches.

Another good one, for those who don't live in AZ/Cali, is the Turkistan Roaches. They are smaller, move extremely fast, are always climbing, and being active. However they will infest in CA/AZ.


I think another large part of the issue with dubias is the way people have raised them. I got into a debate about this the other day. People like to keep their Dubia in complete darkness, 24/7. Dubia, are not Cave roaches. That's not how they live in nature. The fact that Hissers and such are on the menu in the wild shows us, they come out in the daytime.

My Hissers have a light "gasp" that's on the same times as the sun is up. Want to know something even crazier, they come out and are active in said light. They do not run for the closest thing to hide in when the light comes on. They don't bask in the light, all day long, but they don't hide from it either.

I think what has happened here, is the same that has to geckos. It's more convenient to not provide light, because they are "nocturnal" so I don't have to. Well nature has light, they have light in the wild, they are in the light in the wild, why all of a sudden under our care are they Cave Roaches???

If a colony has adapted to light being okay, they are more active in the light. I actually find, in my Hissers the oldest ones are usually hidden during the day, however the clutches that are bred by me, spend quite alot of time out in the light. They are not adults yet, so we will have to wait and see if that plays a part.

Obviously this is a long time experiment, but eventually I want to separate some babies, and maybe see which breeds faster, once the colony has been adapted back to naturally having light and love foliage. I think alot of the take off and hide behavior we see, will change.
 

JacksJill

Chameleon Enthusiast
I'm a big fan of bean beetles for feeding neonates over crickets. I think most people move from fruit flies to crickets for the reasons mentioned above. I believe bean beetles make a better transition to roaches as they mature, a gateway beetle/roach. They at least look like a feeder that they have eaten before. I also like mixing some tiny silkworms in so they are used to soft bodied feeders.
 

cyberlocc

Chameleon Enthusiast
I'm a big fan of bean beetles for feeding neonates over crickets. I think most people move from fruit flies to crickets for the reasons mentioned above. I believe bean beetles make a better transition to roaches as they mature, a gateway beetle/roach. They at least look like a feeder that they have eaten before. I also like mixing some tiny silkworms in so they are used to soft bodied feeders.
I have thought the same. My loadout plan for raising was, if I ever do it, this is what I wanted to use.

FFs
Bean beetles
Rice Beetles
Dwarf White Isopods
Kenyan roaches (they are mini dubias lol, 1/4in full grown)
Baby sticks
Baby Mantids,
Baby silks
Baby grubs (not too often as they are fattening)


Baby's should have variety too.
 

cyberlocc

Chameleon Enthusiast
I find the Kenyan Roaches interesting. What is their culture?
I have not attempted to keep them yet, but have read up on it quite a bit.

They like Hissers style or Isopods. They want substrate and bark to hide under. With highish humidity being preferred. Alot of places suggest keeping them with a larger roach species that has the same care requirements, I don't like doing that, do mine would be on their own, with springtails maybe but not Isopods.

They are live bearers, (in the same way Hissers are, the eggs are kept inside I think) and other than that, just like any other roaches.

I keep my roaches like that anyway, when I kept Dubia it was with substrate and my Hissers and Oranges have substrate as well. Oranges with substrate kind of smell, but they love it. They LOVE to burrow. Usually only males are on the bark, the females like to be in the soil.

I know that's a "downside" it's hard to find them, but I don't find it that bad. I prefer them to have a natural environment. My Hissers don't burrow at all, they like the soil and high humidity, and will eat leaf litter. But they stay in their cork flats/rounds or on top of them for the most part.

They do seem to like to bask, in light. When the lights are on, their is usually about 6-10 just sitting on top of the cork, in the light, just sitting there. After a little while, they will go back in and others will come out, like they are taking turns, looking out or basking or something IDK what they are doing tbh lol. If I move the tank, they get scared and run into the bark though.

The orange heads, don't do that. They come out in the light, and walk around for a bit and then go back in. They will sometimes go and eat during the day, and then go back. They tend to stay inside of their flats/soil more. However they don't, just bask in the light like the Hissers seem to..
 
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snitz427

Chameleon Enthusiast
I am raising green bananas, too, but dont' have a well enough established colony yet to feed them. I'm not sure how that's going to go - because the GIANT green bananas are insanely active. Wrangling them from the container will be interesting. The regular green bananas aren't as active.

My bugs all get 12 hours of daylight. The roaches are behind other ones, so they get filtered light. The GBRs are active regardless, but the dubia do tend to avoid the light when possible. They still come out for food but prefer the shadows. I think that is more of a safety thing... they are hiding from me more than the light.
 

cyberlocc

Chameleon Enthusiast
I am raising green bananas, too, but dont' have a well enough established colony yet to feed them. I'm not sure how that's going to go - because the GIANT green bananas are insanely active. Wrangling them from the container will be interesting. The regular green bananas aren't as active.

My bugs all get 12 hours of daylight. The roaches are behind other ones, so they get filtered light. The GBRs are active regardless, but the dubia do tend to avoid the light when possible. They still come out for food but prefer the shadows. I think that is more of a safety thing... they are hiding from me more than the light.
I think that is possible as well. If I disturb either the Hissers or the Oranges, they hide lol. I think they will grow comfortable in time.

I want to get the GGBs too! They are Soo pretty and the fact they are active should be fun for the Cham. I have heard Chams love them.
 

snitz427

Chameleon Enthusiast
I think that is possible as well. If I disturb either the Hissers or the Oranges, they hide lol. I think they will grow comfortable in time.

I want to get the GGBs too! They are Soo pretty and the fact they are active should be fun for the Cham. I have heard Chams love them.
there is a night and day difference between the GGB and GBRs as far as activity levels. Size wise... its a very slight difference. Activity wise... I do a spray and pray technique when I open the GGB bins... they climb, flutter, and fly like crazy ... regardless of light, time of day, disturbance, etc. All zoomies all the time. The GBR on the other hand tend to burrow or hide under the cork. I thought i killed them all off because I NEVER saw a GBR when peaking at the bin... then when I started moving stuff around and digging I found them. They scattered and burrowed the second they saw me.
 
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