• Culturing Crickets - Care and Breeding of the Common House Cricket

    Culturing Crickets - Care and Breeding of the Common House Cricket, Acheta domesticus (Linnaeus, 1758)

    Paul Rust - NorthWest Amphibian Rescue



    Crickets are one of the least favorite food items to culture for many reasons. However, they can also provide an easy and inexpensive staple diet for your animals, especially important for those of us with large collections. Before going any further with this process there are a few things that you should consider.

    • Crickets are very noisy. You will need a place to keep them where they won't bother anyone.
    • You WILL have escapes. If you find yourself being lulled to sleep, or kept awake by an amorous cricket there are a few things you can do. Keep any roach control device in the room with the crickets and it will capture them. You can also just wait and deal with it because adults only live a few weeks.
    • Crickets have a distinctive odor that most people do not find offensive if kept under control. The most common source of this odor is the water delivery method and if kept clean it will greatly reduce this problem. In this method of keeping crickets we will use no substrate in the bins and the colony is kept in a dry condition to make the odor minimal and routine cleaning very easy. In fact, the only smell will be the cricket food!

    The biggest problem that I find with most cricket breeding guides, and the reason for this article, is that the breeding substrate is part of the cricket housing container. This leads to problems. The most obvious problem is that the environment is always damp and this leads to mold and the awful smell often associated with breeding crickets. Another significant problem posed by the substrate is that it makes the colony nearly impossible to keep clean. So people don't keep it clean, and this leads to dead crickets throughout the colony and it also leads to disease. The problem that concerns me most when using other methods is that the crickets are in the same container throughout their entire life cycle, leaving you with the task of sorting them according to size every time you need to feed your animals. Our method keeps the different sizes separate, thus making it easy to feed different sizes and it makes keeping track of the adult breeding colony straightforward, so very few crickets die or are wasted. Finally, using our approach makes the cultures very clean and easy to maintain.


    Paul Rust
    Summer Setup In Garage




    Paul Rust
    Winter Setup In Dining Room



    The Setup

    You will need 3 18 Gallon "Rubbermaid" containers and one smaller clear container (to those unfamiliar with this brand, we are talking about large plastic shoe boxes). All the setups are exactly the same and the only thing that will change is the position in the rotation, which I will explain later in the article. All you need for each large container is a food dish, I use a petri dish for this purpose), a watering vessel (Ghann's Cricket Farm :: Ghann's - Live Crickets, Mealworms, Superworms has a wonderful watering vessel that I use), and some egg carton material. Arrange the items in the bin as shown in the photo below. When this photo was taken I was using a petri dish and a sponge for water and it works fine, but later you will see the watering vessel I now use. You must use some kind of absorbent material to deliver water to your crickets because they will drown in open water. Cut a hole in the lid of each container and use whatever you wish to make a screen for ventilation - I use the side vents from an XBOX 360! Make 3 of these bins. I have found that with this system I have been very successful and hatching 1,000 - 2,000 crickets per week so I have gone to a 45 Gallon bin for the 3\8 crickets in the middle postion. It is very important to provide enough room for your crickets to move around. Each one needs a place to stand, they cannot be on top of each other so don't crowd them. Egg crate material provides an amazing amount of surface area for your crickets to spread out.


    Paul Rust
    45 Gallon 3/8 Cricket Bin




    Paul Rust
    18 Gallon 3/8 Cricket Bin




    Paul Rust
    Screen Tops



    Each of the bins that you make will be for a different size range of cricket. One will be for the latest hatchlings, up to about 1/4" (0.6 cm). The next one will be for crickets from 1/4" to just before adult size - they won't have a hard exoskeleton or wings yet. The last container is only for adults - they will have a hard exoskeleton and wings. This last bin will be the breeding colony. The bins are in a rotation. The first bin is for very young crickets, the second is for older crickets, and the third is for adults. As the crickets get larger in each bin, you simply move the bin into the next position. In the last position the adults will start dying and, as the middle container crickets start to become adults, you move it to the last position. Then you discard all of the crickets in the former adult bin, clean it out, and then move it into the first position to become the next bin for very young crickets. This rotation is perpetual and is determined by the condition of the adult bin. The newly hatched crickets can stay in the incubator for as long as you need.


    Maintenance

    I carry out all required maintenance on the same day so it is easy to remember and takes a minimal amount of time. Once a week, open each container and perform these steps:


    • Remove, clean, and resupply the food and water containers.
    • Take each egg carton piece and shake it into the bin, crickets, poo and all. Set it aside for later.
    • Now tip the container so that everything falls into one corner of the bin. Lower it just enough to cause the crickets to move to the high side - they won't all go but don't worry about it.
    • Now use a vacuum hose (or whatever works for you) and suck up all the poo, shed skins, food waste, dead crickets, and a few live ones.
    • Put the water, food, and egg cartons back into the container.

    That's it! Cleaning like this is fast, simple, and it keeps the smell at a minimum and the crickets healthy and active.

    This entire section has been for the care and maintenance of the crickets, now we will talk about breeding.


    Egg laying

    Now that the bins and rotation are ready to go, lets get some "babies". Start with 100 adult crickets from the pet store. When you look for the crickets, look for a container that has a lot of females in it. Females have three structures on the last segments of the abdomen, one ovipositor protruding out from the eighth abdominal sternite and two cerci protruding up on either side from the ninth abdominal tergite. The middle one is the ovipositor and will be the longest one when she is ready to breed. Males have only the two cerci. The cerci, singular is cercus, are copulation aids. Also, listen as you approach the rack of crickets to hear them chirping. Only adult males can chirp because they don't develop the mesothoracic wing until adulthood. They chirp by rubbing the ridges of one mesothoracic wing over the file of the opposite mesothoracic wing. Females in the same container are likely from the same culture and therefore adults as well.

    Place all 100 crickets in the last bin. This is now the adult bin. Next take one "Ziploc" plastic sandwich container and fill it with coconut fiber substrate and lightly pack it down flat. Each female will insert her ovipositor into it and lay up to 500 eggs. If you leave the substrate loose they will lay eggs on the top and these will dry out and die. I use coconut fiber because I can empty it into a bowl after the eggs have hatched, re-soak it, and use it again. Place this into the adult bin and put some egg carton pieces over part of it to make it easy to access. See the picture below. In the food dish is a great example of a big adult female. There are over 200 adult crickets in this bin. The egg carton is excellent for giving them places to hide. Place the top back on the bin and leave it alone for 7 days. After 7 days, remove the substrate container and place it in the incubator, and then put a new substrate container in the adult bin. If you keep your breeding operation in a garage or other cold area, you will need to heat the bins with a heating pad in the winter. They need to be kept at 80-90 °F (27-32 °C). Depending on where you live, if you keep the crickets in the house your room temperature may suffice. I keep mine in the garage during the summer and in the dining room in the winter.



    Paul Rust
    Adult Egg Laying Bin



    The Incubator

    The incubator is the most important part of this operation. Here is a list of items you will need:

    • A medium sized clear "Sterilite" container (small plastic box).
    • Temperature monitor with remote probe.
    • Some plastic deli cups.
    • One 16 Watt Zoo Med Repti-Therm Under Tank Heater or equivalent.
    • Egg carton.
    • Cricket watering gel.
    • Cricket food.

    Take the temperature monitor and place the probe inside the container on the back wall. Route the wire under the rim of the container to the front and mount the display module. Affix a small piece of double sided mounting tape to each corner of the under tank heater and mount it to the bottom of the container on the inside. Now route the power cord out in one corner. Don't worry, it shouldn't get hot enough to burn the plastic. Just keep a close eye on it for the first few days and check it every time you clean. If you feel it is getting too hot just make some "feet" for each corner to raise it up a bit and it will cool down. Next, place a piece of egg carton in the container that is big enough to cover the entire bottom. Place 2 deli cups of watering gel and 2 deli cups of food in one end of the container. Make sure you angle the cups as shown in the photo so the hatchlings can get to them. If you use a water dish in this container it will condense too much water and drown the youngsters. Cut a hole in the lid and make a small screen vent. Place the substrate container full of eggs into the incubator and cover it with egg carton to help control the condensation. Here is a series of photos to show you how it looks:


    Paul Rust




    Paul Rust




    Paul Rust



    The incubator works on a rotation schedule as well. After you place the first substrate container of eggs in the incubator, close it and leave it alone for 7 days. Keep the temperature as close to 90 °F (32 °C) as you can. I open the lid every day to check on them and replenish the food and water gel as needed. This also helps keep the condensation levels down. Youngsters will start to hatch in only a day or two, but you will want to wait a week to make sure they all hatch. After 7 days remove the substrate container and replace it with one with a fresh batch of eggs from the adult bin. Repeat this process indefinitely, with the exception of cleaning up the hatchling container every now and then. Keep the youngsters in the incubator until they are about 1/8" (0.3 cm), then empty them into the first cricket bin and your operation is up and running. You can adjust the scheduling to meet your needs and culture as many at a time as you need. For example, I empty the incubator twice a day when the hatch is going strong. I caution you to think carefully before culturing more than one batch at a time to begin with because each one has the potential to produce thousands of youngsters! My first hatch had over 3000 crickets because I used two substrate containers. Below are photos of the incubator ready for the top to be put on, hatchlings, and the first bin.


    Paul Rust




    Paul Rust




    Paul Rust




    Paul Rust




    Final Notes

    The substrate container must be kept damp at all times or the eggs will dry up and die. Just mist the substrate every couple of days.


    Egg carton material can be purchased here.
    Josh's Frogs - Egg Flats


    The watering gel I use is from Josh's Frogs.
    Josh's Frogs - josh's frogs insect watering gel (16 oz) - cricket care products


    The watering vessel/waterer is from Ghann's Cricket Farm.
    Ghann's Cricket Farm :: Watering Kit - 16 oz. Mini



    This is my food recipe:

    • Dry cat food.
    • Powdered milk mix.
    • Vitamin supplement. Repashy, Herptivite, etc.

    - Fill a blender 1/2 full with dry cat food and blend.

    - Add powdered milk mix, 10 parts by volume.
    - Add vitamin supplement, 1 part by volume.
    - Blend together until it is the consistency of fine sand.
    - Keep in an airtight container.


    This food mix serves two purposes. It gives the crickets everything they need and also gut-loads them for your frog's nutrition.

    Article is ©2010 Paul W. Rust. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced or published in part or in whole without written permission from Paul W. Rust.

    Comments, suggestions and criticism welcomed!
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Culturing Crickets - Care and Breeding of the Common House Cricket started by Paul Rust View original post
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Guenhwyvar's Avatar
      Guenhwyvar -
      I've started a tinyish (not as big as yours) breeding tank with the first crickets that matured in my holding tank(for food). I've seen the females stick their ovipositor in the substrate, but I haven't seen any babies yet. Will the parents dig up the eggs and eat them? I've seen them do a lot of digging and tunneling in the substrate after laying. I've seen this behavior for about 2weeks now. The males are chirping up a storm and the females are really fat and big, but i still don't have any babies. I think it may be the temp, the temp here dropped suddenly and it got real cold then real hot. I'll try again, my adults are right at the end of their life cycle, with closer attention to the temp.
    1. Jdnocente's Avatar
      Jdnocente -
      watch breathing in the cricket smell.. it can give most ppl a lung disease much like the lung cancer that can originate from airborn waste pathogens
      Intensive Poultry Production: Fouling The Environment - United Poultry Concerns - Revised 2009
    1. KingCam's Avatar
      KingCam -
      Do yourselves a favor and culture roaches instead Much easier, much cleaner. I used to culture crickets, and having to clean that bin out weekly was not only a pain, but it was absolutely revolting. I only have to clean my roach bin once every 4 or 5 months.

    1. Bombina Bob's Avatar
      Bombina Bob -
      Hi there,
      Ive kept crickets for a while now and i had always had the crickets turn black, slow down and die, is this normal? and should i buy younger crickets next time?
    1. Ornate frog's Avatar
      Ornate frog -
      Do you have to have an incubator ?
    1. manderkeeper's Avatar
      manderkeeper -
      I prefer a slight cricket smell over roaches. They are too creepy. I also find that roaches tend to hide in the substrate if not grabbed immediately. I hatched out crickets in a plastic cup covered with saran wrap and held on by a rubber band. I just made a very small hole in the plastic to limit condensation. I sat the cup on the radiator which kept the substrate at 80-85F. An ultratherm heat pad on a rheostat should do the trick, too. The crickets seem to do best with some heat when they are first starting out.
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