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How To Culture Cricketsby Sharon David, Canada
Obtaining the Crickets
I worked breeding crickets for 6 years and have found them very easy to deal with. Those of you living in the southern U.S. (esp. Florida) can use the common field cricket that you can catch in the wild. Use a butterfly type net, or shop-vac in the field (yes that's what we used --but a gas-powered one!)
The field cricket is quite large, about 1 inch in total length. You may also use the striped ground cricket which breed ok, but not as well as the field cricket. They are small however (about 1/4 inch), so they are good for small birds.
The reason for stating that those of you in the South have it easier is that the insect's eggs do not go through a dormancy period as they do in the North. This means that you can take the eggs, incubate them for a couple of weeks, and they hatch (dormant ones need to be placed in cold temperatures for 1-2 months before they will hatch). You could also buy a bunch of the house crickets that they sell at the pet shop or from mail order and start breeding them as well.
Setting up the Culturing Area
To start, you can use an aquarium or garbage pail (aquarium for small cultures, garbage can for big ones). Cut out a large section of the lid and add aluminum mosquito netting to the cut out section so as to allow for adequate circulation (don't use fiberglass netting as they will chew right through it).
It is best to have 2 cultures going so you can rotate the adults and young, since the containers will need to be cleaned out every 4-5 months. Remember they can jump quite well so a tall container is much better than a shorter one. Use cardboard egg cartons (not styrofoam) to line the container, about 3 rows high.
They will need a water source, which can be either a closed yogurt container, sandwich box with a lid, etc. that has a hole poked through the top, with a piece of cheesecloth threaded through to the bottom to act as a wick for the liquid (container filled with water). You will want to check your water source regularly until you determine how often you need to add water. The crickets will suck up the water from the cheesecloth (and unfortunately often lay eggs there as well.)
You can also purchase insect waterers, which are similar to the duck/chicken self-waterers, but have a piece of foam around the bottom acting as the wick. These are costly, and I've found the yogurt container works just as well.
For food, we have used all kinds of stuff, but the main foundation is rabbit chow (or similar well balanced rodent food, but mouse/rat chow is too hard and more difficult to feed, so I suggest rabbit chow instead), or dry dog food or cat food that is relatively small, plus greens in the form of lettuce, cabbage (not really recommended since it stinks as it decays!), or carrots. The crickets will consume these quite quickly, but only place in as much as they will eat in one to two days, since they will start to rot or dry up.
If you have enough males and females, you can start getting them to breed quite readily. Remember that the higher the temperature, the faster they will reproduce. A temperature around 75-80 degrees F is best, and a 60-100 W light bulb attached to the lid of the aquarium or garbage can works fine).
Males are easily told apart from the females as they sing by scraping their wings together. Females have an ovipositor at the base of their abdomen that looks like a long black stick which separates into 4 pieces when the egg is being expelled.
The easiest thing we used for a breeding dish were sandwich boxes that are about 2 inches tall. They are filled with soil (preferably sterile bought kind, since you don't want other little bugs hatching out). Keep the soil moist, but not water laden. Check this regularly so it doesn't dry out since the eggs will dry out as well. Fill the soil with 1/2 inch of the top, but not more. Place the lid over top sideways so there is a space for the crickets to enter and leave. Place the egg layer box as far from the light/heat source as you can so the soil doesn't dry out fast.
Working with the eggs/larvae
You can check to see if females are under the lid and this will be an indication that they are laying. You can also move the soil around with a toothpick and check for eggs which look pretty much like maggot eggs (small oval whitish in color). Remove the egg container every 3 weeks or less often if you are getting them hatching out of there. Replace with a fresh dish, and place the egg dish into the hatching container (can be nothing more than a Rubbermaid container, or even into the garbage can or second aquarium.) Keep the young there for a couple of weeks or remove as you cull. The young crickets need similar food as the adults, but because their mouth parts are not full size, you should grind up their food into powder form so they can eat it easily.
Using the crickets
Once you start getting your colony going, you will figure out what your
turnover rate is and how often you can cull. I have used killed crickets
for food for many small birds (just place them in the freezer and they
will slowly cool down, their metabolism will lower until they are
asleep, and then they will die from the cold (yes, this is a humane way of
doing this.) I have used newly hatched crickets (collecting them every
day or two) to feed to hummingbirds and also to warblers which just loved
them! Good luck!