The Stigma of Wild Insect/Bug Feeding.

bug catchers

Now picture this….. It’s 1988, you’re 12 years of age, and you have your very first reptile, a Bearded Dragon.

The nerves. The fear. The anticipation, The excitement. All these emotions rolled into one due to having been entrusted the care of this little dinosaur.

With that care (which I won’t be going into on this post as I’ll stick to the main subject) a huge part of that being the feeding of the reptile.

remember, there were NO huge pet chain stores back then to get supplies. Just those amazing local puppy dog and kitten pet shops.

So with next to no information (remember, NO internet back them. So no research available), and only going on what the local pet shop owner who entrusted this reptile on to me gave me……..a bag of dried mealworm.

Well, that was me πŸ™‚

Of course looking back, I remember having live mealworms too on occasion when the pet-shop had them, but that was about it for a few years. I can’t recall that being too often either. I vaguely remember him importing them from somewhere. I want to say Holland, but I can’t remember exactly. And also remember, there were NO huge pet chain stores back then to get supplies. Just those amazing local puppy dog and kitten pet shops.

It was this shop owner that suggested I get some ‘wild bugs’.

“Dig up worms. Find caterpillars. Grasshoppers. Aphids. Moths” he said.

For me, these wise words not only added even more excitement to the keeping of this amazing reptile, but those words changed the way I fed my reptiles from that day onwards.
And still to this day, 32 years later I feed wild caught bugs when I can.

Fast-forward into the 1990s, I was attending Reptile meetings around the country. Here we’d swap and purchase other keepers own bred insects from what I assume were bred for wild-caught bugs – I do not recall.

But there were lots of grasshoppers, woodlice, worms, crickets and spiders. So of course, this made the diet a little more varied. Although supplies wouldn’t last long between these meetings – it all certainly helped between my own caught items.

Modern Methods:

Wild caught feeding is still very much frowned upon in social media groups and forums. You know what, I get it, I do.

The old come-back of “what about parasite?” and “what about pesticides?”. Of course, these are very valid questions.
So lets go over these shall we, and some methods I use to catch bugs in the process.

Pesticides:

keep and gut-load and hydrate your own collected bugs in a suitable bug keeper for a good 48/72 hours

Now you have a responsibility as a keeper to research your own local collection area. Be it your garden and asking the neighbours if they have used pesticide or herbicide. Or farm/landowners. Either way, this is your job, and it’s a simple question requiring a simple answer. Never just ‘assume’ all is safe.

Once the above is established, you’ll know whether you can collect bugs from the area. Easy.

Now, to be even safer and surer (is that a word?), keep and gut-load and hydrate your own collected bugs in a suitable bug keeper for a good 48/72 hours. ANY pesticide issue would take effect in this time, leaving you with a dead bug. Which is the purpose of a pesticide πŸ˜‰

Parasites:

This is why you probably have far less issue with parasites in wild caught bugs than the bugs you keep at home

Horsehair Worm

I can hand on heart say, in the 32 years feeding wild-caught bugs, I’ve never, not even once had a related illness or issue directly linked to my actions of feeding the wild bugs.
I also know many other long term keepers whom have the same conclusion.
I have ALL my reptiles and Amphibians faecal checked 2x a year. And I am a good 5 or 6 years without any treatment for any parasite load being needed. Just saying πŸ˜‰
Any occasion before that was mainly rescue reptiles needing Coccidia or Pinworm treatment. Something of which happens regardless.

So again, you have a responsibility as a keeper to know your local area. Know your native bugs. A good way is by joining a local wildlife/bug Facebook group or forum.

Then take a look at where the wild bugs are, and where you are collecting from.
These wild bugs have a huge area to feed from. A huge food pallet to gouge on regarding flowers, weeds, and other insects. This is why you probably have far less issue with parasites in wild caught bugs than the bugs you keep at home. At home, you have 100s of roaches and crickets stuck in a small keeper, climbing all over each other, all that faeces and dead. I assure you, the risk is far greater here πŸ™‚

Also, I never collect near roads and ponds, swamps and rivers. I stick to fields, foliage, trees. And If its caterpillars and such you find, stay away from hairy and brightly coloured bugs. These are mostly toxic and could cause issue.

I also have my humble ‘ZooMed Bug Napper‘. I’ve had this as long as I can remember now, and It still gets used during the summer months here in the UK when insects are more common.

But basically, the bright light of the’napper’ attracts a multitude of moths, crane-fly and other flying insects, and they fall into the bottom, and can’t get out allowing for easy collection.

I’m pretty sure they don’t make this any more. But you’ll have to enquire at your local Reptile supplier.

The other method I use is a simple net and spade. Yep, simple as that.

Simply walking through long grass or a field with a net brushing through the growth will warrant a multitude of fly, beetle, and larvae. What they are, again, depends on the area.

And the spade, for digging of course. More on this below.

So, what do I feed?:

Its also mental and physical enrichment when your Reptile/Amphibian is hunting these bugs. All bug move and look different. Something many people seem to forget.

I feed a lot of moths, worms, aphids and fly. More so In the summer months here in the UK where such are more abundant.

Moths – These are a great feeder, and there are plenty of them. These tend to be nectar drinkers, so any ‘risk’ is almost non-existent.

There are so many moth types. And some would be local to your own geographical location, so you’ll have to research. But from larger hawk moth, to smaller ‘Buff’ moths. Most safe and available without issue.

Crane-Fly (daddy long legs) – Another popular feeder for me, and they are available across the world I believe. These long-legged fly don’t actually drink or feed on anything, so nutritionally probably pretty rubbish. But it’s NOT all about nutrition with any food item you offer. Its also mental and physical enrichment when your Reptile/Amphibian is hunting these bugs. All bugs move and look differently. Something many people seem to forget.

Earthworm – These are easy enough to find. A little digging under some damp soil or lifting a few rocks, job done.
When I do collect these, I tend to put in my own tub with some top-soil and leaf litter, and a little old veg/greens and gut-load myself for 48 hours. This is just to purge them of anything that they’ve eaten in the past day or so.

Caterpillars/Butterfly and other larvae – The cabbage-white (Pieris rapae) is a popular and common one for

me. The larvae found on many leafy vegetable plants as well as some flowers like nasturtiums, these soft white larvae are a great feeder. If you know anyone that grows their own veg, its well worth asking them to keep such for you. Same goes for the hatched butterfly of the species.

Larva of Pieris rapae – Cabbage White caterpillar – from Pinterest

Again, I tend to gut-load myself with some store purchased cabbage etc.

I collect a number of other caterpillar/butterfly/larvae species, some of which I have no idea on what they are. Various hawk-moth. But rule of thumb still sticks. If its hairy or brightly coloured, then I’d just not pick it up, or release where it was found.

Aphids – These tiny green fly (black to) can be found on most flowers in your garden, so these would be very seasonal. Although they are small they are a great feeder for smaller amphibians and reptiles. And due to them feeding on nectar and sap from the plant, they are fairly nutritious.

Best of the rest – When you net in a field or start digging around the ground, you’ll find a multitude of beetles (open up old wood to find wood beetles and grubs), spiders, grasshoppers, etc.

UK Grasshopper

Most of which I’d gut-load and hydrate with my own items, although sometimes, I don’t depending on what it is based on my previous experiences.

One I often get asked about, Snails and slugs – We know these can be harmful to dogs and cats due to lungworm for example. And although research shows that reptiles are β€˜paratenic’ hosts [1] – meaning that they can carry the parasite, without being directly infected. That being said, I still purchase my own snails (Helix aspersa) frm specialist reptile shops online, or as GAL (Giant African Land snails) from keepers who have excess baby GAL’s they are willing to part with.

I can’t cover every insect available here. It’s impossible. Best I can offer is if you catch anything, feel free to contact me in my groups, post a photo of what you have, and we can all learn something in the process πŸ™‚

Open your mind:

But most people don’t do the research on what is actually happening. Well I have πŸ˜›

Usually when this topic comes up in one of my groups, or via discussion, someone will post a YouTube video of a cricket or mantis with a huge parasite crawling out of its dead body.

Yep, I’ve seen these too!.

But most people don’t do the research on what is actually happening. Well I have πŸ˜›

This parasite in question on these videos is the Horsehair worm (Nematomorpha) [2]. And it is actually completely harmless. Obviously it looks scary as hell. But if you just follow it all through, there is zero harm going to happen to it, or its host. Also, the bug is either dead, or dying, hence the worm wanting to leave it host.

If you think about it…. Does ANY parasite want the host to die?. I’d say, not really, no. As its gaining things from the said host living. Be it the passing on of its parasite eggs through faeces/contact. Or, nutritional benefits etc. Either way, most parasites wouldn’t benefit from a sick or dead host.

Some we know are dangerous:

Is there risk? – Sure. But it can be totally minimised if you take care in where you collect, and what you collect. And as already mentioned, ask about pesticides/herbicides in your chosen collection vicinity.

Stay away from Firefly, Ladybugs, and brightly coloured insects as already mentioned. The later is just precautionary.

Conclusion:

I’m just asking you all not to regurgitate the “wild bugs have parasites” nonsense without actually doing your research and getting those facts

Red Eyed Tree Frog eating a roach
Red Eyed Tree Frog eating a roach

Many of us long-term keepers as I have mentioned have been doing this wild feeding for so long now, it’s second nature. With all I have spoken to regarding this blog article, none have had any related issue from doing such.
That ranges from USA Chameleon keepers that keep their Chameleons outside, and often witness them catching many fly, bee, wasps, and dragonfly.
To some Amphibian keepers local to me that feed a ton of aphids and dug up collected woodlice. None have related issue.

And it’s not as if all we ever feed is wild bugs. Not at all. With the multitude of bugs available to us via online reptile retailers that are bred for the purpose of reptile/amphibian feeding, there is no reason to be outside everyday collecting bugs.

I’m just asking you all not to regurgitate the “wild bugs have parasites” nonsense without actually doing your research and getting those facts. So open your mind to the concept of added variety, nutrition, and that mentioned enrichment, its only ever going to benefit the reptile.

– Pete

References:

[1] Sean McCormack BSc (Hons), MVB, MRCVS – https://exoticpetvetblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/lungworm-in-dogs-but-what-about-in-reptiles/

[2] Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture – Horsehair worm (Nematomorpha) – https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef613

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