Gut Loading Insects
Several species of reptiles and amphibians (Water Dragons, Geckos, Bearded Dragons, some Tortoises, Skinks, and Anoles, to name a few) are insectivores which means they get all or some of their nutrition from eating live, moving insect prey. Crickets and mealworms are the most common insects sold in pet shops for this purpose however, insectivorous reptiles also do well with locusts, wax worms, flies, cockroaches and tebos. These insects will provide optimum nutrition for your reptile only if they are well fed themselves. Feeding your reptile a starved cricket or mealworm provides only an empty meal of chitin (the insect’s crunchy exoskeleton). Gut loading is the process of feeding insects a nutritious diet prior to using them as food for your reptile. A gut-loaded insect is full of good nutrition that is also good for your reptile.
The following are some suggestions for a gut load mixture that you can offer the insects 48 hours prior to feeding to your reptile. Start with a powder or pelleted base diet such as Harrison’s High Potency Mash. Add beta-carotene in the form of dark leafy greens, grated carrots, grated squash or sweet potato. You can also sprinkle in calcium powder (Phosphorus free RepCal available from Pet Care Veterinary Hospital) or powderized/shaved cuttle bone. Mix these ingredients and offer to your insects; again for 48 hours prior to the reptile’s mealtime. Insects should also be dusted with a phosphorus-free calcium powder just prior to offering them to your reptile.
As a general rule the insect food item should be no more than the length and ½ the width of the lizard’s head. Offer insects in a shallow glass or ceramic dish or plastic pet dish. Some herpetologists recommend leaving mealworms in the food dish all the time or as many crickets your lizard will eat in 15 minutes, every other day. Note: Do not leave uneaten crickets in with your lizard as they may begin to feed on the reptile’s skin. Follow these tips and you will be going a long way in offering your insectivorous reptile a nutritious and balanced diet.