These are guides to how we maintain, gut-load, and breed the insects we use as feeders.
Mealworms are not covered, as we do not normally use them, and don't like using them for baby dragons. By the time a dragon is old enough to eat mealworms, it will be big enough to eat morio worms, which are better nutritionally.
If you own other lizard species and want to use mealworms, their care is similar to that of morio worms. Waxworms are very hard to gut-load, so we recommend you keep them refrigerated instead, to try to maintain as many nutrients in them as possible from when they were raised.
** You might also want to read our Guide to Avoid Touching Insects when moving them **
Crickets are a decent staple livefood for bearded dragons. They have decent levels of all the required nutrients, except Calcium and certain vitamins. Although variety is good for dragons, a dragon kept solely on supplemented, variably gut-loaded crickets and varied greens would do fine.
Crickets are normally purchased in clear plastic boxes (referred to as "cricket tubs"). Crickets from a petshop have usually been denied access to fresh food or moisture for up to a week, so this should be your number one priority.
We keep our crickets in large plastic tubs with non-climbable sides. A substrate is not needed - it will only cause a smell. Fresh vegetables, such as leafy greens, carrot, oranges, butternut squash and other root vegetables are placed in the tub and replaced daily. It is vital that this be varied, as this is the main source of the crickets' goodness.
Crickets need a source of dry food that is rich in protein. Tropical fish flakes, any crumb designed for hatchling birds, or ground cat biscuits all appear to work well. Make sure that the dry food doesn't contain insect repellent though - some premium animal foods do to stop wild insects attempting to eat them! Feeding crickets good food is part of the process of "gut-loading", which can make a huge difference to growth rate and overall health of your dragon.
We use cardboard egg cartons to increase the surface area of the the cage, and to give crickets places to climb/hide. The temperature should be kept slightly above room temperature if possible - sitting the cricket cage on top of a vivarium, or putting a heat mat under part of it does the trick nicely. Beware of excessive humidity though, as this will kill certain species of cricket (black crickets are especially prone to dying due to humidity).
This is a photo of a typical cricket setup that we use, showing egg cartons, fishfood, and a shallow dish with wet paper towel and greens on it:
We don't normally breed our own crickets, but it is not too difficult to do. You will need adult crickets, in a correct setup, at a little above room temperature. Put a bowl with 1-2" of damp sand in, for the females to lay eggs in. The sand should be kept damp, but not too wet that it cannot hold its shape. Replace the bowl every week with a new one, and put the old bowls in separate containers. Adults will eat newly hatched crickets, so they must be kept separate. Keep the babies exactly as you would adults. Under the right conditions they grow up pretty quickly.
We use crickets as a main staple food for all of our babies and most of our adults. Just about all of the babies we sell will have been raised on crickets, and should be used to eating them.
There are three common species of cricket available - Brown Banded, "Silent" and Black. Of these, the browns are the smallest, quickest and jumpiest. They are great for younger dragons as they'll give them a good workout chasing them, but aren't really meaty enough for adult beardies. Blacks are the largest and chunkiest and are a good staple for adults. However many adults prefer the taste of the slightly-smaller "silent" crickets. I've put the "silent" in inverted commas because they're not really silent. They're usually quieter than blacks, but are still capable of chirping. All three species are capable of attacking sleeping dragons, so removing uneaten crickets at night is a must!
Morio worms (aka "king
mealworms" or "superworms") are a nice addition to an adult dragon's
diet. They are not nutritious enough and are too fatty to be a staple
livefood for an obesity-prone animal like a beardie, but are good for
encouraging weight gain, e.g. for breeding. We keep ours in large flat,
ventilated tubs, with ~2" bran in the bottom. Chunks of carrot and
squash, and whole leaves of kale, spring greens etc are added for
moisture every few days - check that the bran does not get too damp, or
it will begin to grow mould. Morio worms can be kept "dry" for a few
weeks, but this will reduce their nutritional value, and cause them to
W only breed morios occasionally, due to the relatively low cost of buying them. They are a tropical species, which pupate in cavities in rotting wood. The easiest way to replicate this is to use camera-film canisters. Put a small amount of bran (a few mm) in the bottom, along with a chunk of carrot. Put a full-sized larva in each canister, and put in the dark. A lid is not necessary as long as the canister remains upright. It can take a few days to a few weeks for larvae to pupate. It normally takes 1-3 weeks for a pupa to hatch into an adult beetle. Beetles should be housed in a similar style to crickets, but with damp moss in the cage. They are a tropical species, so keep them fairly warm and mist them twice daily with water to keep humidity high. Once mated, female beetles will lay eggs in the damp moss, then die. Once the eggs hatch, put the small larvae in a similar setup to the larger larvae. Keep them warm, and they will grow faster.
We use locusts as treats for our dragons, and as a staple food for any fussy dragons to keep them going whilst we coax them back onto crickets or roaches. Nutritionally they are fine as a staple food, but are a lot more expensive than crickets.
They do not live long
at all without water, particularly in the "cricket tubs" that they come
in. For locusts, we use a similar type of setup to our baby dragons,
with heat and light provided by an overhead bulb - they have a basking
area of around 90-95f. During the colder months, we attach a heatmat to
the side of each tub to keep them warmer at night. Fresh grass and
greens are given daily. We also offer fish food, although they will only
eat it occasionally. A few locusts eat an enormous amount of grass, and
produce an enormous amount of waste, so clean the tank regularly.
Here is the setup that we use for housing our locusts. We have a spotlight on the lid above the egg cartons, along with fishfood, fresh greens and grass in the bottom. Our locust tubs are tall, so the locusts have room to climb and jump. As locusts are not usually cannibalistic unless deprived of moisture, we house several sizes together in a single tub:
In summer 2007,
we first started switching to cockroaches as a feeder for our adults. We
primarily use Blaptica dubia cockroaches. Adults are around 2"
long, so are a perfect size for adult dragons. We now have a
decently-sized colony established. B. dubia cockroaches cannot
climb glass or fly, so they are one of the safest cockroaches to keep.
Being tropical, if they do escape in Britain, they may be able to
survive for a short amount of time, but cannot reproduce.
Adults breed best when kept dark and fairly crowded, so we initially kept our colony in an 18" fish tank with blackout paper around the sides, and a lid with small, mesh-covered holes for ventilation. We like to keep a ratio of 1 male : 4 females, so it is the males who are fed to our Dragons first! Males can be distinguished by their wings that run the length of their body. Females only have small, stumpy wings. As the colony grew to several thousand individuals, they were moved into a ventilated 64L Really Useful Box.
We cover 2/3 of the tank base with a heat mat, to keep a temperature of around 90F. They are liberally misted with water twice daily to keep humidity high. We stack egg cartons on top of the heated area, to create a vertical temperature gradient. We feed them exactly the same wet and dry food as crickets, with a particular focus on oranges and butternut squash. Cockroaches are practically odourless, so only need cleaning out every 1-2 months.
This is one of our cockroach tanks, with a couple of egg cartons turned over to show the occupants. Half of the tank is normally covered with stacked egg cartons, with a dish for dried food, and a dish for greens, with a wet paper towel in the bottom, at the other end. In the photo you can see water droplets from where the tank was misted.
Once conditions are
right, females produce up to 30 young every month. The females incubate
the eggs within their abdomens, so for all intents and purposes they are
live-bearing - this means you don't have to worry about eggs. We
transfer all of the young into a separate, larger enclosure to raise
them to adulthood. It is likely that you will start your colony with
50-150 juvenile cockroaches and perhaps a few adults. If this is the
case, don't feed any to your dragons - let them mature and start
breeding before feeding any off. It can take anything up to a year for a
colony to become established to the point where it is self-sufficient,
so be patient. Once you hit that critical point, you have a supply of
food of various sizes for all of your insectivorous pets, which is
pretty much free, and is actually more nutritious than crickets. That is
why we chose to switch to cockroaches.
Given the choice between crickets, morios and roaches, almost all of our dragons chose the roaches. When you add locusts into that, about 50% still choose roaches, so the dragons seem pretty keen on them!
We currently use roaches to add variety to the diets of our dragons which are primarily fed crickets, as well as a staple "quick-growth" food for some of our juvenile Holdbacks.