TO GUTLOAD OR NOT & A RECIPE
Gut loading is a controversial issue, do you need to do it or not? How can you be sure that the frozen food you purchase is of high enough quality to provide a decent diet for your snakes? Do all in one lizard frozen meals really do the trick??
In my humble opinion insects bred for the reptile trade are virtually devoid of most useful nutrients by the time you pick them off of your retailer’s shelf. WHY? Simple really the crickets or locusts have been fed from what I have seen is a diet of layers mash, cabbage and potato which if you could feed the crickets within a day or so would be great. By the time the farm has sent the crickets out either directly or through a wholesaler and then into a shop two or three days may have gone by. If you’re lucky. Many smaller retailers won’t be able to sell all boxes every week so you may end up with crickets that have had nothing to eat except the bran in the tub and each other of course.
Locusts are terrible for cannibalism and attacking your animal of course. If these hungry insects haven’t been fed for a day or so they can become very aggressive. I have seen a juv Yemen chameleon killed and half eaten over night by a few medium locusts. There was probably something else wrong with the lizard but you ought to have seen the damage caused.
LESSON No. 1Never put in your viv more crickets than your animal can consume within an hour or so. To over supply puts your animal at terrible risk of insect bites and then infection. Also the longer the insect is in the viv the worse its nutritional content becomes, they will even eat plastic plants and in one make of viv I’m sure we have all seen the damage they cause to the polystyrene backing.Remember whatever is in the stomach of the prey source is what the predator assimilates! Insects eating polystyrene will transfer polystyrene to your pet. Meal worms (my pet hate), will crawl into the substrate ready to bite at anything they chose. These indigestible tubes of chitin are in my opinion useless unless well fed and hand fed to a animal with a good bite. Remember only feed as many as you can watch your animal eat. It is a very good idea to provide vegetable matter inside your viv to feed any insects that escape into the decoration. This keeps the gut of the insect full of something; I use carrot tops or half raw new potatoes. This may stop any stragglers biting your animal.
How do I gut load
Well I have come up with a formula that I have used for a couple of years now and have not had many insect bite problems.
Firstly I mix in an airproof tub a good pinch of tropical fish food flake with two handfuls of a breakfast cereal like cherrios, I use this type because it has rice, oats and wheat in its makeup. I also add a handful of porridge oats and mix it around until well mixed. This mixture makes up the base of my insect diet. The tropical fish food provides a huge amount of fats and protein. I would stay away from the makes that offer enhanced colours in case your lizard turns bright red?????. The cereal base provides a range of proteins and vitamins and gives the insect something to chew. I then add a half teaspoon of neutrobol and half teaspoon of calcium powder, my thinking behind this is that the crickets may ingest some of these vitamins and transfer them through the gut into the predator. I am not totally sure if this will do anything at this stage, but old habits die hard.
I keep this mixture in an air tight container for freshness. When you buy your live food place the insects into a holding tank like one of those plastic vivs that are escape proof or a cricket keeper. For every standard tub that goes into the holding viv place one quarter of a handful of your mixed meal. I then put in bits of carrot and potato or grapes as a source of moisture for the insects. You can by products like cricket grub and bug balls that are a solid water source. It is important to leave the insects in this food heaven over night so that they get a chance to have a feed, remember whatever is in the gut of the insect your animal eventually eats. When feeding time arrives put some crickets or locusts in a plastic bag or back in the tub they came in with the required vitamin powder to make sure they are well and truly dusted. These insects can then be fed to your animal. If you have crickets in the holding viv for more than a few days add more of the mixture to the viv to keep them fed. If it gets very wet in the container it may sprout mould if this happens remove the insects and start again. Insects should not be sprayed with water in this type of container.
Wax worms do not need feeding apparently or so I am advised by a breeder as they have gone past the feeding stage of life and are awaiting metamorphosis. Wax worms are great as they are just a walking mars bar really. They should be used as a treat because of the fat content but I use a lot for the first month if I purchase wild caught animals just to get them fed up quickly. Wax worms also hold vitamin powder nicely as they have a very wrinkly skin; these powders get caught in the folds. Keep them in the tub they come in a cool dark place. The same applies to phoenix worms so I understand, I have only used them once and my lizard at the time wasn’t keen. But they do have a huge calcium content from what I have seen from the info.
Frozen Lizard DietFrom what I have seen this is a mixture of animal and rodent meat chopped up and frozen in a slab. The content seems quite good but the defrosted meat should still be sprinkled with a good vitamin powder. Monitors, tegus and blue tongue skinks seem to do well on these diets. I am at present supplementing the diet of my blue tongue with nature diet puppy food and it’s doing great. Look at use by dates and don’t refreeze after thawing. The same can be said for frozen turtle mixtures, they all seem fine. It is important to offer different foods to your animals so rotate manufactures at least. I use live blood worm with my musk turtles and it’s great to watch them chase about after the worms.
Frozen RodentsThis is a very difficult subject as not many of us are licensed to breed and cull our own rodents. The only thing I can advise is that you request British and buy from a shop with a good turnover of product to ensure fewer road miles and shorter freezer times. I have seen some videos of people using a syringe to inject a defrosted mouse with some kind of vitamin, protein mix but I wouldn’t like to try it. Just like insects frozen rodents are only as good to your snakes as the diet they have been fed on. I visited live foods by post on the isle of Wight and can confirm that the rodents there are very well kept and fed a very good diet, I cannot comment about the other farms as yet as I haven’t been to see them, I am sure that the big suppliers look after the rodents just as well. Because of the massive demand for frozen food some of it is brought in from abroad, some from as far away as Brazil. I don’t know if this effects the quality of mice and rats or not but I prefer to buy from closer to home. Don’t forget to put vitamin powders on defrosted rodents as well. I have never had a snake refuse a feed because I have used powders.
To conclude it would seem common sense to try these methods and see if they work for you, there will always be the exception to the rule I guess. Try mixing up different food sources until you get a mix that you are happy with. Buy the best you can afford and you should eventually end up with a happier, healthier pet in the long run. All these things should help us keep our animals longer and get decent breeding results from them.