As you may have noticed, there are a surprising number of options when it comes to feeding insect-eating reptiles and amphibians. Aside from the usual live fare, there’s dried insects, canned insects, vacuum-sealed insects, and even powdered insects! Since they’re all bugs, it’s easy to assume that they’re all the same and make your purchase decision based on price and what is most convenient for you. However, the truth is that each option has different pros and cons that you need to consider so you can decide which is best for your pet and situation.
Convenient — Dried insects can be offered one at a time, and take a long time to spoil even after the pouch or jar has been opened.
Long-lasting — Dried insects last in storage for a long time, so they can be kept on hand as backup for future emergencies.
Inexpensive — Dried insects can often be purchased in bulk for a low price.
Good for use as treats — Because dried insects can be used one at a time without spoiling the whole container, they can be offered as a convenient, nutritious treat for training. They can also be used as salad toppers.
Can contribute to dehydration — Dried insects contain little to no moisture. Reptiles typically rely on their diet to provide some to most of their overall water intake, so a diet based on dried insects can make a reptile dehydrated, which can contribute to secondary health problems like impaction.
Limited variety — There are not many dried insects available on the market. Crickets, mealworms, silkworm pupae, and black soldier fly larvae are the most common.
Hard — Dried insects are particularly crunchy, but sometimes they can be hard enough to make chewing difficult (ex: dried silkworm pupae). This can discourage reptiles and amphibians from eating them, and in extreme cases may damage teeth or jaws.
Non-moving — Foods that don’t move do not usually attract the attention of insect-eating reptiles or amphibians, so they may not recognize dried insects as food. It also does not encourage exercise since the reptile or amphibian does not have to hunt/chase their food. Dried insects can be effectively offered via feeding tweezers, though.
Some powdered reptile diets are based on dried insects. These are intended to be reconstituted before use, which solves the dehydration concern, and often have vitamins and minerals added to them in the process to boost the diet’s overall nutritional value.
Convenient — Canned insects can be stored in your pantry and opened whenever you need them, without requiring any kind of care.
Long-lasting — Canned insects have a long shelf life, so they can be stored as a backup reptile/amphibian food for future emergencies.
Don’t contribute to dehydration — All (or at least most) of the bugs’ original juices are preserved in the canning process, so you don’t have to worry about your reptile becoming dehydrated from the presence of canned insects in its diet.
Available in a wide variety — Canned insects enable exotic pet keepers to access different types of insects to offer to their reptile/amphibian, including rare feeders like silkworms and snails. They also enable access to different species of roaches and crickets than what’s readily available live.
Smelly — Although this is gross for humans, canned insects have a distinctive odor that seems to encourage appetite in insect-eating reptiles.
Spoilage — Canned insects will spoil within 1 week of being opened, so it’s important to use all of them as soon as possible.
Non-moving — Foods that don’t move do not usually attract the attention of insect-eating reptiles/amphibians, so they may not recognize dried insects as food. It also does not encourage exercise since the reptile or amphibian does not have to hunt/chase their food. Canned insects can be effectively offered via feeding tweezers, though.
“Canned” insects can also be purchased in smaller portions via vacuum-sealed pouches. This is more convenient, but may be more expensive.
Stimulates appetite — Insect-eating reptiles and amphibians are very attracted to motion, so the motion of a live insect is likely to get your reptile’s attention and encourage them to eat.
Encourages exercise — When live insects are offered loose in the terrarium or a separate feeding container, it encourages the reptile to hunt down and chase their prey, which is a good source of both exercise and enrichment.
Gutload-able — Live insects can be gutloaded, which means that you have some control over the quality of nutrition that your reptile is getting from their feeder insects.
Need certain care to stay alive — Unless you plan to feed them off immediately after bringing them home from the pet store (not recommended, as feeders should be gutloaded for at least 24-48 hours before offering), you may need a separate container to care for the feeders between the time you bring them home and when you feed them offer them to your reptile/amphibian.
Nutrition varies — The nutrition of live insects is highly dependent on their access to food and water, and the quality of the food that are given. This can be a good thing when they’re fed and watered properly, but it can also be a bad thing if they do not receive sufficient care.
More expensive — Live insects tend to be more expensive than dried or canned options. This forms a significant percentage of the expense of keeping insect-eating reptiles.
Subject to shortages — Breeders and pet stores have a limited quantity of insects that they can sell, so it’s possible for them to experience shortages between batches. This can be inconvenient for keepers.
May die during shipping — Although feeder insect retailers do their best to prevent insects from being DOA (dead on arrival), this can happen due to sudden weather extremes or postal service neglect.
From a welfare standpoint, well-gutloaded live insects are the best way to feed any insect-eating reptile, as they are the most effective way to encourage a reptile or amphibian to exercise natural instincts and behaviors. But from a convenience standpoint, canned insects are the winners, enabling keepers to offer a large variety of nutritious insects without requiring too much in the way of investment or care.
As they say, variety is the spice of life. This phrase is usually used in reference to humans, but it works for reptiles and amphibians too. The best way to feed your insect-eating reptile/amphibian is with as large a variety of species-appropriate foods as possible. Live insects may be the best for your pet, but dried and canned insects are a good way to add nutritional variety and sensory enrichment.