If you’re like most, then your pet is like your child. You want only the best for them, from their terrarium to the food that you give them. If your pet eats bugs, then one of your priorities is finding high-quality feeder insects that will help keep them nourished and disease-free. You need to be careful about where you buy those feeders from. Although it may be easy to shrug and say, “They’re just bugs,” the fact is that some breeders raise their insects in pristine facilities and high-quality food, while others raise their insects in overcrowded, filthy facilities with the cheapest food they can use.
How can you tell the difference? Here’s what you need to pay attention to.
One of the main challenges of breeding feeder insects on a large scale is dealing with overcrowding and general hygiene. Insects are typically maintained at a high density, which naturally increases the risk of disease and generally makes cleanliness and high-quality husbandry difficult. This also increases the risk of cross-contamination.
To mitigate these risks, a high-quality breeder of feeder insects should take measures such as separating their insects by size, limiting the number of insects per tub, regularly scrubbing insect bins with disinfectant, and using clean-up crews. The facility should have dirtier steps (such as feeding larvae) quarantined, and facility workflow should be designed to minimize potential for cross-contamination.
When you’re breeding feeder insects in bulk, keeping them all fed and well-nourished is no small task. Common problems in this area are low-quality/cheap feed, moldy feed, formulating species- and life stage-appropriate diets, and gutloading. Moldy feed in particular risks lacing feeder insects with aflatoxins, which causes aflatoxicosis in the animals which ingest them.
To mitigate these risks, a high-quality feeder insect breeder should provide high-quality plant-based feed, store feed appropriately to prevent mold, replace food regularly, and use a feed and schedule optimized to the health and growth of each of the species they’re raising. Offering a varied diet to feeder insects, rather than defaulting to one diet, encourages self-selection among insects, which enables them to meet individual nutritional needs.
Of course, no toxic elements should be present in the feeder insects’ diet. Aside from negatively impacting their health and reproduction rate, toxic ingredients may also be toxic to the predator.
A high-quality feeder insect breeder should have the nutritional value of their insects analyzed by a third-party lab and advertise the results on their site.
There are many potential health concerns that need to be addressed when raising thousands and millions of feeder insects: viruses, bacteria, mold, parasites, inbreeding, and even “hitchhikers” — foreign insects which decide to mingle themselves with the insect colonies. Spiders are particularly common. Health problems increase the risk of DOA insects, among other, more severe concerns.
To keep their feeder insects healthy, a high-quality breeder needs to take preventative measures like removing and destroying sick and contaminated insects and maintaining their colonies at temperatures appropriate for optimizing each species’ health. Poor nutrition is a common contributor to increased parasitism and disease in feeder insect colonies, so providing excellent nutrition should be a priority. Strategic additions to the feed such as bee pollen and probiotics may also assist the insects’ immune function.
Furthermore, it is common for feeder insect colonies to become inbred, which can affect the health and quality of a breeder’s stock on a large scale. Introducing outside stock to the breeding pool on a regular basis is an easy way to prevent this problem.
Human-Grade Insect Requirements
Although most feeder insect breeders are producing insects for consumption by animals, insects are being increasingly produced for human consumption. There are different requirements for producing insects for animals compared to producing insects for humans. There are very few laws on producing them as animal feed, but there are many more to determine whether an insect is fit for humans to eat.
Human-grade insect breeders are required to follow current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). There’s too many to discuss in this article, but as a general overview, they cover things like:
- Building and facility conditions
- Equipment design and maintenance
- Pest control
- Clean water supply
- Personnel hygiene
- Warehousing and distribution procedures
- Waste management
- Records and reports
- Strong production controls
Most farms raise insects for pet feed and don’t follow GMPs, and that’s okay. High quality feeder insects don’t have to be human-grade, but it’s a good sign when you find a breeder who adheres to at least some of these requirements
If you’re interested, you can find a detailed breakdown of GMPs at the bottom of this page.
When you’re looking for a great feeder insect distributor to trust with your pet’s nutrition, it’s important to pay attention to their standards of housing, feed, and health, as well as any other information you can find.
A high-quality feeder insect breeder should be transparent about how their insects are produced and kept — after all, this information should be a bragging point, something to set them apart from their competitors. Look for lab analysis, pictures of the facility, and descriptions of their processes to get an idea of whether they actually live up to their “high quality” claims.