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Increasing Feeder Bug Nutrition: Gut Loading

When it comes to insectivorous diets, many of the lizards that thrive in captivity are generalists, or species that eat a variety of prey. On the other end of the spectrum, specialists--like the ant-eating horned lizard and flying dragon--have very specific dietary needs that make them difficult to keep alive in captivity. Whereas specialists can obtain all of their nutrients from their specific prey, generalists obtain theirs by eating a variety of prey. However, lizards in captivity are often only offered one or two feeder bugs. Offering only a couple species of prey will generally not satisfy all of the nutrients that a lizard requires--and sometimes not even in the right amounts. For example, crickets contain more phosphorus than calcium, but lizards require a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus--basically, in order to utilize the calcium they obtain in their diet, they need more calcium than phosphorus. The most common way of increasing nutrition in feeder insects is through supplements . Following the example above, crickets can be simply dusted with a calcium supplement. Gut loading is another important--though more often overlooked--way of increasing the nutrition of feeder insects. Gut loading is also very easy: simply provide your feeder insects with nutritious feed at least a few hours before offering them to your lizards! There are two forms of gutloads that feeder insects should be provided: dry feed and wet feed. At Josh’s Frogs, we offer dry food especially made for common feeder insects, such as crickets , roaches , and mealworms , and many other feeder bugs--like bean beetles and hornworms--come with dry feed or media culture to kept them well fed. Wet feed is anything (except straight water, which will drown many bugs) that will provide your feeders with moisture. Water gels are commercially available for feeder insects, but we strongly recommend providing a constant source of fresh vegetables, which will not only provide moisture but more nutrients. High calcium vegetables make excellent options: kale, collard greens, mustard greens, squash (acorn squash, butternut squash), and sweet potatoes. Gut loading using a variety of vegetables over time is helpful in providing your lizard with a range of nutrients, but always do research before offering something new! For example, spinach is high in calcium, but it contains a chemical called oxalate, which binds to calcium and makes it unusable. The obvious advantage of gut loading insects is increasing the nutritional value of the insects as feeders. Hydration of feeder bugs is just as important, since many reptiles (especially desert species) derive much of their water from their prey, and offering dehydrated prey can be detrimental. Providing dry and wet feed will also help keep feeder insects alive--without which, they will often quickly die in large numbers, requiring you to purchase more bugs more frequently. Dusting feeder bugs with supplements or offering a large variety of them can help ensure that your lizard is receiving an encompassing diet. However, these strategies for an all-encompassing diet can be hindered by offering dehydrated and malnourished bugs. As such, gut loading is the most powerful tool you have to ensure a healthy diet for your bug-eating lizards.

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