Friday 25 December 2015

Wild-caught Live Food for Reptiles and Amphibians – via Herp Digest

By Ron Eddy for Reptile Apartment 11/19/15

Now, gather round children, and I’ll tell you a story…

Once upon a time, there wasn’t farm-raised crickets available in every pet shop. Fruit flies couldn’t be ordered over the internet, which didn’t exist in any case. At the very most, the only live food more or less readily available where mealworms, and those, only in specialist shops.

Anyone who kept exotics, but didn’t have the stock, space, or knowledge to cultivate what little was available, had to spend a fair bit of time collecting the food supply themselves, from garden, fields, woods and ponds.

Of course, things have changed, and everything we need can be picked up in the shop, so there is no need anymore for these resources. Or is there?

If you take a close look at a handful of woodland soil, or under a log, or in vegetation in the habitats of our native amphibian and reptiles, or if you have a chance to do the same abroad, you will find a huge range of invertebrates many of which are likely to become frog or lizard food. Again, if you watch herps in the wild, you will find they happily eat far more than just one or two species of prey they are opportunists, and will take an enormously varied diet, based on what is available. Contrast that again to your cute little White’s tree-frog, or your Leopard Gecko, fed day in, day out on shop-bought, nutritionally low crickets. It doesn’t quite add up, does it?
The two biggest risks of course being transmitting parasites to your animals, and poisoning them with pesticides.

Pro’s and Con’s:
I’d be less than honest if I didn’t point out there are risks in collecting your own food. The two biggest risks of course being transmitting parasites to your animals, and poisoning them with pesticides. To avoid the second, always collect your wild food animals from areas that you are sure have not been sprayed with insecticides or herbicides, and away from roads, if possible.

As for parasites and diseases, I have to say, I have never, in all my years keeping reptiles and amphibians, had an illness or death in my collection that I can attribute to the food source any worms or similar that my animals have had, have arrived with them, particularly with wild-caught animals. There are, again, sensible precautions you can take, however, for example, I never collect aquatic food for my animals from in or around ponds that have a population of native amphibians.

But why risk it at all? Well, as said above, the natural diet for wild frogs, toads and lizards is a great deal more varied than anything we can hope to buy or culture: the prey animals themselves also have a varied natural diet and contain all sorts of vitamins and trace elements not available otherwise which can only be good for our animals. Another issue is boredom: it is debatable how much intelligence or mental capacity reptiles or amphibians actually have. But query after query on various forums/groups start with “why has my frog/toad/lizard stopped eating?”- and it’s easily observable that our animals often regain their appetites when they are presented with something different to eat!

Useful Wild Foods:
Given the huge variety of wild foods available, sometimes even in a relatively small garden, it is impossible to give anything like an exhaustive list, but I will feature some of the invertebrates I have found useful, over the years. Obviously, avoid stinging insects, and those that contain toxins, like some brightly coloured moths and caterpillars, and shield bugs. This still leaves an enormous scope.

Many frog and lizard keepers are familiar with the small white tropical woodlouse, sold and used as a custodian, (scavenger, to you and me!) for so-called Bio-Active systems. It is indeed useful and means vivaria set ups using these systems hardly ever need cleaning out, some running for many years without a change of substrate. What is probably less well-known is that various native European woodlice can fulfill the same function with the added bonus, they are large enough to also appeal as food items in a wide variety of frogs and lizards.

Woodlice are crustaceans, rather than insects, and contain a useful amount of calcium in their shell. They are very easily collected, being found under stones, logs and pieces of wood in almost any damp, shady area. Most frogs and toads, and some lizards eagerly take them.

I do have one word of warning, though, for keepers of dart frogs and mantellas, or similar; woodlice are opportunistic omnivores, and are happy to chew on land-based frog eggs as they are on dead leaves.

In many ways, earthworms are the ‘ultimate’ wild food they are high in protein, easily digested and have an almost perfect ratio of calcium and phosphorus, which means they don’t need any kind of supplementation.

Also, a huge variety of animals will eat them, ranging from clawed frogs to anoles. For land and arboreal animals they are best fed with tongs, as they have a tendency to escape from feeding bowls and burrow quickly out of reach. If desired, they can be cleaned before use by being kept in wet grass for a few days before being fed but I almost never do this. I do however with compost worms. The reason for this is their different feeding habits; unlike earthworms, compost worms feed on rotting, rather than rotted matter. They often have this rotting matter in their guts; which can be dangerous for reptile and amphibians to eat. Earthworms can be collected from damp soil or from under rocks and logs, and are available at most times of the year, although they will burrow deeper in times of severe cold or drought.

Slugs and Snails:
Here we come to the most controversial subject in feeding wild foods: it is well-known snails can carry a parasitic lung-worm that is extremely dangerous to dogs and foxes. I have struggled to find any research that this parasite is a threat to reptiles or amphibians, however; they are not suitable hosts. The most comprehensive commentary I have found is on a blog by Richmond Vets, which suggests that they may sometimes be ‘paratenic’ hosts- a term meaning that they may carry the parasite without being infected, but can pass it through their gut unharmed to resume its life-cycle elsewhere. If all of this sounds entirely too risky, by all means pass on feeding the molluscs to your animals. On the plus side, much like earthworms they are easy to digest, and carry a useful form of calcium in the form of their shells (many slugs have internal shells). Some toads and larger lizards are very fond of snails. Lizards tend to crunch shells before eating, but most larger frogs and toads simply swallow them whole their muscular guts and powerful stomach acids deal with them quite effectively, with only shell fragments occasionally found in the droppings.

Green and blackfly are the bane of the gardener, but they are very useful indeed to keepers of smaller frogs and lizards, and are available from spring to late autumn. They are well-known for being attractive to ants because of their production of sweet honeydew the concentration of sap sugars from their food plants.

I’m not entirely sure that this is what appeals to our reptile but they seem happy to eat them!. Aphids can be easily collected by using a small, stiff paintbrush to sweep them into a mug or jar, or pieces of the plants can be broken off and placed in the vivarium. As the plant wilts, the aphids will start to move away and be spotted as prey. They can become a pest in heavily planted viv, but I’ve yet to see this happen.

Many frogs, toads and lizards are very fond of eating spiders, and they have the advantage of coming in various sizes. From pinhead, to the large ones found in your house. Obviously bear in mind that even minute spiders may grow large enough to be a threat to smaller frogs such as darts but I have found them very useful indeed for new morphing fire-bellied toads, tree-frogs and other frogs that grow to medium or large size; and larger adult frogs or lizards will take on the big’uns quite happily.
Aquatic prey Daphnia, mosquito larvae, bloodworm etc:

This is one area I would exercise caution. Disease spread among aquatic amphibians is well documented, and captive animals are unlikely to have any resistance to local the local ones. Fortunately, these animals can be collected in other such containers that native fish and amphibians have no access to. Sweeping an ordinary aquarium net through one of these can collect a satisfying quantity of this freshwater ‘zooplankton’.

The contents can then be simply rinsed under the tap and tipped into the tank. Smaller axolotls, clawed frogs and African dwarf frogs take them eagerly. Be aware though, mosquito larvae develop very fast in indoor tanks only introduce as many as you would expect to be eaten fairly quickly at a time…

This is one of those terms, rather like ‘custodian’ that manages to sound terribly impressive

Field plankton:
This is one of those terms, rather like ‘custodian’ that manages to sound terribly impressive, without actually explaining much. Broadly, field plankton is what you get when you sweep a fine-meshed net through long grass or low bushes. The catch can include grasshoppers, small moths, spiders, various beetles, caterpillars, earwigs and so on. The net itself can be purchased online. Or go ‘old skool’ and make your own with some bamboo and old tights, and a wire coat-hanger.

The net should be emptied into a broad-mouthed jar or similar, so that you can pick out any stinging or biting insects, hairy caterpillars etc. before feeding.

Odds & ends:
Sometimes an opportunity to provide wild-caught live food comes out of the blue. I recently had an infestation of Tortrix moth larvae on my balcony, for example. While having my plants chewed was a nuisance, the soft green caterpillars, peeled out of their rolled up leaves, made a tasty treat for my smaller frogs. Similarly, there really ought to be a sign over my window for moths and crane-flies (daddy-longlegs)- “Abandon all hope all ye who enter here”- my hungry tree and reed-frogs will happily crash all over the vivs after them.

While I am endlessly grateful that the hobby is now so much less marginalized and that equipment and especially live food is so much more available than the ‘Old Days’, I am still convinced that providing as rich and varied diet as possible is beneficial to my animals, and contributes to their well-being and I urge all reptile and amphibian keepers to consider taking a walk…

No comments:

Post a Comment

You only need to enter your comment once! Comments will appear once they have been moderated. This is so as to stop the would-be comedian who has been spamming the comments here with inane and often offensive remarks. You know who you are!

Related Posts with Thumbnails