It’s something you read about in care sheets, it’s advised by your pet store, and frequently crops up in queries on forums. But what is gut loading?
Gut loading is a way of boosting the nutritional value of your insect livefood by feeding a high quality, balanced diet. There are several ways of doing this; commercial bug diets, fresh green foods, or dog food. The most successful method will differ by species, as an omnivorous species of insect will benefit more from a diet designed for omnivores than a herbivorous one will. So in short, ‘gut loading’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘feeding’!
But why do we do it? Is it important?
Insects, when they come from the supplier, are usually packed with bran in the boxes. This is sufficient to keep them alive for a limited time, but isn’t terribly nutritious in and of itself. The suppliers need as many bugs as possible to reach the shop and, ultimately, the customer alive; if shipped with bellies full of food they are much more likely not to survive until they reach the end user. So, when you get them home, you need to fill them up so that they not only survive longer, but they are more nutritious for your pet. You are what you eat!
Fresh leafy greens are good, and have the added benefit that the insects will get all the water they need from them. Locusts in particular need fresh greens; as a herbivorous insect they will really benefit from the fresh feeding method. Fruit can be used, but remember that whatever you are feeding your bugs you are ultimately feeding to your pet, so go easy on the citrus fruits. Fish food can be useful, as this often has colour-enhancing ingredients which will be passed on to your pet. Dog and cat food is high in protein, and is especially good for cockroaches.
Several of the large supply houses make their own commercial gut load mix; these are often an easy way to bulk up your bugs before feeding. Using different brands in rotation will ensure that any minor shortfall in vitamins and minerals will be compensated for. There are now ‘jelly pots’ available for gut loading; these are basically protein and calcium, and ensure that the bugs are getting all the water they need without having a water bowl they can drown in.
Give your bugs at least 24 hours with your chosen food type before feeding them to your pet, and don’t forget to dust them with a good calcium supplement!