Insects make up most of a baby bearded dragon’s diet and at least 1/4 of an adult’s diet.
Crickets are among the most common live feeder insects for bearded dragons due to their palatability and widespread availability.
Baby and juvenile bearded dragons particularly enjoy crickets because the quick movements help the lizards hone their hunting instincts.
While crickets are high in protein and low in fat, they offer little nutritional value; this is why gut loading is so essential.
Gut loading crickets involves providing a nutrient-dense diet several hours before feeding them to your bearded dragon. The gut-loaded crickets will then pass these vital nutrients on once they are ingested. Gut-loading is done by providing the crickets natural food or a commercial supplement.
For new bearded dragon owners, gut loading crickets may seem time-consuming and fussy.
However, gut loading is vital to your beardie’s health, and over time the process becomes a part of the regular feeding routine.
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How To Gut Load Crickets For Your Bearded Dragon
The first step you should take to gut loading feeder insects is to purchase a small feeding container.
Special feeding containers just for crickets are found at any pet supply store, making feeding very easy.
These containers have a lid, which is perfect for containing the jumpy crickets and small chutes on the sides to feed through without opening the entire container.
Of course, you don’t need a particular container to feed crickets, as any small plastic container deep enough to keep the insects contained will work.
What Should You Feed Your Crickets?
Crickets will eat almost anything you put in front of them, but you should feed them with plenty of nutrition for gut loading.
Some healthy foods for gut loading crickets include:
- Commercial cricket food
- Fruits and vegetables
- Dry cat or dog food
- Fish food
Commercial cricket foods come in pellets or gels, and they are packed with vital nutrients, making them an excellent choice for gut loading with proper nutrition.
Vegetables such as carrots, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes are good sources of water content for crickets.
You should never put a water dish in the cricket feeding container because the insects will crawl into the bowl and drown.
Oranges may be given as a good source of vitamin C, but you should feed them sparingly because the citric acid is hard on a bearded dragon’s stomach.
Fruit also contains high amounts of sugar, which you will want to avoid as much as possible.
Dry cat food or dog food, which has been ground up, is loaded with animal protein and amino acids, all of which are vital to your bearded dragon’s health.
Whole-grain cereal, wheat germ, or rice may also be ground up and fed to your insects, which provides them with some extra calories and carbohydrates.
Tropical fish flakes or pellets are inexpensive and nutritious foods, and they may be slightly moistened to make them easier for the crickets to eat.
This affordable food source is loaded with nutrients which are not only suitable for aquatic animals but pet lizards as well.
How Much Should You Feed Your Crickets?
There is no need to measure an exact amount of food for your feeder crickets.
You will simply place various food in the feeding container and allow the crickets to eat freely.
This allows them to eat as much as they want and ensures they have a full stomach when it comes time to feed them to your bearded dragon.
When Should You Gut Load Your Crickets?
After placing your crickets in the feeding container for gut loading, you will allow them to eat for at least 24 hours but no longer than 48 hours before feeding your bearded dragon.
This amount of time ensures the crickets have adequately digested their food and absorbed the nutrients.
Should You Dust Your Crickets with Supplements?
Crickets have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 3.3:1, which means they contain almost three times the amount of phosphorus versus calcium.
Calcium is essential to bearded dragons because it promotes healthy growth and prevents diseases like a metabolic bone disease.
There is no cure for metabolic bone disease, so prevention is critical.
Too much phosphorus inhibits a bearded dragon’s ability to properly absorb calcium, causing the reptile to leach calcium from its bones.
Dusting your feeder crickets very lightly with a calcium supplement will ensure your bearded dragon is getting the amount it needs to stay healthy.
Multivitamin powder supplements are also available for your bearded dragon, and they contain beta carotene, iron, and other vital nutrients.
It is important to alternate the types of supplements you use.
Combining the calcium powder with the multivitamin will cancel each other out, and neither supplement will be as effective as it should be.
Both a calcium and multivitamin supplement should be used 2-3 times per week on alternate days.
Add the supplement to your bearded dragon’s diet, place your crickets and other feeder insects in a plastic bag or container and add a very light dusting of powder supplement.
Gently shake the insects to coat them with the powder.
Take care not to use too much of a powder supplement because caking it onto the crickets will make them less desirable to your bearded dragon.
You also want to avoid a vitamin overdose, which is harmful to your bearded dragon’s health.
We have a review post going over the best calcium supplements for bearded dragons to help you choose a powder and know what makes it so important.
How Do You Obtain Crickets?
You should always purchase crickets specifically bred as feeders rather than catching some wild ones from your garden.
Pet stores often sell feeder crickets in small amounts, but they may offer a bulk discount.
Many sellers list their crickets right on Amazon.
Crickets typically have a lifespan of only a few weeks, so keep this in mind when determining how many you will need.
You will need to keep the crickets in a small container with smooth sides and ventilation for proper airflow.
The smooth sides of the container prevent the crickets from escaping, and proper ventilation is necessary, or the insects will quickly die.
Provide your crickets with a water source in the form of exceptional cricket hydrating gel or a dampened sponge.
Avoid open water because the crickets will likely drown in it.
Crickets are noisy and usually have an unpleasant odor, so you must be prepared to live with this.
Escapes are also unavoidable, so you may have to hunt down a stray cricket or two now and then.
If you have the space in your home and are not bothered by the noise or smell, you may choose to breed crickets.
This is incredibly cost-efficient if you have more than one pet, which is very easy to do.
There are many helpful guides online with step-by-step instructions on how to breed and maintain a cricket colony.