Recent discussions I’ve had over what to feed exotics (specifically in my case, tarantulas) led to this post.
At first, almost every exotic pet animal owner (keeper) starts out with crickets. They are the ubiquitous “feeder” insect for everything from lizards to some snakes, tarantulas, scorpions and on and on.
[They ARE ubiquitous at this point because vendors were selling and raising them first. Go to any full service pet store/supplier, and you will see boxes of crickets for sale. Many species of exotics will only take crickets for the most part. We won’t even get started on worms/superworms/etc. heh.]
Almost every keeper comes to loathe the little evil bastards at least a little. Many of us more than a little. Crickets are smelly, noisy, short-lived, hoppy, annoying creatures. To top all of that off, they aren’t even the best food for animals that need insects for food.
Why? Because of this term: “Gut loading”. Sounds like a bad Monty Python sketch, but it is a very necessary process whereby the feeder insects are fed the “good stuff” that the animal being cared for needs nutritionally. You load the insect’s gut with high protein, enriched stuff, and that gets passed on to the animal eating the insect.
Turns out that crickets don’t hold on to the “load” nearly as long. Now this doesn’t matter much for animals that feed frequently, but as this is a “tarantula” post, it does matter more as our pets don’t feed nearly as often.
Crickets typically hold onto their food for about 24-48 hours (tops) as they have a very short digestive tract. Roaches (dubias and lateralis specifically) have much longer digestive systems and can hold onto the nutrients for 3-4 days. And as tarantulas will sometimes initially ignore food until they are hungry, that is a difference to consider.
[I will note as an aside that a lot of keepers won’t keep a cricket in with the tarantula for more than 24 hours, and I applaud them, but I hate freakin’ crickets, and once in, unless a molting situation is happening, El-Senior hoppy-dude gets to stay where he is until the prima-donna tarantula is ready to feed. ]
The cricket is also a known carnivore. If a tarantula begins its molting process, the keeper had BETTER pull the cricket(s) OUT of the enclosure, as they will try to eat the tarantula, and during a molt, the tarantula is very vulnerable until its exoskeleton hardens. One bite by a cricket can literally cause a T to bleed out.
This becomes a REAL problem if the species of tarantula is a burrower, or is of a species that is unhandleable. Fishing out crickets with a pissed off tarantula within reach is a pain in the rear end. (Been there/done that as well.)
So after a period of time, quite a few keepers get real tired of horrid smelling cricket enclosures (they die quickly, make a rancid mess of things, eat each other, and other assorted nonsense) and begin looking for food alternatives.
Enter the much longer lived roach. Again the initial information almost always begins with the Blaptica dubia, commonly known as the “Orange Spotted Roach” or just plain ol’ “dubia”.
These are outstanding feeders, requiring very little care, gut load supremely well and can get really big, meaning they are a steak dinner to a lot of animals. (Dubia can live for several years, meaning a colony can be very easily built/sustained with just a few adults and the right temp/food conditions.)
They are also a NON-invasive species as they require tropical conditions to thrive. (This does mean that southern latitudes in the US and other places could mean “invasive”.)
For tarantulas though, they are (as they say in the military) SUBOPTIMAL. :-D
The dubia roach is a slow mover, and has a really well developed instinct for self preservation. It will tend to freeze up (for days, I’ve seen it!) and then when the coast is clear, it will attempt to burrow, never to be seen again, or at the very least, seen months later. The dubia, if it has its head crushed, will wander about aimlessly until caught, but I don’t know anyone who thinks this is awesome. I have tried it, and find it less than an enjoyable task.
The tarantula, being a sense hunter with poor eyesight, depends on motion to track, locate and eat. No motion…no eat.
And that is where we get to the focus of this post:
Blaptica lateralis, the rusty red, red runner, or the “Turkistan roach”.
These act like crickets in their wanderings but they don’t fly, (males can “glide”, but in general don’t/can’t lift off or do anything major like zip out of an enclosure), they can’t climb smooth surfaces, don’t kill each other, and don’t smell like the bottom of an ice hockey bag after a season of play. The roaches don’t live as long as the dubia species, but in general have 6-12 month lifespans which means this species will be sustainable quite easily.)
They DO feed the same way as the dubia, and keeping them is an identical process.
Their drawbacks are few but VERY important to keep in mind:
They ARE an invasive species. This means if they escape, they can and will propagate just like the normal American cockroach.
Their biggest plus, that they act like crickets, can also be a bad thing. These bugs are fast as hell. This means the keeper needs to develop methods for catching them in order to feed the target animals.
By now, I’m betting you realize that I have developed a method for this, and you’d be right. Following the article here is a gallery that I’ve set up showing how I take care of these critters and the process I use to feed my tarantulas.
I’m a huge fan of this roach as it has made things so much simpler on the feeding side. There is no concern that it will burrow (they don’t) or that they will freeze up for days on end (they won’t). When dropped into an enclosure they WILL GET EATEN. (Which is kinda’ the whole point of feeding, eh? :-D )
The last upside is that they won’t bother a tarantula in molt. The only time I’ve observed them going after “real prey” is to munch on dead prey. In this regard they are scavengers. I’ve also talked with a friend (pet store owner) who has observed them hunting other insects, but this was only after a LONG period of deprivation where there was absolutely no other food to be had.
So overall this means no need to go on a “fishing expedition” during a molting situation for the pet.
I will caveat at this point: I have read anecdotal evidence that a few species of tarantula will not go for these or dubia. At that point the keeper might be stuck with crickets. Personally I have over twenty species and not one refusal from sling to adults.
With all of the basics in the can, time for the slideshow. I’ve captioned each piece with the pertinent information as to my method for dealing with these little speed demons.
Just click on the first picture to the left, and scroll through. After the slideshow come on back for some good links on where to buy and comparisons between feeders.
Comparison information between feeders:
Where I buy my feeders and supplies:
Another good roach supplier:
I have used both of these vendors and appreciated their quick shipping and reasonable prices.
Outstanding faq on dubia roaches:
For a general overview on more of this stuff, including worms and such, Tom’s Big Spider Blog has an excellent article on feeding: