Gut Loading is a term for a special diet that you feed insects one to three days before they will be eaten by something else. The old saying is “you are what you eat” and that is exactly what we’re attempting to do with this diet. The insects that will be food for a reptile are fed foods that will fill them with vitamins and nutrients that they will pass on to the reptiles that eat them. Gut Loading is especially helpful if you have a reptile that is sick, or isn’t eating as well as they should be. By feeding them Gut Loaded insects you help them get any missing vitamins that they might be missing to help them get better faster.
To be able to Gut Load feeder insects you will need a place to keep them for a few days before they are eaten. If you are breeding and raising your own feeder insects then this is even better because you’ll be able to control everything they eat from birth until they are eaten.
One interesting thing is that most of the calcium that is feeded to crickets is not absorbed by them. The calcium remains in their intestines and will be passed on to your reptile when it’s eaten. Gut Loading can be a great way to get your reptiles the calcium they need to avoid MBD. This is especially good if they don’t like eating insects dusted with calcium.
What Prey Can I Gut Load?
The main insects people feed to their reptiles are crickets, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, snails and cockroaches. Any of these can be Gut Loaded without too much trouble, and dusted with some calcium powder for a little extra calcium boost.
Beyond feeder insects, some reptiles eat snails as their main source of food. The good news is that these can also be Gut Loaded before being fed to your reptile.
What Foods are Best for Gut Loading?
There are no best foods all around, but there are best foods for each prey that you want to Gut Load.
Crickets really enjoy: apples, oranges, dark leafy greens (kale, mustard greens, collard greens), and alfalfa. They’re all foods that you can prepare very quickly and they’ll eat right up. If you have a little more time and can cook them something they also really like: boiled carrots, cooked squash or sweet potato and wheat germ. There is such a wide range of foods that they can eat that will make them much more nutritious for your reptiles.
Mealworms and Superworms
Mealworms and superworms are some of the easiest feeder insects that you can keep. They’re very easy to care for and the foods they enjoy are great for Gut Loading them. Because they’re fairly small they don’t eat much, so a little bit goes a long way with them. If that wasn’t easy enough, vegetable scraps will fill them up for days.
If you have any of the following foods, don’t hesitate to throw it in to feed your worms: carrots, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, egg plant, potato or broccoli. It doesn’t matter if the parts of these foods that a human won’t eat, or just the pellings from your potato or even the part of a pepper full of seeds, they’ll eat it all.
Waxworms are not a regular part of a reptile’s diet. Most reptile owners won’t attempt to Gut Load waxworms because they’re considered a rare treat for your pet to eat. Because they are rare treats and because it can be hard to get them to eat at times, many don’t bother.
If you do have the time, and want to make sure that these rare treats are as nutritious as possible you’ll want to feed them: crushed grain or crushed bran. They can eat it even if its not crushed, but they’ll be able to consume it easier if it is crushed, and are likely to eat more.
Cockroaches are not terribly picky and fairly easy to take care of. Vegetables and fruits will make up most of what you’ll feed them to Gut Load them. Apples, bananas, oranges, leafy greens, carrots and sweet potatoes are all good for them.
Snails really enjoy eating: strawberries, parsley, dill, cucumber, and tomatoes. If you have a little extra time where you can cook some food for them then these foods will also be great for them: Cooked sweet potato, cooked squash and boiled carrots. There really are a lot of good options for a variety of foods, foods they love eating, and nutritionally dense foods.
Bad Foods for Gut Loading
No matter what feeder you plan to use, skip foods like lettuce or oatmeal. Lettuce has no nutritional value and too much water. The oats have too much phosphorus and not enough calcium to be helpful to your reptile.
Feeding to Gut Load
When you give the feeder insects their food you’ll want to dust it lightly with calcium powder. In addition to the insects being more nutritious from eating well, you want to sneak extra calcium into your reptile through the gut of the feeder insects.
You won’t want to put too much on the food to make it unappealing to the insects. If you think you’ve put too much on and the insects don’t seem interested, blow on the food and see if you can reduce the excess calcium powder. If they still don’t want to eat, it’s possible that they’re just not hungry.
Are the feeder insects I buy from pet stores Gut Loaded?
Most stores as a rule do not Gut Load their feeder insects. There may be some smaller non big box retailers that will Gut Load, but unless they specifically say, assume that they do not.
My Reptiles Don’t Like Calcium Dusted Feeder Insects, What Should I Do?
It’s very likely that you are using too much calcium while dusting them. There should only be a light dusting of calcium on them. If you think there is too much, try blowing some of it off of them before putting it in your reptile’s enclosure.