It bugs us, too

Yesterday was fish order day, and along with the fish we are supposed to get crickets.

Unfortunately, there were no crickets. Yes, we ordered. Yes, our supplier said she would get us what she could. But her supplier didn’t have any crickets big enough to ship.

It’s been four weeks now since we got a shipment of crickets. It’s been much longer than that since we got anything approaching our usual shipment. So the question is, what to feed those reptiles who eat crickets?

Let’s start with mealworms. We carry both small and large ones (super worms), and we’ve bumped up our mealworm order since the cricket troubles started. They’re fattier than crickets, with less protein for the weight, but they do contain some protein.

Omnivorous reptiles, such as beardies, can eat a bit more in the way of veggies and fruit.

Try catching insects, as long as you can be sure they haven’t been exposed to pesticide. Field crickets, moths, smooth-skinned caterpillars (hand-pick those tomato worms – lizards love ’em!), but not grasshoppers. The “tobacco juice” grasshoppers spit in self-defence is toxic. You can try earthworms, too.

Larger lizards can also eat pinky mice to get their protein.

There was, unfortunately, no way to foresee these problems with the cricket supply. We’ll just all have to hang in and improvise until things get back to normal.

Fries with that?

Just kidding – tomorrow is fish day, and David has both fresh- and salt-water fish arriving. Here’s what’s on order:

In freshwater, flower horn cichlids. We don’t get these very often. We’ve also ordered fancy guppies, figure-8 puffers and green-spotted puffers, glass catfish and clown knifefish in addition to tetras, barbs and mollies.

In saltwater, it’s invertebrate day. We’re expecting five different kinds of anemone, and four corals in addition to assorted mushrooms and feather-duster worms. We’re also expecting a sea apple. If you haven’t seen one of these brilliantly-coloured invertebrates, pop around and take a look.

On the fish side, two different triggers, a tang, a rabbit fish and a white ghost eel are on order.

Remember that if you buy fish in the bag, before they go into our tanks, then we give you 10% off because you saved us the trouble of catching them. You also save stress on the fish, particularly marine invertebrates, because they don’t have to be dripped twice in one day.

Crickets, mealworms, feeder fish and frozen rodents are also on this order, and we have ordered two dozen silkworms and hornworms. These go quickly when they come in.

And on this farm he had a cricket, E-I-E-I-O

Breeding crickets is a full-time job. In the pet store, where we have, at most, 20,000 crickets in ten tanks, cleaning and feeding is perhaps a half-hour’s job. (Victoria can do it in fifteen minutes.) But we’re not in the business of breeding crickets. All we have to do is keep them alive until they’re sold. Breeders keep over 100,000 crickets, and they can’t crowd their crickets like that if they want them to breed. They need a lot more space, and have to do a lot more work.

I’ve heard cricket breeders referred to as “cricketeers”. That’s an incredibly light and cheery word for someone who spends his or her time feeding, cleaning, sorting, counting and shipping crickets. I’d say “cricket farmer” myself. After all, the word for a building where crickets are bred is “barn”.

There are some differences between farming crickets and farming, say, sheep. For one thing, you can’t train dogs to herd crickets – the dogs keep stepping on them. Also, as crickets have no external ears, ear-tagging is a bitch. On the upside, you don’t have to erect and maintain electric fence, and I daresay if I’d been farming crickets instead of sheep in the nineties I wouldn’t have been chasing my flock all around the Wharncliffe cemetery from time to time when the fence failed.

Flippancy aside, cricket farming has its trials. The barn must be heated, because crickets are cold-blooded, and will go dormant, or even die, if the temperature drops too low. A cricket farmer needs ear protection; the thousands of crickets mature enough to breed are also chirping nonstop.

One thing all farmers have in common, though, is this: If you have livestock, you have dead stock.

A couple of months ago a disease wiped out almost all the breeding crickets in the cricket barns of North America. I can’t say I’d ever thought the phrase “because of the cricket shortage” would ever cross my lips, but it did, and still does. Some breeders took the hint and switched to another field. For weeks, now, our cricket orders have been short-shipped, and the crickets have been smaller than usual. We’re not the only ones to whom this is happening. Our supplier, who buys from a breeder in P.E.I., told us a few weeks ago that a flood in the breeder’s barn had wiped out all his recovering stock, just when he was ready to ship larger crickets again.

Some pet stores have been able to get larger crickets from a different supplier, but our supplier says that’s not going to last long. One of the cricket barns in the States that was still able to ship large crickets has closed.

So far the reptile keepers who are our cricket customers have been understanding. We offer other food animals, such as mealworms. Now that summer is here, it’s possible for reptile keepers to catch insects outside, provided they can be sure the insects haven’t been exposed to pesticides. All in all, it could have turned out a lot worse than it did.

Our cricket shipment is due today, along with the mealworms, silkworms and hornworms we ordered. Whether we’ll get our whole order, and how large the crickets will be, remains to be seen. But we keep our fingers crossed and hope for good weather for the cricket farmers.