This page last updated: 26 January
Find here an account of our attempt to breed locusts to feed to Norman, our bearded lizard. We did this to improve (or at least control) the quality of the food that Norman gets. On the various lizard-oriented forums we've found only one person who's been successful in breeding locusts for lizard food here in the UK, but he's not proved to be contactable. So we've taken a selection of the advice available and given it a go.
Given that Norman is living off worms at the moment, we've paused on locust production. However, Alex Shellard has been in contact with us recently to describe his successes. He built a breeding box similar to ours and place some mid-aged locusts into it. After raising them to adults he's now overrun with little jumpers. He reckons it's easily replicated by anyone that failed wood work at school. Here are his pictures of the setup.
Births! Around 70 locusts babies were born today from two of the sand-filled tubes. We wonder what storage capacity we're going to need to keep a sufficient flow of locusts to feed Norman and breed a sustaining colony.
For reasons of pure (Rob's) laziness we never got around to putting the glass jars into the locust home last year. As a New Year's resolution for 2008 we've put another batch of locusts in: they've achieved adulthood, begun breeding and now we've put the glass jars in place (after filling them with sand that had been sterilised in an oven heated to 190 C for 1 hour and adding (RO) water to dampen the sand).
To our surprise the mated locusts went immediately for the sand and began laying.
The locusts can reach quite amazingly far down into the glass jars: see the extension of the abdomen in the right-hand picture. We've now taken the jars where eggs had been laid, removed some of the sand so that the tops of the egg pod is visible, covered them with cling film (punctured with two small holes) and left the jars on the heat mat to incubate.
Finally, we have the new locust home set up and filled with locusts. We have only a box of fifths at the moment, so need to let them moult into sixths and become mature before mating. Then we'll put in place a few of the glass jars full of heat-sterilised sand and keep our fingers crossed.
Kevin Hewson is now up to 150 young locusts. His approach has been to create a natural environment for the breeding locusts with sand on the base, water it well and let the locusts lay there, then move the adults out into a different container afterwards: move the locusts not the eggs.
Meanwhile, our locust breeding kit has now arrived so we're going to get cooking again.
We have been corresponding with Kevin Hewson, who's been trying his hand at locust breeding. He e-mailed yesterday to say he's been successful in hatching his first batch of more than 70 locusts. We've still not got the ex-school locust breeding kit (for reasons we won't go into it's got half way to us and stalled) so we've not resumed our breeding attempts yet.
We've had a few people asking about the cost of the kit we're using here, so we thought it worth posting a summary: initial outlay for containers, lighting and heat mat we'd estimate at around £80. Add to this the cost for your initial box of locusts, plus temperature sensors if you want to get fancy. Running costs are around 160 watts for the lights and 40 watts for the mat, with the lights on for 12 hours and the mat on 24 hours each day. That's 20 kilowatt-hours per week, so if we pay 5p per unit the cost is £1 per week in electricity. Add to this £1ish a week for greens (which, of course, you could grow) and £2 for a bag of sand every few months. Bear in mind, of course, that this is not sustainable yet so until we've got better at it we are still buying-in locusts. In other words, we may still need to buy more stuff in order to have enough locusts without buying them in at all. So this is certainly not an economic advantage just yet. However, given that we're currently spending £13 per week on the 4 boxes of locusts we buy-in, we stand to save quite a lot of money if we can breed all the locusts we need.
We also have a friend who works in a public school (one that is unfortunately due to close soon) where they do locust breeding in the biology department. A spot of consultation has given us a clue as to why we might not have had a lot of luck hatching eggs since the original 14 - sterilisation. They bake their (glass) pots of sand in an oven to sterilise the sand. The first few pots of sand we used were from a dry bag of sand, but the later ones have been from a large bag that's quite wet and so could well be harbouring horribles. We should try sterilizing the sand next.
Finally, since the school is being closed, their locust breeding kit is up for sale. We've put in a bid.
Norman has slowed in his eating habits recently and so we've ended up with some quite old locusts in his cage. Today one happened to do its final moult to adulthood right in the front of the cage where we could get a good shot of it. It is very pale as it emerges from the skin, darkening over the next 30 minutes. The wings are all curled up above its head - they will unfurl and stretch to the full length of its body as it darkens.
We fed the batch of 14 home-bred locusts, most of which are now on their fourth skin, to Norman today. We've not had too much luck with the hatching of eggs in the interim, but as of a week ago we have bred-up and installed a new set of adults which are being pretty active. Hope for some positive results from this set.
We seem to have stabilised at 14 locust babies out of the second pot. Slightly fewer than we'd have liked, but still a good start.
Weehee! We have locust babies. Only four of them and Alice thinks they came out of the second container we stored away (so 13 days incubation) which means the first one is probably not productive. Still, quite a result. The new-borns are about 7 mm long so we needn't have been quite so careful about using muslin over the holes in the incubators. The dressmaker's netting would have done. We'll see if more baby locusts surface.
Having got two containers that we hope are full of eggs, we thought it was time to create some better incubators. We purchased a pair of containers intended for transporting hamsters and the like, 36 cm long by 20 cm wide by 26 cm high, and glued muslin over all the ventilation holes in the lid. These are now sat on the heat mat awaiting some hatchings. If we get babies we will need to add lighting, probably by putting a desk lamp over the incubators.
There has been plenty of activity in the last two days with three and then four mating pairs. Several holes have now appeared in the sand container, see below.
And just to prove it, here is laying in action.
Temperatures tonight were showing 28 C (top) and 23 C (bottom) in the locust home. All the locusts were sitting on the base huddled together. We replaced the 60 Watt household lamp with a 100 Watt household lamp to get the temperatures up to 35 C and 23 C respectively. Immediately they began to climb the sticks and a pair began to mate. Marvellous creatures.
Enough of this. The females obviously can't find the place to lay, so tonight we caught the lot of them in a large plastic coke bottle with the top cut off. We took the sand container out of the locust home and sat it directly on the heat mat, temperature measured at 32 C in the sand. Then we picked the females out of the bottle (the males are more yellow so it's not difficult to do), put them into another half of a bottle and shoved this into the moist sand container. Catching the locusts was not as difficult as it sounds as the large ones are much easier to grab than the tiddlers we feed Norman.
One of the females immediately stuck her rear-end deeply into the sand to lay her eggs. She is visible in the foreground of the picture above, where the arrow indicates the insertion point. Marvellous! Of course, we've no idea if they'll hatch.
Meanwhile, with the locust home empty, we took the opportunity to sink another old Onken fromage frais container of moistened horticultural sand into the base and fit a pair of temperature sensors - one for near the base and another for up near the lamp. The temperatures show a little lower than we were expecting, but since the locusts are mating we decided to leave things as they are. We can put in a 100 Watt bulb later if we think the temperature needs adjusting.
The female spent several hours laying and then we put all the locusts back into the revised locust home. The Onken fromage frais container, hopefully with several dozen eggs, we left in the small garden propagator on the heat mat. Apparently we can expect hatching in 10 to 14 days if all is well.
Looks as though there is a small package of eggs laid on the bare plastic floor of the locust home today. The female obviously hadn't climbed the 4 inch cliff into the container of sand. We could redesign the base to sink the sand pot into it, but not while the locust home is full of locusts. Since they are mating again today, we'll leave things as they are and keep our fingers crossed; consider a redesign later.
Two pairs of locusts appear to have been mating this evening. It can't be this easy, so we wait patiently for one to actually lay some eggs.
From what we can tell, the key factors in making locusts mate are temperature and humidity. Our somewhat Heath Robinson construction consist of a 15 inch polycarbonate plastic garden pot with a 15 inch clear plastic garden cloche perched on top of it and a 12 inch polycarbonate garden saucer (with a pair of string handles stuck to it) pushed inside the plastic pot to act as a removable tray. The height of this contraption is intended to allow a good temperature gradient. Inside the cloche we have attached an angled bayonet lamp holder and put a standard 60 Watt light bulb in it. We have made four 2 inch holes in the pot just above the level of the saucer to allow good air flow then have super-glued dressmaker's netting over these holes and the ventilation hole in the top of the cloche to stop locusts escaping. All of this is placed upon a Habistat 42 Watt heat mat, which is also long enough to put some smaller incubators on for the young, should we get any. Polystyrene tiles are placed beneath the mat for insulation. With this arrangement we achieve around 25 to 30 C down at saucer level. The light is on a timer that switches it on at 8:30 and off at 22:00.
Inside, we've put a few long twigs, a selection of greens/fruit and a 4 inch deep container (an old Onken fromage frais container) of moistened horticultural sand. The idea is that the locusts mate and then the female shoves her rear-end into the sand to lay her eggs. We're hoping that we will be able to see the depression afterwards and then can move the container out to a separate small garden propagator (seen sitting beside the locust home on the heat mat in the picture above) . We've bought a tray of eleven adult locusts from Millennium Reptiles in Bishop's Stortford and put them in. Now to see if anything happens.