Crickets have two main functions in nature: to eat and to be eaten. Fortunately this makes them ideal as pet food. It is actually very easy to breed and raise crickets if you can stand the racket they make, here’s how you do it.
Crickets can chew through plastic window screens and cardboard, and they are impressive jumpers, so you’ll need a container with strong, smooth walls and a secure lid. I find an aquarium with a metal mesh lid works fine. You don’t want something air tight because of the smell and heat they give off that can build up and kill them. In order to maximize the area the crickets can move around in, pile up several paper towel roles in the enclosure. This also makes it easier to deliver the crickets into your pet’s enclosure by simply picking up a tube, and shaking the critters into a new tank. You can also use old egg cartons like pet stores do, but I find that it’s harder to get the crickets out of these things. You don’t need any kind of heater or special light for crickets. Regular night and day is fine for them, and large numbers of them produce plenty of heat. I do, however, recommend keeping them out in a shed or a basement as the sound and smell they produce can be overwhelming at times. At the bottom of the enclosure, you should have about two inches of very loose soil. Peat works well.
Crickets are omnivores and eat just about anything, but since you are probably feeding them to your pets, you want them to be eating good foods so your pet benefits from it. This is called “gut loading” and will help keep your pets healthy. A small dish with oats, fruit, and even a piece of dog food should keep you crickets fat and ready to be eaten. Though if you just want them as pets, a slice of potato can keep them alive. Keep in mind that if you don’t keep crickets well fed, they will pray on each other.
This is what causes the biggest problem for most people. Crickets have an annoying tendency to drown. So much so that I got a crayfish for my frog tank to clean up all the dead ones at the bottom of the water. Fortunately there are several ways to provide these chattery critters with a drink without killing them. The simplest way is to wet down a folded up square of paper towel, wring it out a bit, and put it in with the crickets. They will suck the water out of it at no risk to themselves. You just have to change the paper towel every other day. The method I prefer, however, is a tad more technical, but you can leave it alone longer. You take a small plastic soda bottle (12 oz.), clean it out, and cut a rectangular notch in the rim. It should be about half an inch deep. Now take a jar lid that’s rim is taller than the notch you cut, put a ring of paper towel around the inside of it that will fit around the bottle top. Now you fill the bottle with water, put the jar lid over the top, and turn the whole thing upside down. If down properly, the paper towel will be damp, but the water won’t overflow. You only have to change the paper towel and water from this setup about once a week. Just make sure you place it in a corner to learn so the whole thing doesn’t fall over.
Male crickets are the ones that chirp to get the females attention. You can tell which is which by looking at the rear end. Females have a long, stinger looking thing called the ovipositor. This is used to lay her eggs in soil and is not actually a stinger, contrary to what some of my coworkers seem to believe. There are cricket breeding kits out there, and though I have never used one, I’ve heard bad things, so I’m going to tell you how to do it yourself. There really isn’t much to it. You just need a loose soil which you should already have in your tank, keep it good and moist, and you females should stick their ovipositors into it and lay their eggs. I am also told that short, dense carpet is good for egg laying, but I haven’t tried it myself. The eggs are long, white little things that tend to be laid in clusters. they hatch in about two weeks, and the babies are about the size of a pinhead. You might mistake them for some kind of mite pests. As long as you keep your crickets well fed, you can keep the babies with the adults. If you want them separate, then instead of putting the soil on the bottom of the tank, put it in several dishes that you can remove from the tank after you observe the females laying eggs. you can place the babies in their own container. If you do this, I recommend keeping the babies warmer than the adults, this will help them grow faster. Remember to keep the soil moist, and don’t use potting soil as it is often treated with pesticides. You should be able to find a suitable substrate at the pet store, or you can just get some moss off a tree. Crickets don’t go through a wormy larvae stage like some insects, they simply hatch and start running around. They will shed their skins and grow steadily, but don’t expect them to go from baby to adult over night. It can take a month or two for them to grow into adults. You may still need to buy adult crickets from time to time, but using these methods should help reduce the number of trips you need to take to a pet store.
Although crickets don’t have a stinger, they can bite if you handle them roughly. If you do need to pick one up, try cupping it in your hand rather than pinching it between your fingers. Crickets make their chirping sounds by rubbing their wings together, and you can use this chirping to guess the surrounding temperature. Count the number of chirps in 15 seconds and add 37 to that number. The result should be pretty close to how warm or cold it is.