Many areas of the United States and Canada are facing a cricket shortage due to the spread of a global cricket virus that affects the brown house cricket, Achetus domesticus. This virus has hit Europe as well, but they have a variety of Orthoptera (cricket & grasshopper) genera to fall back on for reptile feeders. A lot of big-name cricket “farms” have shut down in the States, as the virus is extremely lethal – to crickets. It’s important to know that the virus in no way affects reptiles or other insectivores; it’s a cricket-specific virus. So if you are able to get the “regular” crickets, you and your herps will be just fine!
The culprit is not the well-documented Cricket Paralysis Virus (CrPV), an RNA virus, described back in the 1980s when genetic pathology was really taking off. CrPV has been found in Australia, New Zealand, the US and UK. The most recent collapse of cricket populations seems to be a different “cricket paralysis” densovirus, Acheta domesticus densovirus (AdDNV), which has been plaguing Europe since the 1960s.
The US and Canada have a dilemma. Due to strict importation laws regarding possible “pest” species (which lead to the import ban on African Giant Millipedes for carrying commensal mites that happen to be a cotton pest), these countries had no alternative cricket feeders – until recently. Ghann’s Cricket farm filled out the proper paperwork to import and sell (to select states) an alternative feeder cricket species, Gryllus assimilis, aka the Silent Cricket or Jamaican Field Cricket, which has been used in Europe for years. Other companies may also be supplying these feeders; be sure to ask for proper documentation for your state to avoid breaking any laws. American distributors are marketing them under the name “Super Cricket”. Some precaution needs to be used as this insect has large mandibles and is capable of drawing blood when it bites!
There is another feeder used by the European reptile community, the Black Cricket or Two-spotted Cricket (Gryllus bimaculatus). This one has been reported as the most aggressive of the common cricket feeders available. All crickets are capable of biting, especially full grown adults; these other field crickets tend to bite more quickly and more aggressively.
Finally, not available commercially in the US are tropical banded house crickets (Gryllodes sigillatus) that goes by the name of brown cricket (or super cricket) in the UK, making it pretty confusing for potential buyers. It’s wise to ask your supplier what the binomial or scientific name of the insect is so you can better assess the risks they may pose to your pets.
The advantages of having alternatives to the domestic cricket are numerous. It’s always a good idea to vary your feeders, as even different crickets vary in their nutritional content. Plus, the tropical banded, silent and black crickets are all resistant to the virus affecting the domestic cricket. They can also be more hardy and result in less die offs. The Jamaican field cricket (Gryllus assimilis) is called the “silent cricket” because they produce less noise (all adult crickets will sing; buy younger crickets to avoid this irritating side effect). The black cricket (Gryllus bimaculatus) is described as bulkier and “meatier” than the typical domestic cricket – but it also has bigger mandibles which they can and do use on humans and pets. Both Jamaican field crickets and black crickets are less likely to jump as high as domestic crickets or tropical banded, making them useful for cup/bowl feeding. All of these new species are less likely to breed in temperate tanks, such as those used for Rhacodactylus species.
There are some disadvantages that the concerned pet owner should be aware of. Both the Jamaican and black field crickets can bite hard and be aggressive! The black species more so. They also tend to stay on the cage floor, making them less visible to arboreal animals. I would also recommend that you avoid feeding to delicate geckos or frogs. Hand feed or cup feed; provide a food source within the enclosure so roamers don’t chew on animals (this should be done for any cricket/feeder). Feed smaller field crickets than you would the domestic.
Again, check with your distributors. Sellers should have the proper USDA permits to sell to each state.
Keep in mind that European keepers have been raising and feeding field cricket species (G. assimilis & G. bimaculatus) for several years. The community overseas is aware of the risks and have generally been able to manage this as a staple feeder. G. bimaculatus may be the most aggressive of the two, but it may not be in commercial circulation within the US (it is currently not allowed by the USDA, nor are tropical banded crickets).
In Arizona, we have wild populations of the tropical banded house cricket that were accidentally introduced in the 1960s. It may be possible to cultivate them as your own feeder source, but be wary of the possibility of introducing disease and parasites to your captive herps. Moon Valley Reptiles does not breed any type of cricket feeder, as they are noisy and smelly! There are many other feeders available to the herp enthusiast to cultivate at home.