Insect Food For Reptiles & Amphibians

Musca domestica should be a widely used and valued live food resource for small amphibians and reptiles but it is not. Our problem has been that the food has been required live and we only had live larvae offered. Live larvae are excellent food for these amimals but the cost to ship them there has been too great. There are times when it is worth it to buy live larvae but they seem too expensive for every day use.

A much better solution is to use live Musca domestica pupae instead of the larvae. Because the pupae is the metamorphosis stage it is much easier to handle. Live pupae can be shipped by ordinary first class mail. It is easy to safely delay the progress of metamorphosis and so hold the insect live in prime condition for several weeks.

Many animals recognise the pupae as a food item and will eat it immediately. Appearing as a small (6 mm), redish, natural pellet the fly pupae can float on water for days. Pupae are UV reflective. At completion of metamorphosis an adult housefly will emerge from the pupae case. Depending upon conditions, humidity and temperature, the newly emerged fly will be a ground dweller for up to several hours while its wings expand and the body stiffens for flight.

During this several hour period the newly emerged fly is probably the best feeder insect commercially available for small animals. From a supply kept quite cold a ration of insects could easily be brought to emergence for daily use.

Insect Food For Wildlife Rehabilitation

Our live and processed insects, Soya Musca™ and some of the packaged Skipio’s™ cage bird foods have been successfully used for more than a decade in solutions to wildlife rehabilitation challenges.

The live Musca domestica larvae and pupae have been particularly useful in rearing orphan baby birds. The larvae are soft bodied, active and highly digestible. While these larvae are the least costly on the market by weight the high cost of required shipping, via overnight only, raises the cost significantly. The shelf life upon arrival is two weeks so the largest useful order is recommended. Live Musca domestica pupae are the cocoon or metamorphosis of the insect. Nutritionally this stage of the insect has many advantages. See What is Musca domestica and the Analytical section for details. The pupae are an economical live food. They ship well via ordinary mail and can easily be kept for several weeks. Many animals recognize them as food and will eat the pupae. For the first several hours after emergence the new fly is incapable of flight as the wings expand and the body hardens. In that period, the insect is a great walking prey animal both nutritionally and or training.

Our dehydrated insect products can be used as stand alone nutrients or combined with other ingredients. These insects are palatable and highly digestible and the preservation process has been designed to retain as much of the nutrient benefit as possible. Normal shelf storage is good for at least a year while storing frozen will considerably extend shelf life.

Skipio’s™ insect augmented packaged mixes are composed of a variety of natural ingredients. Of these Soya Musca™ is the easiest to use and has a long history of wildlife rehabilitation use. Please refer to the information in the Products section.

Insect Food For Caged Birds

Our live and dehydrated insects, Soya Musca™, and the Skipio’s™ Insectile Aviary Supplements have been fed to hundreds of species of birds in our own research facility as well as many public and private collections. Our aviary consisted of 450 birds of 82 species representing finches, softbills, hookbills, and pheasant. These birds were served Musca domestica in every way we could think of for three years. We took the results our observations, input from friends who were sampling what we were making and consulted with nutrition experts. Skipio’s™ Insectile Aviary Supplements are well made, costly to produce, easy to use and very good for the bird.

Insects are a natural nutrition source for all birds at some point in their development except for some who obtain their animal protein from fish, mammals, reptiles or amphibians. Live mealworms and crickets, originally marketed as fish bait, have long been available for feeding birds and other animals. These insects were grown on vegetable diets. Some bird breeders to their dismay tried feeding their birds maggots that were grown on offal or wastes from the local butcher shop. The maggots were suitable for fish bait but could carry claustridium botulinum that resulted in fatal limberneck disease. A mistaken idea associated with those larvae was that they could be cleansed with corn meal. That was not true. Only insects that have been grown on vegetable diets should be fed to birds!

Crickets and mealworms have the great advantage of being durable and easy to ship. This durability in large part is traceable to their exoskeletons which protect them from shock and reserve personal breathing space among the mass. Unfortunately the exoskeleton, made of indigestable chitin, comprises a large part of their weight and can have negative effect upon a bird’s digestion. The chitin shows up as protein in analytical reports although it has little or no nutritional value. The jaws of the mealworm, made of the same material, can inflict serious (or fatal) bites to birds. Some recommend beheading the meal worms before presentation although that defeats the attempt to feed live food. A more sensible option when using these insects is to only feed out live mealworms that have just molted if there is worry about bite injury. Many bird breeders use freshly molted crickets when feeding young or small birds so that the morsel’s legs, soft and pliable at molting but hard after a few hours exposure to the air, won’t impede swallowing.

Musca domestica is a fine live feeder insect. The richly nutritious and highly digestible live larvae are small, soft bodied, very active and pale yellowish tan in color. Their light color and vigorous activity insures that they will be easily noticed and recognized as food. This feature has proven valuable in starting some chicks, notably pheasant, to eat early. There is very little chitin in the larval bodies, only three tenths of one percent. They are in most ways the best feeder insect available.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to Musca domestica. The larvae are on a comparatively fast growth track and must be handled with care to maximize the amount of time that they will be usable. Initially this requires that their shipment from the insectary be only by overnight express. Also, they must be treated in a reasonable manner upon arrival, kept very cool and used within a two-week period.

To prevent adult flies from inundating the aviary, some care must be taken. The live fly larvae can climb up any wet surface. In order to feed them to birds it is necessary to use the right containers and technique. The containers we recommend are either sanded wooded bowls or unglazed terra cotta flower pot plates. Both materials wick the moisture away before the larvae can use it for traction. Use several of either in rotation so that the larvae are always presented in a dry container. About the only worry here is that a drop of water from the bird shaking feathers after a bath may land on the larvae container providing an avenue of escape. If this happens blot the drop. It is possible that a couple of birds squabbling over food might drop a larvae that may be able to pupate. Reasonable care along the lines of the concerns above will let you provide the best feeder insects with little effort and minimize extra flies on the wing in your aviary.

Our insectile aviary supplements are different from those of our competitors because we have the only feed line produced by an insectary rather than a feed mill. We look at the insect component as the most important part with the other ingredients as support elements. The Musca domestica larvae are grown on an organic substrate in our insectary. This breeding colony represents over one hundred generations in our husbandry. For dehydration, the insects are heated in a low-pressure chamber so the moisture is rapidly removed and the nutrients kept in the best condition. Our preserved insects are UV reflective and retain the look of food to the birds eye.

We refer to Skipio’s™ as supplements because we think kept birds should be offered as wide a variety of food resources as possible and practical. Our foods provide an easy way for many elements to be satisfied when the overriding concern is that the insect element be the first nutritional concern. We know of no other commercial insect augmented bird food that contains so high a percentage of insect material as our own.

A well nourished bird is more likely to breed. Whether used live, dried or as a component of the Skipio’s™ Insectile Aviary Supplements Musca domestica seems to have had a pronounced effect on the birds. Various combinations of our products have prompted birds of many species to have better breeding seasons. Adult birds quickly show a general improvement in health and vigor. We feel that an “apparent abundance” of the food necessary to properly raise young —the same food needed to bring the breeding pair into best condition— has a psychological effect that enhances the confidence needed to breed. For this reason whole as well as ground insects are present in the birdfoods. Two exceptions to this statement are with Soya Musca™ and Skipio”s™ Egg Meal. Both are sometimes piped or mixed with other ingredients to be delivered by syringe.

Skipio’s™ Egg Meal can be used wet or dry, presented as a free choice food for parental delivery to young or used as a handfeeding formula. When used wet it must be changed at least daily as you would change similar preparations. Skipio’s™ Egg Meal is often credited with a higher survival rate among young birds. The babies grow very rapidly with good skeleton and muscle development. The feathering seems to hesitate but actually does not and rapidly produces fines feathers of excellent color. When making egg meal we grind the millet un-hulled including the shell that a bird would normally discard to enhance intestinal motility and digestibility. The same ground millet is also used in the finch and softbill mixes. One of the side benefits to this technique is that there is very little waste from the feeder. These mixes, detailed in the products section, are well-balanced staples. In addition to general health maintenance, Skipio’s™ products are good for rehabilitation of birds that have done poorly on other foods or have had some dietary deficiency.

An American bird import house that specializes in importing “cage birds” and “zoo birds” from African countries carries Soya Musca™, Skipio’s™ Finch Breeder Mix and Skipio’s™ Softbill Maintenance Mix. This firm and several others that I know of have carried pharmaceuticals on bird purchase trips for years. We suggested that they try the addition of Soya Musca™ to their pre-export conditioning regimen in the birds’ country of origin because of its concentrated nature and ability to mix easily with a wide variety of foods (In some ways Soya Musca™ can be thought of as a condiment.). After several very successful trips with Soya Musca™ alone they made the addition of Skipio’s™ Finch Breeder Mix and Skipio’s™ Softbill Maintenance Mix. Extra good nutrition during the import and quarantine program positively impacted the care and good practice of the importer resulting in a higher survival rate in every phase. Our products work well in captive bird or domestic bird programs. Satisfied users range from pet owners, those breeding birds and every sort of public and private collection.

We hope the above discussion has answered some basic questions and given you hints on how to include these materials in your birds diet.

Finishing Food

I’ve been dealing with avian nutrition issues for over thirty years as the producer of a novel ingredient. My aim was to see how best I could integrate my new insect products into the existing feed culture. I’ve met with varying degrees of success in diverse applications. Along the way I encountered explanations that seemed off at the time but were revealing later. One such instance came about when I was working out the particulars of our product SoyaMusca™. I needed a “soy flour” as an ingredient and, contacting a producer for information, ended up speaking with lab technicians. One of them likened my problem to the issue of “finishing food” and showed me how to avoid a serious error. The less expensive “soy protein isolate” flours, he explained, were much higher than the “soy protein concentrates” in mineral salts, most notably monosodium glutamate. With his advice I settled on the more costly concentrate variety when including soy in that formulation.

He explained that poultry “finishing food” was developed in response to a USDA ban on hydrating chicken carcasses after slaughter, a practice of some producers, by injection of water to add weight. However, it was known that increasing salts in the diet would cause the bird to retain water on the cellular level. An effective way around the ban was easily accomplished by simply adding soy protein isolate to the chicken feed for their last few days. The chickens retained water weight that would be sold as meat weight.

Finishing food is the industry code phrase for forcing chickens to ingest salts so that they will retain water and weigh more. The practice came about after the FDA criminalized the practice of shooting water into birds to make them weigh more. Cheating! Paying chicken meat prices for water.

Around that time I had a conversation with a local politician who was complaining about not being able to eat the chicken at public events but enjoyed it at home. It turned out that he was quite sensitive to monosodium glutamate and had required treatment after eating commercially raised chicken at a banquet. The chicken dish was prepared without the use of MSG. With my fresh understanding of the problem it immediately occurred to me that a likely explanation for his reaction was the MSG residue from the finishing food treatment of the commercial bird which was absent from his free range, home grown poultry.

As a result of all of this I designed and began producing My Pet Chicken’s Chunky Chicken Chickie-Puffs, Crumbles, Pellets and Caviar at Oregon Feeder Insects’ bird food works in Payette, Idaho (our company’s previous name).