What Is Gut Loading and Why Is It Important For Your Reptiles?
If you are the owner of a reptile that eats insects, such as bearded dragons, crested geckos, leopard geckos, etc. you likely already know that dusting insects in supplements is vital to ensure that our reptiles are receiving the vitamins and minerals they require to keep their bodies healthy. However, although many reptile owners are familiar with the concept of dusting insects, far fewer are familiar with the process of gutloading.
Gutloading is a process in which you feed your insects highly nutritious foods ahead of feeding them to your animals to maximize their nutritional content. To ensure your reptile is getting the most possible nutrients out of their food, it is important to be educated on the benefits of gutloading their insects.
Gutloading VS Feeding
Providing food to your feeder insects is the absolute bare minimum to keep your bugs alive long enough to feed them to your reptile. Most people who have insect eating species have at one point found themselves feeding orange jelly “calcium loaded” cricket cubes and giving jiggly green hydration gel to their reptile’s bugs just to keep them going through the week. Perhaps you have ordered crickets online and they arrived with a wedge of potato inside. While these products may keep the insects alive, they truly are not doing much to raise the nutritional content or benefit for your reptile.
Although you are still feeding your insects when you are gut-loading them for your reptile, the goal of gutloading is to maximize the nutritional content of the insect that your reptile will be consuming. By carefully choosing a variety of nutrient dense foods and commercial gutload formulas, we can ensure our reptile is getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in their diet. The nutritional value of an insect will depend on the foods they consume.
What to Use to Gutload Your Insects:
Foods that are reptile safe and nutritionally dense are the best option for gutloading. Vegetables, fruits, and leafy greens can be used to create nutritious gutloading salads for your insects. There are also several commercial gutloading diets such as Repashy Superload that you can add to your insect’s gutloading regime.
A few popular foods used for gutloading:
- Leafy greens: collard, mustard, dandelion
- Vegetables: carrots, squash, zucchini, pumpkin
- Fruits: apple, strawberry
Generally, reptile safe foods are safe to use as gutload. If the food is not recommended for reptile consumption, it is best to avoid it for gutloading. For example, many people with dubia culture colonies feed oranges to their roaches to encourage breeding, and as a source of hydration. While this is great for breeding colonies, citrus fruits should be avoided to feed reptiles, and therefore do not make suitable gutloading food. In instances like this, having a smaller bin of insects that are being gutloaded to be fed off that are separate from the main colony may be ideal. Using water gel or a shallow dish of clean water or a soaked paper towel will offer a source of hydration for your insects.
Just like offering a variety of prey items to your animals is important for their health, offering a variety of different gutloading sources to their insects can further provide nutritional variety to your reptile!
How Long Does The Gutloading Process Take?
The gutloading process should at minimum last the length of time it takes the insect to consume the food and have it pass through its system. Typically for crickets, this is
24-48 hours. For roaches, however, it can take as long as 72 hours. 3 days of feeding nutrient rich foods to your insects is considered adequate before offering them to your reptile. Keep in mind, the insects should have access to the foods for the entire duration of this time, as foods will quickly be eaten and excreted as waste. If the food is removed before feeding the insects off, the initial gutloading diet that was eaten would provide no benefit to your reptile as the gastrointestinal tract has already cleared any beneficial matter the insect had consumed prior.
Make sure to keep an eye on your insect tubs and remove any molding foods and replace them with fresh. Keeping the tub free from excess moisture, mold, deceased insects, and rotting food will go a long way in keeping your insects alive and your reptiles healthy!
Check out our video where we tested six different foods to breed superworms. Four of which were commercially available diets, one being just oatmeal, and another being chicken feed with some added vitamins. Which diet do you think resulted in the MOST amount of superworms? You'll have to check out the full video here to find out: We Bred WAY TOO Many Superworms...Breeding Our Own Superworms! | Zen Habitats