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Alternative cricket substrates - let's kill egg trays

Densely housed crickets require a three dimensional structure in which to hide; otherwise, they'll fight and eat one another. It's common for people raising crickets to use cardboard egg trays for this purpose. One of my personal goals is to find something better.

Egg trays can be convenient:

  • Crickets can grip onto them without any trouble
  • They're easy to find in the US and Europe
  • They're approximately the right size for crickets to hide in

Sadly, egg trays suck for the following reasons:

  • Crickets gnaw on them, and they're made out of a material that was not intended to be eaten, let alone introduced into the human food supply.
  • They seem cheap at a small scale, but the costs quickly add up.
  • They're difficult to get if you're not tied into the global supply chain - not great for lots of places around the world. You can't make them at home.
  • They need to be replaced as they get dirty and chewed up.
  • They aren't designed specifically for crickets; there's probably something that provides more useful hiding spaces per square foot.

So, we need an alternative! Various ideas have been discussed and experimented with:

  • Plastic egg trays (don't wear out, don't get eaten; we had trouble finding ones that crickets could grip on to)
  • Mesh or fabric egg trays (cheap, light, easy to make; crickets will gnaw through many kinds of mesh, including aluminium and fiberglass)
  • Foam weather strip (as in 3MF's cricket reactor; cheap and easy to find in the US, no gnawing, but maybe trickier to source elsewhere)
  • Formed coco coir (not much better, but at least it is safe to eat)

So, nothing that really stands out as great just yet. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

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Comments

  • you could take sheets of anything flexible, and cut them into long strips. Then, take those strips and coil them into a spiral. Then, stack the spirals on top of each other.

    As for material, I think a metal mesh in either horizontal (prawn farming) or vertical (bee frames) would probably work.

    alternatively, if you can make the substrate out of cricket food, then it doesn't matter if they eat them. Egg cartons would be made from ground plant matter and flour as a binder, put in a form and pressed.

  • Vetiver root can be woven into sheet/mat/tapestry. It's fibers last long & is aromatic to allay the cricket colony's odor. Propagation of vetiver is easy, productivity is high, harvesting rootlets doesn't kill the mother plant & it is both resilient against getting washed away. It grows profusely in USA Louisiana or worldwide where warm year round.

  • An additional constraint to keep in mind with the substrate is that it should minimally conducive to mold/fungal growth. We have considered edible substrate options before and this has be the main issue that has come up when brainstorming on the topic.

  • if it's dry, mold/fungal growth won't be an issue. Only in areas of high humidity would it pose a problem. Animal feeds are store for months or even years without issue, if kept dry.

  • For some reference, crickets need 90% humidity immediately after hatching, dropping to less than 50% humidity after around a week. So it should be fairly easy to avoid mold - the EPA recommend <60% humidity to inhibit indoor mold growth.

    One question I want to answer is whether crickets need to be entirely separated from one another in order to reduce stress, or whether being on either side of a wire screen is sufficient. It shouldn't be a difficult experiment to design - make one habitat from interlocked cardboard, the other from interlocked wire, then check yield at the end of a harvest cycle.

  • edited March 2014

    Yes, that would be a great experiment. I would make the mesh as panels, and have them either vertically like bee frames or horizontally, like prawn substrate. This would make harvest super easy, just pull out a frame, and knock the crickets off into a container.

    I have no idea if they need to be physically/visually separated like egg cartons. Anyone know of any research done towards this topic?

  • I'll try to dig up some papers I've read on this. One major factor in cricket-to-cricket conflict are antennae contact (antennae fencing is how the behavior is referred to in the literature) which is used to determine dominance/right of way

    scent is another major communication modality for crickets (and most if not all insects), and the studies show that as crickets get older, they prefer to avoid areas that smell strongly of other crickets (chemicals in their waste).

  • I wonder what the optimal 3d spacing is? It's not just about isolating each individual, it's also about giving them the space they need feel "comfortable".

    Would locusts, or another swarming insect be a better choice for farming like this? They naturally seek close contact with other individuals.

    I've never seen swarms of crickets, but I imagine they would only occur in special circumstances.

  • Crickets are a honestly a bit of a pain to raise; I'm not sure there's a stronger argument for them being the insect in highest demand aside from the fact that they're appropriately sized for pet lizards' mouths. That's one reason we're focusing on mealworms at the beginning; they won't battle one another to the death.

    I'm sure 3D spacing is an issue - would also be something we could determine easily by experiment. We have a large number of identical purpose-built cricket habitats that we designed specifically for this sort of study, but we won't have time to try this stuff until the v1 mealworm designs are done :(

  • Species selection should be an important first step of the process, depending on the local resources and goals. If crickets don't fit that well, it makes sense to select a species that does.

    Mealworms certainly seem easier from my viewpoint.

  • Yeah, it all depends on your goal as a farmer. If you're looking to raise insects for subsistence, you should definitely choose the species that fits your environment. Right now, however, there's a market for crickets at an industrial scale. Like much of human behaviour it makes less sense the more you think about it, but it's there, and if you want to make money from bugs in the short term (and in the US), it's probably your best bet.

  • Right, but as is, there isn't really an cricket market for human consumption, it's in the infant stage. If you're having to develop a market, you might as well develop a market for a species that is easier and less costly to raise.

    I'd be interested to see a comparison of the costs/infrastructure require for raising crickets vs raising locusts.

  • I think you'd be surprised; there are quite a few companies profitably selling cricket based snacks, and lack of supply is universally the factor holding back growth. If you can reliably produce a few million crickets per month, they'll be snapped up with no trouble. Businesses are desperate for a guaranteed regular supply so they can get on the shelves of big name health food stores.

    Developing a consumer market is a huge task, and doing that whilst building a farm seems beyond any of the current players. I totally agree that other species will make more sense down the line, but there really is a cricket market right now. Compared to other foods it's an infant market, but it eclipses that for any other bug.

    Hopefully some of the income generated from cricket production will be reinvested into exploring other species.

  • *"... Nymphs are reared to the fourth instar in glass vessels containing a little soil, which prevents cannibalism...." (1964) "Mass rearing of the common field cricket, Gryllus pennsylvanicus burmeister (Orthoptera, Gryllidae), for use as a test insect in toxicological studies" in Bulletin of Entomological Research, Volume 54, Issue 4, pg 805-809

    *"...larvae... cricket...grow more rapidly when reared in groups of 10 than when reared singly." (1962) "A Comparison of the Growth of the House Cricket Reared Singly and in Groups" in Canadian Journal of Zoology, 1962, 40(4): 559-560

    *"...newly moulted adult females exposed to conspecific song reached their full mass after their final moult significantly sooner than females kept in acoustic isolation or females exposed to heterospecific cricket song...." (2005) "Exposure to male song increases rate of egg development in the cricket" in African Zoology, Volume 40, Issue 2, pg 323-326

    *"... methods ... to obtain crickets of known age ... in the last 2 instars...adult...." (1977) "Rearing Methods for Obtaining House Crickets, Acheta domesticus, of Known Age, Sex, and Instar" in Annals of the Entomological Society of America, Volume 70, Number 1, pg 60-76

    NOTE (regarding commercialization): Quote: "... house cricket... rearing, for 2 years...surviving rate of crickets up to 90 days of age was 38% in the first and 34% in the second year... female ...60 days... 345 mg and 315 mg in ... first and second year ...crude protein ...different ages...55.6%.... at present mass rearing of house cricket for providing the protein supplement feed of the poultry is not economical...." (2004) "Possibility of house cricket rearing as high quality protein supplement" from AGRIS, Agricultural Scientific Information & Documentation Center, UN's FAO = http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=IR2010036251

  • Appropriate technology alternative for cricket stations should consider fibers recycled from end of season plants of Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus). Okra stalks are stripped of leaves, cut free from roots & remaining uncut stem lengths submerged 30 days in shallow water for fermentation to initiate fiber loosening from compounds Then, after initial fermentation period, for every 1 part volume of squeezed out mushy okra stem(s) put them in 50 parts of a separating solution to clean it up before try to use the fibers. Make the separation solution whereby for every 1 liter of fluids put in 5 grams of a detergent plus 5mg Na2CO3 (sodium carbonate). Na2CO3 is a common chemical & popularly sold as "washing soda"; it is also easy to make from "baking soda" sodium bicarbonate (widely available & cheap). Put sodium bicarbonate in an oven/baking pit at 200* Fahrenheit (94* Celsius) for 1 hour, which leaves behind the "soda ash" powder of sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) after a benign reaction. After immersion of the okra stalks purify the fibers by heating the whole ratio of solid okra mass 1:50 chemical Na2CO3 solution to 158* Fahrenhiet (70* Celsius). Then can wash off the fiber mass to get rid of what the month long water fermentation loosened from the okra fibers & have obtained what is called plant "bast" fibers. The bast fibers obtained from okra will only have 7% lignin (thus flexiblity) & 83% cellulose/hemicellulose that can be woven/twisted/tied into nesting contours for the crickets. It should not be necessary to remove the residual pectin/wax in the okra fibers; which would otherwise be done with sulfuric acid. This okra fiber will not adversely affect cricket habitat humidity, because it can only hold 3% moisture in the fiber.

  • If we are asking the question "what can we replace egg cartons with for crickets?", (for human consumption) -should we not ask, "What do commercial suppliers use?" - any knowledge out there?

  • @gringojay okra sounds like a great option and I'm aware of it growing in the South of the US, variously in Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Also as a big fan of okra myself, I wouldn't be averse to planting an okra patch next to my cricket farm to supply the habitat!

    @kerri commercial growers use a combination of egg cartons and cardboard bottle dividers (like in a case of wine/beer)

  • A woman on another thread, (sorry, I can't find it now to get the name) suggested dry wholemeal toast. I'm trying that now for crickets, mealworms as well as snails. Also, snails need calcium. That can be cuttlefish, egg shells (etc) - so I'm drying/sterilising egg shells now (100 Celsius - low heat - in oven for 20 mins) - A Thought... could these replace egg cartons? Quite strong if stacked double before cooking and surely if eaten can only benefit.

  • That's not a bad idea at all, especially if you're growing crickets to feed to chickens!

  • ok, here's a perfect solution for this issue: Mushroom mycelium. They make insulation and building structures, even furniture with it. Basically, you fill a form with substrate, then inoculate it with mycelium, the mycelium grows and functions as a glue. Then, you dry/bake the substrate, and the result is an edible, high in protein, stiff material that can be formed into any shape.

    Here's a company that make building materials to replace styrofoam: http://www.ecovativedesign.com/mushroom-materials/

    Here's an artist that makes furniture: http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/Philip-Ross-crafts-furniture-from-mycelium-4116989.php

    So, you just need to make your forms, and find a low cost substrate (ground straw+paper), and grow your cricket substrates!

  • Lord Above!!! This is so inspirational for an artist/potter and sometimes sculptor - not to mention for my bugs. Thank you - I'll play with this and keep all posted. 8-> - I'll do a search later, but do you know how to source the Mushroom mycelium?

  • mycelium can be started from a variety of sources. You can buy syringes online for whatever species you want. I suggest starting with oyster mushrooms, as they are the most aggressive species. Another option is to order a mushroom kit, and when it arrives, use that mycelium to colonize more substrate. The third option is to clone a mushroom from a store or farmers market. To do this, you cut the stem and put it on wet cardboard in a ziplock bag, and the mycelium will colonize the cardboard.

  • Thank you @VelaCreations. ;)

  • @velacreations' mushroom mycelium sounds very cool.

    @HeatherSayyah suggested whole wheat toast moulded in a tortilla pan on the mealworms growing guide discussion - thinking on from that, pressing slices of bread into muffin pans and then baking at about 150 deg C (300F) until crisp (about 10 min) makes a great substitute for vol au vent cases (cut the crusts off for that), but would also make a nice little cup shape to pile up for crickets (especially if you could get hold of free unsold bread from a baker or supermarket).

    It might be easier to handle (more spaces rejoined together, similar to an egg tray) if a single slice of bread was big enough to lay over the whole muffin tray and press into all the spaces - how about rolling out a chapati (or tortilla) dough thinly, pressing to shape over a 12-cup muffin or cupcake tray and baking until crisp? (Basic chapati dough = 1 cup whole wheat flour, 65ml (2.5 fl oz) warm water, and 2 tsp oil or ghee.) If cooked until crisp, they should keep pretty well in a closed container, at least for cricket-sheltering purposes, so you could make a batch and use them over time - or just make up a batch when they need replacing... How does that sound?

    Could even do both - grow crickets on toast cups, sauté them in butter, mix with a mornay sauce and then serve in fresh toast cups (just don't get the cups mixed up!) :-)

  • Last night I pressed slices of bread into muffin pans and then baked & microwaved till crunchy. They were too bulky for crickets, (my dogs like them so I'll do another batch and mix in peanut butter for them!) so today I'll mix finer for crickets using white bread... I'm thinking to buy bread crumbs and mix to a paste rather than fresh bread. Shows excellent promise. :D/

  • These are made without a press, just roughly 'sculpted' with a spoon in a patty-pan. The holes are good crawling spaces I think. Mushed bread, soaked mushy bran and and some flour to thicken the mix. cricket cakes

  • @kerri - looks good! :-)

    I was also thinking that it would be easier to bake a hidey-hole structure in a corrugated shape than to press dough or whatever into all the spaces of a muffin tray or similar.

    If you got hold of a sheet of corrugated iron and cut it into squares of a size that would fit in your cricket habitat (and your oven), you could lay a thinly rolled dough over each square, put them in the oven, bake until crispy and then just stack the resulting corrugated crispbread with the corrugations of alternate layers at right angles to each other. (Galvanising is just zinc coating, so galvanised sheet may be safer than colorbond-type coatings unless someone can confirm that the colorbond-type coating won't break down to anything nasty in the oven... Zinc and iron both being human nutrients, I'm assuming galvanised iron would be ok to cook on - cooking in iron pots is actually a recognised way of improving human iron intake.)

    Alternatively, how would just using crisscross-stacked squares of corrugated galvanised iron go? Could be a valid option where there's scrap available after houses have been re-roofed, but you would want to be careful from a human safety point of view handling any pieces with sharp edges, either from cutting or any rusty bits. (I ended up with several stitches in my ankle as a teenager after falling over and landing on the rusted-off edge of a old tank on my uncle's farm!)

    These options wouldn't provide quite such discrete spaces for the crickets as egg cartons (but would provide more privacy than wine-bottle dividers), and the corrugated crispbread should be pretty easy to make with whatever flour is locally available. (It's pretty easy to make hard bread; much harder to make it soft!)

    (For non-bread-makers using wheat flour: Put flour in a bowl, make a depression in the middle, pour some water in and stir flour in from the edges until you get a workable dough - if it's too wet, sprinkle more flour over and squish it around until it's not too sticky; if it's too dry, squash it, sprinkle a bit of water over it and squish it around until it's an even texture, then repeat if necessary. Squash it flat on a board or bench (sprinkle flour or spread a thin layer of oil on first to stop the dough sticking to the bench), keep squishing, folding it up and re-squishing until it's nice and smooth, and then use a rolling pin or similar to roll it as thin as possible. If you don't have a rolling pin, a glass bottle - ideally tall & (vertically) straight like a wine-bottle - is a cheap old-fashioned substitute. A piece of thick dowelling, like a piece of a broom handle, works, either.)

    • Flours without gluten behave differently, and I'm not familiar with using them, but a tortilla recipe should work for cornmeal, and could probably be adapted for grown rice.

    I'll give it a go and post some pics when I get a chance to set up my own cricket farm - I've bought the boxes, but it's mid-winter here in Australia (and my house is currently only about 18C / 65F), so I'm still working out how I'm going to keep them warm!

  • @calytrix, Liz, how the hell did I not think of rolling the mix? The simple answers are the cleverest! will report on my progress. You could still start your crickets, they'll just be slower growing till warmed. Consider a heat mat, I doubt they cost as much as even 1 light bulb to run.

  • @kerri - that's funny :-) ...it is amazing how easy it is not to think of something like that!!! :-) ...will put a query re. the heat mat in the "heating" thread :-) ...so it doesn't confuse the threads! :-)

  • I am not a cricket farmer however i am curious about the egg carton issue. I use them for my roaches and normally place an ad on the wanted section of one of the free trader or recycling sites. Is it an issue if crickets are consuming the egg carton, as i assume that the insects would be fed on carrot or similar diet to clean out their system before feeding to humans ?

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