Bug food and feeding

What food you feed to your bugs is vital for their health and longevity. When bugs are not appropriately fed nutritious food, they won’t live that long and have limited to non-breeding result. Food is one of the keys in proper care for your bugs. You can see that well-fed bugs will have better and brighter colours and will behave better. So, how about bug food and feeding?

What do bugs eat?

A better question would be: what do bugs don’t eat? There are so many different bug species that among all of them they eat almost any food source that you can think of. Many bug species eat plants, but other bugs eat insects, and some enjoy even both.

Some bugs feed only nectar from plants. And some bugs are just a garbage pit – they eat whatever you throw into the enclosure (black soldier flies for example).

There are also a few bugs that don’t eat, for example, mayflies and some species of moths. However, you won’t have to worry about them because they only live for one day and won’t be suitable as pets though.

The flamboyant flower beetle also named striped love beetle enjoy a apple slice.

How do bugs eat?

How do bugs eat? It might seem like an obvious question, right? They eat with their mouth. But there are differences in how bugs eat. The question of how bugs eat also focus on behaviour.

Some bugs are predators. They hunt for food. So they will need live insects to do so. It just doesn’t work to feed dead insects or at least non-moving insects. But when bugs hunt, they need food that can be hunted. For example, most mantises don’t live on the ground, so it has no use feeding them insects that only stay on the ground.

Other animals eat only fresh plant sources. So when you feed these bugs, you’ll need to give them fresh foliage. After a day or so, it is not fresh anymore, and indeed they don’t eat it anymore.

When you feed bugs, you’ll need to know what type of feeder it is: a carnivorous bug (eating animals), a herbivorous bug (eating plants), or an omnivorous bug (that eat both). Another essential fact to know is if the bug is a specialized feeder or a generalized feeder. With other words, do they feed only on one or a couple of feed sources, or do they eat almost anything eatable.

As illustrated above, bugs eat in many different ways. This information also confirms that you’ll need to think about how you are going to feed your bug.

How you feed them also depends on how they eat. There are basically four methods of how bugs eat. They have adjusted body parts to do so. These different methods are shown in the table below.

MethodDescriptionExample species
Piercing-suckingPenetrate a solid tissue to suck up liquid foodMosquitoes
SpongingSuck up liquids with the help of a sponge-like mouth.House flies
SiphoningSuck up liquidsButterflies, moths
ChewingBiting and grinding solid foodAnts, beetles, locusts, crickets (and many more)

They bugs that commonly kept are mostly chewers, although butterflies and moths use siphoning to eat liquids.

Plants as food

A lot of bugs eat plant leaves as their main source of food. They even can’t survive without feeding them fresh foliage. Some bugs are specialized eaters and only feed of one particular plant. Think of caterpillars; every caterpillar has its own host plant they feed on.

Bug species often have very specific plant leaves that they like and eat, where other plants are staying completely untouched. To find out which plants are suitable for which bug species you’ll need to check information about that specific species.

Not all plants are suitable to feed to bugs. Some plants have toxic parts as a natural prevention to be eaten. These parts will quickly kill your bugs. Other plants have nutrients that are not suited for every bug species.

It is, therefore, crucial you can recognize and can determine different types of plants so that you will select the correct plants and leaves from your garden, park or forest area to feed.

Plants that generally work well to feed are bramble, oak, beech, hazel, rose, and for some animals bamboo. But as said before, always check the needs of the bug you take care of.

Live insects as food

Many bugs only eat live insects as food. They need food that is moving; otherwise, they refuse to eat. For many bugs the only appropriate live food is insects. Mice, fish or food produced for humans just don’t work.

There are many different feeder insects available to feed. Think of mealworms, superworms, wax worms, cockroaches, crickets, locusts, fruit and house flies. They are commercially bred and make safe, nutritious and healthy food.

However, live insects need to get appropriate care as well to keep them alive, healthy and nutritious. I wrote an article about the ‘general care of feeder insects‘ to help you get the most out of feeding live insects.

Other food sources

There are many sources of commercial food available, even for feeding bugs. Many are highly recommend to feed and makes sure that your bugs keep healthy and well-fed.

There are also products produced for other animals than bugs or produced for humans that can work well. However, keep in mind that these products are not developed with the focus on feeding bugs. And while some of these products are eaten very well, they are not automatically healthy for them. Some are even causing illness or death when fed.

Think on how to feed your bugs

So far, this page illustrated which feeding strategy bugs have and what they eat. As a keeper feeding the bugs, you’ll need to think about how you provide the food. Just giving them a bowl with food doesn’t do the trick. You’ll need to adjust your feeding method to that of the bug.

Mantises can hunt on house flies (and their nymphs on fruit flies). So you’ll need to let these flies loose in the enclosure. When feeding plants, you can lay them on the floor or attach them half-way in the enclosure. Some animals prefer to have their food in the substrate and dig for it. Others need liquid food, but it doesn’t always work to put it in a feeder on the floor of the enclosure.

I think you’ll get the picture, right? For every animal, you’ll need to adjust the way you feed them that suits best. Many practical tips on how you’ll best be able to feed a certain species can be found on this website.