Feeder insects are essential for many bug species kept as pets. There are many different feeder insects available, such as crickets, cockroaches, mealworms, superworms, fruit flies, to name a few. Locusts are a perfect feeder insect to add to the list. They are the largest live feeder insect, and it provides excellent nutrition to the target animal you’ll feed them.
Feeder insects can be pretty expensive. If you have bought locusts at a commercial pet store or insect breeder before, you know that it is no difference for locusts. It can become quite expensive to purchase locusts regularly to feed them to your pet bug, reptile or other animals. But you can consider to breed locusts yourself instead of buying them.
Why should you breed locusts yourself?
- When breeding locusts successfully can save a lot of money
- When having a proper breeding setup will breed locusts rather easy and fast
- Feeder locusts provide an excellent food source
- Feeder locusts don’t bite
- You can adequately feed them to make them well-nourished from day one
- Flexibility to use any size of locusts you will need at that moment
- When you breed a significant number of locusts, you can sell them to other bug keepers.
I think reason enough to at least considering breeding locusts yourself, right? In this how-to guide, I will help you to set up an easy method to make keeping, caring and breeding of locusts very easy.
Are you ready to learn how to breed locusts with this practical how-to guide? Let’s dive in then!
Locust allergy risk
Be aware that you can have an allergic response when handling locusts intensively. Occupational allergic reaction has been recorded. When keeping (large) breeding colonies and care for them day-to-day may result in the development of an allergic response. Read more about ‘bug allergy risks‘. When taking care of them regularly, I can highly recommend wearing disposable latex gloves and disposable face masks. Pay attention to any symptoms like: irritation to the skin and eyes, coughing, and sneezing when in the proximity of the locusts.
Best species as feeder locusts
Two of the main species used to breed feeder locusts are the migratory locust (Locusta migratoria) and the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria). Locusts are actually just species of the grasshopper family. Both species belong to the short-horned grasshopper, and both are best known for their vast swarming behaviour, destroying a large surface of crop fields.
The difference between them is that locusts can display gregarious and migratory behaviours. There are 14 species classified as ‘locusts’, but the classification is based on this swarming behaviour.
Both these species are used as feeder locusts because of there characteristics: They produce many eggs, they are easy to breed in captivity, they can be housed with many individuals together, and they have an excellent nutritional composition.
Of course, the method to breed locusts below can also be applied to other species of locusts and grasshoppers. When you want to breed different species, however, you’ll need to adjust the environmental (housing size, temperature, humidity, etc.) that is suits that particular species.
How to house feeder locusts?
One of the first essential cornerstones to successfully breed locusts is to have proper housing. There are several ways to house locusts and grasshoppers. When breeding is not your first priority, and you want to house grasshoppers and locust to display them, you’ll use another type of enclosure. Often a terrarium or adapted glass aquarium will be sufficient for this purpose. In this section, we will focus on the housing of a breeding colony of migratory locusts and desert locusts.
Enclosure type and size
Suitable enclosure types include glass containers, glass terrariums, plastic terrariums, plastic containers or fauna boxes. Never use an enclosure that has fabric gauze. Locusts can chew through this material and will escape.
Glass enclosures are easy to clean, have good visibility and are well-suited for high(er) temperatures. The drawback is that the enclosure can be very heavy when you have a larger model. So it is not flexible and easily be moved.
Plastic enclosures are a bit the opposite of glass enclosures. They are light-weighted, easy to move, and retain temperature very well. However, sides will be covered in scratches, and visibility will get worse over time. And with the cratches, is will be more challenging to clean. Plastic can also dry out and crack over time, especially when it is used in a high-temperature environment for a long time. I personally prefer glass enclosures and have a very good breeding result within them, but you can achieve the same with plastic enclosures.
You can also build your own enclosure of wood, metals and/or plastic plexiglass. You can then customize and adapt the sizes to your needs. Building an enclosure yourself will absolutely not be cheaper than just buying an enclosure, but you can make it exactly how it fits you best.
Ventilation is a key element, and a suitable enclosure needs plenty of ventilation. Locusts need a proper stable climate, and ventilation capacity will help to achieve just that. Preferably your enclosure has ventilation that you can regulate. Think of ventilation holes or slots that can be (partly) closed when needed. Ventilation openings need to covered with fine metal mesh to prevent escapes.
The housing needs to be big enough. However, the size of the enclosure mainly depends on the number of locusts that are planned to keep. As a guide, you’ll need at least 50 litres of volume to house 20 locusts. The height is more important than the surface. Locusts need this height to regulate their body temperature and locusts prefer height, which is good for their well-being. Also, the height works easier when feeding the locusts and cleaning the enclosure.
A good starting point would be to have an enclosure size of 30cm x 30cm x 60cm. When you want to house more locusts per enclosure, you’ll need to increase the surface. If you have space, I would recommend a bigger enclosure to make working in it more comfortable. I use custom build enclosures with a size of 50cm x 50cm x 80cm (200 litres volume). I house breeding colonies of around 50 locusts per enclosure.
GOOD PRACTICE TIP: Make sure that climbing structure is not touching or close to a heating source to prevent that the furniture or locusts get burned.
When you have locusts for breeding purposes, you don’t need a lot of furniture or aesthetics. Locusts need to be able to climb up for heating and climb down to eat or lay eggs. A prober climbing structure increases the total surface of the enclosure.
You can use some branches or twigs to increase climbing possibilities, but I prefer to use metal mesh folded in rectangular shapes. These metal climbing structures are easier to clean and are more durable and don’t need to be replaced. Use a mesh size of a maximum of 2cm x 2cm.
Make sure that the climbing structure is not too close to the heating source. Otherwise, the locust may get burned. In the case of metal, this metal can become very hot. In the case of branches, you’ll have a serious risk of getting burned or start a fire. Another reason why you’d better not be using branches or twigs.
A substrate is not a necessity. In fact, it only makes it more work to clean the enclosure, may cause a humidity that is too high or cause that egg pots will be buried randomly throughout the enclosure. It is perfectly fine to leave the bottom empty of any substrate.
Locusts will start breeding as long as you include a suitable substrate. But what? You just said that substrate is not necessary? Well, locusts must deposit their eggs. But it is not needed to cover the whole bottom with a substrate. A plastic container as a laying bin filled with a substrate is enough.
The laying bin should provide the best conditions for your locust to inject their eggs in, for eggs to develop and for you to collect and manage the eggs easily. Aside from the enclosure and climate (as we will talk in the next section), a proper laying bin is key to have a good breeding result.
The plastic container that you fill needs to be at least 10 cm high, but it would be better to have one that is 15 cm high. The surface needs to be around 10cm x 10cm (and when round, a radius of about 10cm). You can use any plastic bin, like candy bins or take-out food bins.
As a substrate, you can use sand or dirt, but I prefer to use a substrate of cocos-humus or cocos-ground. This type of substrate is looser, easier of locust to lay in eggs, and better holds moisture for the development of the eggs. Because eggs mustn’t dry out. The eggs must be able to absorb water from the substrate (especially in the early stage of development) to make sure that the eggs will develop successfully.
GOOD PRACTICE TIP: It would be good practice to drill some small holes of around 4mm (0.15″) around the bottom end of each side so excess water can drip out. By doing just that, the eggs won’t rot because of too much moisture in the laying bin.
How to create the best environment to breed locusts?
You can keep locusts well for several days at room temperature (between 15°C and 20°C). But when you keep them at this temperature, the food they eat won’t digest, and they die of it because the food decomposes in their stomachs. The locust species we use to breed (migratory locust and desert locust) live in a desert environment.
Temperature, heating and light cycle
To breed these locusts, the best temperature to keep them is between 27°C and 37°C (80°F -90°F) during the day. At night, it is okay that the temperature drops to a minimum of 20°C. Never keep locusts below 15°C. This temperature will result in dead locusts.
To reach this temperature, you’ll need an additional heating source. Best way to achieve this temperature is by using a regular light bulb or a heat bulb to heat the enclosure. A light bulb between 50W and 100W should be enough. Don’t use a heat mat or heat cable on the bottom of the enclosure. Bottom heating will dry out the laying bins and drinking water. It is best to use a heat source that also provides light because locusts will use the light to orient itself for finding heat (sunbathing). The right wattage light bulb should be found experimentally.
You can keep them perfect at a 12h:12h day/night cycle. You’ll need at least a 12h day time because locusts will mostly eat during that time. When cooled down during the night time, the locusts become less active. When locusts are less active comes in handy when cleaning the enclosure.
Because these species live in a desert environment, the humidity should be rather low. If you keep the humidity in a range of 30% to 50% would be perfect. An environment that is too humid will cause infection, illness and death. For that reason never spray water directly into the enclosure. Humid environments can cause mould in the enclosure which is very harmful to locusts. A dry environment prevents the growth of fungus.
Of course, like every animal locusts need moisture too to survive. However, locusts receive enough moisture from the food that is provided. You can spray leaves lightly before you place them in the enclosure to provide additional moisture.
Monitoring and automating the environment
Monitoring the temperature and humidity is crucial to see if the environment matches the needs of the locusts. Because when you see something is wrong with the locusts related to temperature and humidity, it is often already too late to safe them. Please prevent this from happening by monitoring it.
Thermometers and hygrometers, often combined in one device, are widely available and are often quite cheap to buy. So, what do you have to lose? To measure is to know!
To make managing it more easy, you can use timed switches to regulate the light cycle and use thermostats to regulate temperature. A good setup would be to have one (LED) light that is on a timed switch to control the lighting hours, and one heat lamp on a thermostat to control the right temperature range. Also, timed switches and thermostat switched are widely available and rather cheap to buy.
Cleaning is most easy before the locusts are warmed up. I use a light cycle of 11.00 AM to 11.00 PM, so I can easily clean the enclosure in the morning without the locusts jumping all around. After cleaning, I will provide fresh food, so the locusts are able to eat the whole day.
With cleaning, I will remove uneaten food and excessive faeces. Periodically you’ll need to clean the entire enclosure. When you do, remove the locusts first into a temporary enclosure. Locusts can’t handle any chemicals and become quickly ill and die. I try to clean the enclosures regularly and using almost only water.
How to have a proper diet and feed your locusts?
Both migratory and desert locusts are herbivorous – they only eat plant materials. They can be quite picky which plants they like. One plant that is always eaten is fresh grass. The best type of grass you can feed are leafy reed, reedgrass and canary grass.
I also have excellent experience with fine-leaved bamboo. I use bamboo as my primary food source. Species of bamboo that work well are dwarf green stripe bamboo (Pleioblastus spp.), guadua bamboo (Guadua spp.) and fargesia bamboo (Fargesia spp.).
What you can feed is also depending on the availability in your situation. You can also feed leafy vegetables, like endive or lettuce. Be sure that the plants and vegetables you feed are not sprayed with any chemical or insecticides. In general, feeding plants are prefered and better eaten than vegetables.
Plants will stay fresh for a longer time when you put them in water. You can use a bowl or bottle of water to put them in. However, it would be better not to do this with smaller sized locusts (nymphs) because of the risk of drowning.
In addition, locusts need to be nutritious as a feeder insect. That is why high nutritional food needs to offered to improve the nutritional value of locusts itself. This is done by gut-loading. Gut loading is the process by which an animal’s prey is raised and fed nutritious foods to pass those nutrients to the animal for which the prey is intended. Products that are suitable to gut load are Arcadia Earth PRO Insectfuel Insectfeed or chicken breeding meal.
Products based on bran, that are historical commonly used, are not recommended to feed to locusts because of its source of phytic acids. It is also pretty nutrient-poor. Phytic acids will limit the amount of calcium available and stored.
Always make sure there is enough food available. Locusts will stop breeding when they are hungry. Good, nutritious, fresh and enough food promotes good breeding results. And in the end, that is why you have them, right?
How to set up a locust breeding kit?
The best locusts breeding kit setup exists of five elements: Enclosure, climate control, furniture, feeding station and laying bin.
- Step 1 – Enclosure. We already talked about what type and size of the enclosure are best suitable for breeding locusts. Once you have the enclosure, you’ll need to place it in a proper location. It would be best to place it where there is not much disturbance. Also, never place the enclosure in direct sunlight (because of the risk of overheating). It also needs to be avoided that an enclosure is placed where the humidity is relatively high. A washing room, for example, will not be a suitable place. A shed, garage, cellar etc. would be a better location to place the enclosure.
- Step 2 – Heating source. Place and connect your heat source so that the correct environment will be created.
- Step 3 – Furniture. Place a climbing structure inside the enclosure. The best would be to place it in such a way that it is as far from the door or opening as possible, but still possible for locusts to get heat from a heat source.
- Step 4 – Laying bin. Place a laying bin somewhere in the enclosure. The location does not matter that much. We place them to the backside of the enclosure to make the laying bin less disturbing when walking past the enclosures.
- Step 5 – Feeding station. Place the feeding station in front of the enclosure. Placing it in front makes the refreshment of food and cleaning of the food station easier.
You’re now all set up for starting a locusts breeding colony. In the next section, we will take a look at how to manage that breeding colony.
How to manage a locust breeding colony?
When you want to manage a locust breeding colony, you’ll first need to understand the life cycle of locusts and how it develops. So let’s dive how the development looks like from egg to breeding adult.
Life cycle of locusts
The life cycle of migratory and desert locusts are hemimetabolous, which means that it has several nymphal stages before they reach adulthood. Therefore we can distinguish three different life stages in the development of locusts: the egg stage, the nymphal stage and the winged adult stage.
The nymphal stage exists of five moults, where it will grow with every moult. Between moults, a locust doesn’t grow. The time between moults is strongly depended on the climate conditions (where the temperature is most important) and the nutritional value of the food it eats. The time from hatching and become a fledging can take as short as four weeks or as long as eight weeks.
When locusts reach the fledging stage, they will strengthen their wing muscles and harden their exoskeleton. One week after the fledging stage, you can distinguish if the locust is male (smaller and yellow) or females (larger and grey/brown). It is also fertile and able to reproduce. One insemination is sufficient for several batches of eggs.
The lifespan of locusts is between 2.5 and 5 months, where some adults have been kept alive for one year in captivity. A female will lay up to 100 eggs in an egg pot. Females do this at least three times with intervals around 6 to 11 days. The eggs will hatch in about 10 to 14 days when conditions are optimal.
|Life stage||Size (mm)||Weight (mg)||Age|
|1st instar||7-8||14||~11 days|
|2nd instar||15||33-38||~17 days|
|3rd instar||19-20||190-220||~23 days|
|4th instar||26-27||430-500||~29 days|
|5th instar||34-37||1000-1220||~35 days|
|Mature adult||40-60||2000||2.5-5 months|
(some 1 year)
Breeding locusts easy, fast and successful
To breed locusts easy, fast and successful you’ll need to take some aspects into account. Below I describe these aspects to get high breeding output. It is important to take this into account and regularly check the current situation of established breeding colonies if they still meet these aspects.
- Sex-ratio: the preferred males:females sex-ratio to have in your breeding colony is 1:2 to 1:4. We have with these ratios high breeding output.
- Overcrowding: when an enclosure is overcrowding, it will negatively influence the breeding result. Only breed what you think you need and adjust your breeding colony to that. On the other side, when adults die of age in your breeding colony, you need to replace them with their offspring. It can take 6 to 12 months before you have optimized a breeding colony.
- Produce the largest locust: you breed locust to primarily feeding them. So you have the most on large locust. When replacing lost adults from your breeding colony with your offspring, select them on the largest-sized adults from your offspring. If you continually select the larger adults to breed, you will have offspring that will also be bigger.
- Separate eggs from adults: to make it easier to manage breeding output I recommend you to separate eggs from adults. It will be no problem to hatch eggs in the adult enclosure, but from experience, I see that nymphs will develop slower. It also makes it easier to adjust feeding to different life stages of the locust.
- Rotational system: want to get the most out of your breeding colony, it would be good to set up a rotational system. After every 7 to 10 days you swap a laying bin for a new one. The laying bin filled with eggs will be placed in an enclosure. After 7 to 10 days you must repeat the process and place the next laying bin in the next enclosure. And so on. You’ll get multiple enclosures that group together locusts that are around the same life stage and are therefore better to manage and to specialize the care for the life stage that they’re at.
Small vs large breeding setups
Not everyone needs a large set up to breed locusts. But you can start with, let say, 20 adults in your breeding colony to reproduce and one separate enclosure to hatch the eggs and where you can take locusts to feed.
If you need more output you can add more adults into your breeding colony, which ultimately results in more breeding output.
If you want to take your locusts breeding to the next level, you can apply the rotational system and keep multiple breeding colonies. In such a large setup, you can maximize your output. To give you an illustration: with around 150 adult locusts (over three breeding colonies) you can have already an output of 75 to 150 adult locusts every week when it is all established.
Time for action!
As you can see, breeding locusts is relatively easy to start with. Set up your breeding kit, buy your first locusts and start breeding with them. If you have the chance to see the locusts before you buy them, have a quick eye if they look healthy.
Breeding Locusts FAQ
Below you can find the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) about keeping, caring and breeding locusts. If you can’t find the answer below you can always ask your question with the contact form.
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