Composting for Feeder Insects for Your Pet Reptiles & Amphibians

Everyone knows how valuable composting is for the environment. But a compost bin is also a good way to cultivate invertebrates to feed your pet reptiles and amphibians. Here’s how.

Everyone knows how valuable composting is for the environment. It is the process of mixing green and brown organic matter with soil, invertebrates, oxygen and water to break down the organics into a natural soil amendment. It is natural, safe and coming into vogue for all us greenies out there. But a compost bin or heap is also a good way to cultivate invertebrates to feed your pet reptiles and amphibians. Here's how.

Container - I prefer a tightly lidded container to a compost pile or heap, as it helps deter mammals like raccoons, rats and coyotes, which can be a problem in our area. I used a 20-gallon Rubbermaid trash bin with lid. I cut out the bottom and replaced it with a piece of screen. Then I drilled one-eighth inch holes all over the barrel of the bin, as well as the lid. I set the whole thing atop two 2 x 4s about two feet apart to allow air to move under the bin and up through the compost.

Recipe - Almost anything biodegradable can be composted, but to eliminate odor, I strictly stick to green and brown plant matter. I started with a thin layer of dirt and dried leaves, and then added vegetable kitchen scraps until I had a layer about three inches deep. On top of that goes another thin layer of soil and leaves. No matter how tightly the lid fits, invertebrates will find their way in, and along with bacteria, will help break down the vegetable matter. However, I helped mine along by adding flies, earthworms and other bugs - basically anything I could find.

Maintenance - It is important to "turn" or stir the compost about once a week to ensure air flow between all particles and distribute the bacteria. You also need to periodically add a little water. Compost should always be kept moist to help accelerate the decomposition process.

Harvesting - Most people use their compost to fertilize their gardens or improve their soil quality, but in this sense we are talking about harvesting invertebrates to feed our herps. One day prior to harvesting, I skip the step of covering the newly added vegetable material with the dirt and leaf mixture. All the organisms will come to the top for the new feast, and will be easier to spot without being covered in dirt. To harvest, I simply take a sturdy stick and carefully move the material on top around ever so gently. Then I stop and wait for movement. I scoop up the worm or larvae or whatever, and put it into a jar I keep handy. Be sure not to harvest anything so small that it can get out of your pet's enclosure. You should also clip the wings on any flying insects for the same reason. After a few months you will not only have a variety of different kinds of feeder invertebrates, but different sizes as well. This is important since most herps will ignore food that is not the appropriate size.