Why Crickets are Dying and You Should Give a Shit

For once, the hot topic in the Canadian reptile feeder industry isn't debate over cockroaches;  a more imminent problem has appeared within the last few months, and is now at a critical point. The aptly named "Cricket Paralysis Virus" tends to effect crickets in the pre-adult, or pre-wing stage, and does exactly what you would think: total paralysis resulting in death. There's no clearly defined vector for the virus, but there is plenty of speculation. Most seems to be centring around waxworms or those little beetle larvae, Dermestes ater, that hitch-hike harmlessly (we've always assumed) along with crickets. The virus spreads like delicious grape jelly (exceptionally well), and has wiped out the majority of cricket producers in the United States and Canada, leaving only a few farms scrambling to meet the pan-national demand.

The particular strain of the virus menacing our hobby at this point effects only House, or Brown, Crickets, Acheta domesticus, and struck the UK in 2002. The UK industry reacted quickly, and brought three new species of crickets into popularity despite their slightly increased difficulty of culture. These species were Gryllodes sigillatus, Gryllus bimaculatus, and Gryllus similis, and they were responsible for saving the reptile industry in the UK.

Unfortunately, the species' of cricket which the UK used to avoid crisis are not already established in North America, and laws in Canada, at least, regarding the import of invertebrate species are harsh; everything is prohibited unless it is shown by governmental studies to be already long-established in Canada, or at least not harmful. Government funding being biased as it is towards silly things like healthcare and education, expensive studies on the potential invasive abilities of insect species are not high on the list of related government bodies. It's cheaper to just say no.

To clarify: I don't believe that there should be no restrictions on potentially invasive species. But in a case like this, where the insects in question are already known to be not overly damaging and will have a tremendous impact in saving our hobby and zoos, it is certainly worthwhile to invest the time and money to at the very least base the ban on fact rather than speculation.

Oh yes, zoos. It's not just folk like me (well... not like me. I feed crickets exceptionally rarely. If anything I might be able to make cash selling mealworms if the cricket industry tanks) who will be effected by this. Zoos use our friendly neighbourhood A. domesticus to feed the majority of insectivores. There are no feeders currently legally established in Canada which can provide the sheer volume of minimally acceptable nutrition that crickets provide. Mealworms and superworms are too chitin-dense and superworms produce too slowly; waxworms are too fatty with too little of much else, although I would wager that they may be as quick to produce once established in a large facility; silkworms and hornworms are too costly to produce the sheer numbers required by zoos; roaches are illegal and not likely to be legalised, and butterworms cannot be farmed outside of Chile due to their dietary requirements and Chile's policy of irradiating them to prevent pupation.

Strictly put: we need crickets, and preferably not of the armoured-tank variety native to Canada, Gryllus pennsylvanicus. They may be a last-ditch effort, although I seem to be the first to mention them at all, so I'm either missing something or a visionary. I'm not betting on the latter.

1 comment:

  1. As a note: the farm that Mike Rowe went to (http://www.ghann.com/misc.cfm) is still producing crickets, but has vastly cut down on their production while tidying their facility in an effort to prevent contracting the virus. Good luck, oh dirty dudes.