Leopard geckos are insectivores — they eat live invertebrates exclusively. This is where they get the vast majority of their nutrients which are needed to help their bodies function.
To ensure our pets are the healthiest they can be, we need to pay attention to not only what they’re eating, but what their food is eating.
The process of giving feeder insects nutritious foods is known as gutloading, or “feeding the feeders”.
This is a good example of a food chain: sun, water, and nutrients in soil provide energy for plants, or producers. Primary consumers — in this case insects — eat the producers and obtain their nutrients. Secondary consumers eat the primary consumers, and so on and so forth. Once the topmost consumers (snakes, birds, etc) die of natural causes, their body is decomposed into the soil and the process starts all over again.
Now, we can’t perfectly replicate the immense variety of plants and insects that inhabit the areas leopard geckos are native to. So, we have to do the next best thing: give insects a controlled diet, with plenty of nutrients we know to be essential.
Besides nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins, gutloaded insects also provide water. This is why it’s absolutely crucial to gutload, as leopard geckos get the majority of their water from the insects they eat.
How to gutload feeder insects
Fortunately, the actual process of feeding insects is easy: just add food to the bin or tank they are being kept in.
Feeder insects should be gutloaded for at least 16 hours prior to being given to a reptile.
Some bugs, like crickets, roaches, and mealworms are easily gutloaded. Others, like silkworms, black soldier fly larvae, and hornworms, are not. These insects usually have a special “mush” diet that is specifically fed to them.
Healthy soldier fly larvae in particular do not need to be gutloaded at all. They are the only common feeder insect that should not be given a gutload diet (they are unable to eat it; any food given will rot).
What foods can I gutload with?
Just like you need to vary the insects in your gecko’s diet, it’s best if you vary the foods in your insect’s diets!
- Best gutloading foods: sweet potato, carrot, broccoli, zucchini, collard greens, peas
- Good gutloading foods: apple, romain lettuce, eggplant, bell pepper, sweet corn
- Bad gutloading foods: iceberg lettuce, celery, kale, spinach, cucumber
- Always avoid: any pickled/salted/preserved foods, citrus fruits, dog/cat food
All food must be 100% organic — completely free from pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals. Rinsing in water does NOT remove these chemicals, but it does make the food more clean in general.
Have either a slice of peeled cucumber or a small tray of water crystals available at all times. Dehydration is a common cause of invertebrate death, and dehydrated insects mean a dehydrated gecko.
Do pre-made gutload diets work?
Looking for an easier alternative? “All-in-one” liquid diets are an acceptable alternative, but still not optimal, because they don’t offer much variety and you’re unable to control the exact nutrients your insects are getting.
Nature Zone “Total Bites” with Spirulina, 9 oz. $10.97 on Amazon.com.
”All-in-one” dry diets are not ideal because they do not contain water and can result in dehydrated insects, even when a separate water source is provided.