It is important to gut load Dubia roaches for the health of the animals that eat them. Nutritional gaps are very common among insectivorous animals in captivity, and gut loading can help close these gaps. General decline, the effects of stress from environmental inadequacies, and even acute illness are all things that gutloading can address, depending on the causes given the unique circumstances. In this day and age, it’s something most animal keepers understand that they should do.
And for such generous benefits, gut loading requires relatively modest effort. All you need is care for the well-being of your animals, the right information, some Dubia roaches of course, and a little effort to make it happen.
This article addresses what, why, and how to gut load Dubia roaches.
- What is gut loading?
- Why gut load Dubia roaches?
- How to gut load Dubia roaches
- What not to use as gut load
What Is Gut Loading?
Gut loading is the practice of providing feeder insects with nutrients not intended for them, but ultimately for the animals that eat them. It is an indirect way to get primary nutrition to captive reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, and other insect-eating animals.
The nutritional value of a gut loaded insect is itself plus whatever is in its stomach. Because this depends on what it ate, the goal is to feed them healthy fare exclusively for the benefit of the animals that prey on them. This is done without regard for the needs of the insect, so a gut load can include any material that is good for the animal, even if it is bad for the insect.
Gut loading is, therefore, a short-run proposition. It is not intended to provide nutrition for the insect at all – though it can and often does. It’s meant to feed the animal directly. The purpose is to get (often plant-based) food and its nutrients into an (often carnivorous) animal so it may satisfy the animal’s nutritional needs. In a sense, it’s an indirect delivery system for direct nutrition.
As such, gut loading is usually done a number of hours or days before feeding. Most feeder insects digest what they eat within 24 hours, so the practical value of their gut load is measured by what they consumed in the preceding hours rather than days. However, as you will see, Dubia roaches are different. They have a unique digestive system, and their gut-loading time can be extended as long as three days. This has additional benefits for the animals that eat them.
With respect to the predator animal and the balance of intrinsic (the insect) versus extrinsic (what it ate) nutritional value, gut loading is supplemental. It’s a way to get either additional nutrients to an animal, or nutrients that may be missing from its general diet. In either case, the insect is always the animal’s primary nutrient source. The food in its stomach is secondary. However, both are important. Perhaps not equally so, but there’s no need to choose one over the other. Dubia roaches allow you to do both to a greater degree than other feeder insects. While this dynamic clearly favors the predator, the relationship is still one of symbiosis rather than absolutes.
Why Gut Load Dubia Roaches?
Feeder nutrition is essential to keeping healthy reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. Proper nutrition can prevent decline, and it can bring sick or stressed animals back to health. The key to feeder nutrition is (a) choosing a nutritious feeder, and (b) gut loading it.
Being the most nutritious feeder insect doesn’t mean having all the nourishment your animals will ever need. Nice if it were this simple, but it’s not. Nutrition is complicated, as is the interplay between nutrition, diet, and health. As it stands, there is no single insect that meets all the dietary needs of every animal. Dubia roaches come closest to that ideal, but there is still room for improvement via nutritional enhancement.
Calcium is a good example. Like all insects, the Dubia roach doesn’t have a skeleton, and their exoskeletons don’t contain calcium. They do contain calcium, but it comes from their body rather than their exoskeleton. And importantly – assuming the animal that feeds on it has its own skeleton – the calcium in the Dubia roach is not enough to grow and maintain it.
So then how do animals get enough calcium from insects in the wild? One part of the answer is that nature gut loads. Calcium comes from the ground. It is abundant in soil, compost, and vegetation, and these are all things insects love to eat. Many or most of the insects eaten in the wild themselves ate in the previous 24 hours, and this is how insectivorous animals get their calcium. It’s also how they get other minerals and vitamins. In nature, insects usually come gut loaded.
In addition to eating a bug and its lunch (and maybe its dinner too), animals in the wild also tend to eat a diverse diet. The variety of prey they encounter in nature is far greater than what is practicle in captivity. This is another part of how animals meet their nutritional needs in the wild. Dietary diversity keeps animals healthy while lack of it in captivity is a reason to gut load.
Herp-keepers often put a lot of effort into replicating their animal’s native habitat, but the natural diet of exotic animals is usually very difficult to imitate. It’s just not feasible to provide an insect buffet of ten or twenty different exotic species. While replicating a captive insectivorous animal’s natural diet may not be doable for most people, feeding them gut loaded Dubia roaches is. Dietary diversity can be replicated by (1) choosing Dubia roaches as a primary feeder, (2) supplementing with occasional treats for variety, and (3) gut loading.
In case you need more convincing, Merck veterinary manuals considers nutritional supplementation a “must” for amphibians (external link), and “required” for reptiles (external link). They point to two forms of supplementation: gut loading and dusting. We agree that dusting is beneficial, but dusting is different from gut loading and we’ll cover dusting in another article.
Another reason to gut load Dubia roaches is their inherent gut-loadability. As it stands, Dubia roaches are unique in their capacity to keep food in their belly for up to three days. So (a) the volume of matter in their guts may be greater than that of other gut-loaded insects on a per-weight basis, and (b) what’s there is likely in various states of digestion. The first part is important because more gut load equals more nutrition, to a point of course. But the second part is also very interesting and may be significant. The nutritional profile of plant matter differs according to its stage of digestion. Different digestive stages provide different nutrients even for the same food over time. There isn’t much research on this, but it’s something scientists are looking into and something worth considering.
This leads to yet another reason to gut load Dubia roaches, which is that they can digest plant matter other feeder insects can’t. Roaches can digest plant fibers with the help of specialized bacteria in their guts. This means roaches have access to nutrients carnivorous animals on their own don’t (external link). The only way animals can get these nutrients is to eat the roach, or perhaps eat something else. It’s reasonable to suggest that at least some nutrients unlocked by roaches are required for good health. How much of an insectivorous animal’s health depends on these nutrients is unknown, but the idea goes back to evolution and dietary diversity. The inter-dependency among predator and prey makes sense, and it’s a common relationship found throughout nature.
The bottom line is that captive reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids living outside their natural habitat and eating insects other than their natural prey need nutritional supplementation to achieve full health. Dubia roaches are super-nutritious, but we still advise supplementation. Gut loading Dubia roaches with nutrient dense plant foods should be done at least occasionally, but preferably often.
How to Gut Load Dubia Roaches
Gut loading Dubia roaches is easy. At its most basic level, you could simply throw in some oranges and call it done. This is one way to go, and your animals may be better off for having done it. However, haphazard gut loading leaves something on the table. You could do more, and your animals might be healthier if you did. You can avoid this opportunity cost by learning from our experience below.
The following steps are basic and fairly self-explanatory. They contain general guidelines, specific reasons, and some things that are good to know. It is based on our experience and the experiences of others.
First, decide what you want to accomplish and why. The practice of gut loading can be divided into two categories: “specific” and “general”. The two overlap some but they are separated by how an insect is gut loaded, with what (to some degree), and for what purpose.
General gut loading involves feeding the roaches foods considered “generally healthy” for the target animal. These might include any number of fruits or vegetables that contain a wide range of essential macro and micro-nutrients. Examples include (but are not limited to) vitamin A, carbohydrates, calcium, and vitamin C. These are all nutrients animals need in some quantity or another depending on the species, their diet, their environment, etc.
The goal of general gut loading is the reliable, long-term provision of basic nutritional support via healthy feeder insects (the roach) supplemented with whole plant foods (the gut load). Examples include any number of grains, vegetables, and fruits. Dubia roaches particularly enjoy apples, oranges, and bananas. They also really like sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots. These make excellent general gut loads because they contain basic nutrients animals need, and because and they are available in most supermarkets throughout the year.
The key is to find something that works for you and your animals, and then provide it consistently. This could include a single food or two, or you might mix it up often. How you decide to proceed is entirely up to you. The key words again are “healthy” and “reliable”.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that organic foods – particularly fruits and vegetables – are the safest choice for gut loading. Pesticide exposure from conventional produce may not kill an animal, but it probably causes at least some degree of metabolic stress. How much stress and what impact that has on the animal may depend on the species, its relative health, and other factors specific to your unique situation. This goes to the purpose of gut loading, which is nutritional support. You don’t want to defeat that purpose.
Whether or not you end up going organic, you should at least know that it’s an option.
The alternative to “general gut loading” is specific (or targeted) gut loading. The two are very similar. For example, general and specific gut loading often include the same foods. However, they differ in important ways. Intent and approach are probably the most obvious. Specific gut loading involves feeding the roaches foods that contain certain micro-nutrients for a specific reason. One example could be vitamin A to address an existing eye issue in an animal, or the potential of that species to develop eye issues.
Any micro-nutrient can be targeted in specific gut loading. It could be carotenes for vitamin A, vitamin C, or any other vitamin. It could be foods with high iron or calcium, or foods with low iron or calcium. Specific gut loading is for animals with a nutritional deficiency, animals that may be prone to a particular deficiency due to species or situation, and animals that may simply benefit from an additional boost (or reduction) of one nutrient or another.
After deciding what you’re doing and why, the next step is figuring out what foods to use. Dubia aren’t particularly finicky eaters but they do have preferences. To maximize your efforts, look for foods that achieve your objectives for your animals, and that the roaches also like. Food they only mildly enjoy won’t be a “failure”, but like haphazard gut loading, they may leave something on the table. The effort won’t be as successful as one where the roaches love a food so much they fill their bellies to capacity. This is obviously what you want them to do.
Foods that are good for specific gut loading that Dubia roaches have a taste for include: apples, bananas, beets, broccoli, carrots, oranges, squash, sweet potato, various cooked grains like oats, wheat, and rice, and zucchini. Of course, you can also create your own concoction of food and added vitamins or minerals that you may want to provide to your animals in higher amounts than any foods naturally contain.
With this approach you may run into a situation where the roaches don’t like what you’ve fed them. Don’t worry if this happens. There’s a trick to getting Dubia roaches to eat a gut load they don’t like.
The trick is to mix it with some fruit, sugar or bread. Dubia roaches love sugar. They also love yeast. While neither sugar nor yeast will contribute much to the quality of the gut load, they serve a purpose. Just use them sparingly. It doesn’t take much sugar to get Dubia roaches interested. And you could try both sugar AND yeast. Let the mix sit in a warm, dark place for an hour or so and the yeast will consume some or all of the sugar. While table sugar works, whole fruit is probably a better option because it contains vitamins and minerals. In our experience, fruits (except citrus) can be added to a gut load in any amount without negative consequences.
Whether or not citrus is part of your gut load depends on the animals that will ultimately eat it. We’ve seen and heard that some reptiles, for example, are not at all impacted by citrus fruit while others are. That might be something to consider researching, given the particulars of your situation.
What Not to Use as Gut Load
While almost anything is fair game, there are a few foods that you should gut load with caution, sparingly, or not at all. These recommendations are based on our own observations. While we’re fairly confident in what we’ve seen, your mileage may vary.
Don’t gut load with beans – except ones that are fresh and have not been dried. However, even then – use caution. We’ve noticed some potentially negative affects of beans on both roaches and the animals that eat them. Beans are protein-rich, full of nutrition, and healthy for humans, but they may not be quite as healthy for insects or herps. We don’t have more information on this – it’s just something we’ve noticed.
Don’t gut load with too much citrus fruit. How much is “too much”? That depends on the situation. Dubia roaches are not sensitive to citrus, but some animals are. Be aware of this if you gut load with oranges, grapefruit, or other citrus fruit. Tomato products too. One solution may be to wait at least a day before feeding off roaches loaded with citrus. If your animals lose their appetite after feeding on citrus-stuffed roaches, or if they start losing interest in Dubia roaches altogether after the roaches feasted on anything citrus, it could be a problem.
Don’t gut load with meat. Dubia roaches will eat meat, but it’s really not their thing. They prefer plant matter. As gut load, meat may not negatively affect your animals in a direct or significant way, but it sort of defeats the purpose of gut loading. A gut load should provide nutrients your animals otherwise wouldn’t get from the Dubia roaches themselves. They are getting all the good stuff carnivorous animals need from the roaches themselves. What might be missing, and what they need from you, are nutrients they don’t get from the roach. This will most likely be things like vitamin c, plant phenols, etc.
Avoid dog or cat food. While it’s probably not the worst thing in the world, pet food holds the same caution as meat. Yes, pet foods have “high protein”, but so do Dubia roaches. You’ve already got protein covered with your feeder. Pet foods also tend to contain grains like rice, wheat, and corn. These aren’t usual gut load foods. A pet food gut load is high in protein and fat, and low in the nutrients you should be targeting. These are nutrients found in whole, natural, plant foods – not the highly processed rice or corn in pet food. The more whole (unprocessed), natural (unprocessed), plant food (not meat), the better. Pet foods can be used, but again…they leave something on the table.
Don’t gut load with anything rotten. This probably goes without saying. Dubia roaches can eat almost anything, but that doesn’t mean they should. And your animal probably can’t eat anything, so be mindful of the quality of the gut load….unless you’re feeding a monitor lizard, in which case it doesn’t matter and you can do whatever you want.
Don’t gut load with calcium or vitamin powders. These are meant to be dusted on the insect before it’s fed to the animal. You lose the ability to control the dose when you feed roaches straight vitamins and minerals. There’s just no guarantee Dubia roaches will eat pure calcium, for example. In fact, it’s reasonable to think they may avoid it altogether. Cockroaches have a known ability to eat preferentially, so it’s not just conceivable that they would “eat around” something like pure calcium, it seems likely.
Gut loading should be fun. It involves some measure of creativity, you get to see the result of your efforts, and it’s an easy way to improve the health of captive herps. In a sense it’s a way to positively interact with your animal(s). It has the very real potential to improve their lives, which is worthwhile in and of itself. And of course anything that improves their lives increases your enjoyment of them.
While we suggest following these basic guidelines, gut loading is ripe for experimentation. We encourage you to try new things, but with a word of caution. It’s best to stay within certain boundaries. Of course, each animal and situation is different. What works in one case may not be right in another. Start with the basics, find what works for you, then branch out and test ideas from there. If you find something that works particularly well for your animals or your roaches, let us know in the comments below!