Detroit Zoo saves money by breeding its own crickets

Mike Householder
Associated Press

Royal Oak — A lion-tailed macaque fishes a cricket out of wood chips, pulls off the insect’s wings and pops the rest in its mouth.


A lion-tailed macaque pulls apart a cricket at the Detroit Zoo. Officials at the zoo are chirping about a new program they say will make it both easier and cheaper to feed their attractions.

Crickets are a dietary staple for close to 2,000 amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals at the Detroit Zoo — including this hungry monkey.

But they are expensive, costing more than all the other food sources at the zoo, including meat, fish and produce, at more than $98,000 per year.

So, officials are doing something about it.

“We’re now breeding crickets,” said Scott Carter, the Detroit Zoo’s chief life sciences officer.

Rather than relying solely on the past practice of flying in the noisy critters from afar, the zoo began producing its own this spring.

Detroit Zoo commissary worker Mike Cser works in the zoo's cricket breeding area in Royal Oak.

Workers transformed an unused corner in the upper floor of the zoo’s commissary into cricket HQ, and 4,000 adult breeder crickets were brought in to get the project off the ground.

Ever since, the zoo has been “producing several hundred-thousand little crickets every week,” an effort that will save about $225,000 in the first three years, Carter said.

The zoo’s previous supply had come from a cricket farm in Illinois. The crickets were driven to Kentucky and flown to Detroit.

Zoological groups reached said the Detroit Zoo is not the only one with a cricket-breeding program, but they could not provide numbers or specific examples.

While zoo officials chirp about cost savings, macaques, giant plated lizards, poison dart frogs and many other zoo inhabitants do as they always have — happily munch on the tasty snacks tossed their way by bucket-wielding zoo workers.

The leaping insects are nutritious, with exoskeletons rich in calcium.

They’re also fun to eat, Carter said.

“Some animals, like amphibians and reptiles, are motivated to eat by something that moves,” he said. “And because the crickets move, it also makes them an appealing food.”