Intro to Fruit Flies
For the average beginner, maintaining a reliable and consistent food source is probably the most challenging and difficult aspect to keeping dart frogs. While it is certainly not difficult to culture your own feeders, it does require some discipline and planning. I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a schedule that works for you and then sticking to it. Many a frogger has found themselves in a bind after forgetting to make fresh cultures for an extended period of time. By far, the easiest and most economical feeder insect is the fruit fly. They are easily cultured, inexpensive, and just the right size for most dendrobatids. Pinhead crickets are another possible food source, but unless you have the space and time to culture you own they are rather impractical to rely upon as a sole source. Only the smallest freshly hatched crickets will be small enough for young or small frogs and unless you culture your own, finding a reliable supply can be a challenge. often times, mail orders placed for true pin-head crickets suffer heavy losses during shipping and older, more "shipping sturdy", crickets are often times too large for most dart frogs to eat. Pet stores that regularly offer pin-head crickets might seem like a reliable source, but they are subject to the same problems with shipping and are frequently unable to supply the consistent source of food required.
Types of Fruit Fly
Take note, there are several different types of fruit fly and they are not all created equally! There are a number of genetically engineered strains of Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila hydei that are suitable for dart frogs. Both flightless and wingless strains of each may be used. I prefer the wingless strain for freshly morphed froglets as they are slightly smaller (without wings) and tend walk rather than hop or take short flights. They also tend to stay on the floor rather than climb to the upper reaches as the flightless strains tend to do. Frogs simply love the small size and slow ant like walking movements of the wingless fruit flies.
The flightless strain of fruit flies are excellent for slightly older frogs that have begun to develop their hunting skills. The flightless strain also tends to be more prolific (you'll get more flies from each culture) than the wingless, so if you have a number of frogs to feed they are certainly worth adding to your feeder collection.
NOTE: DO NOT MIX YOUR FLIES!!! IF YOU MIX ANY OF THE MELANOGASTER
STRAINS IN THE SAME CULTURE, OR LET A WILD FRUIT FLY INTO A CULTURE, THEY WILL CREATE WILD TYPE (I.E. FLYING) FRUIT FLIES! THE SAME IS TRUE IF YOU MIX ANY OF THE HYDEI STRAINS TOGETHER!
If you have a spouse or family member that is not crazy about having "bugs" in the house in the first place a culture full of flying fruit flies will make you VERY unpopular. Few people can be expected to tolerate a swarm of fruit flies landing in their water or marching across their plate at the dinner table. PLEASE - be careful not to accidently mix your flies.
Interestingly, melanogaster and hydei cannot interbreed and mixing them IS acceptable. Some froggers that have trouble with mold in their hydei cultures due to the length of time it takes for the slower developing hydei to populate the media have discovered that mixing in the faster developing melanogaster flies will help mix the media and prevent the mold from growing. The initial bloom with be predominantly melanogaster, and then later in the life of the culture the blooms will be heavily hydei. Assuming no fliers have entered the cultures, all offspring should still be flightless.
There are several strains of both melanogaster and hydei commonly available and each strain has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the more commonly available strains of each are listed below:
o 'Wingless' – small ant-like body, tends to stay on floor of viv rather than climb up, perfect for smaller frogs or freshly morphed froglets. Not as prolific as the other strains of melanogaster
o 'Flightless' – slightly bigger in appearance then the wingless simply because of the presence of wings. The flightless strains are more agile and evasive then the wingless. They also tend to climb immediately when fed out.
Somewhat more prolific then the wingless, but they may be able to hop and take short flights making them a bit trickier to work with initially.
o 'Curly wing' – similar in size to the regular flightless, the curly wing is probably the most prolific breeder. As the name implies, the wing of this strain are present, but bent. This enables them to make short flights and hence even more tricky to manage without getting them everywhere at feeding time. As with many aspects of feeding out fruit flies, once you get the hang of it they are all easily managed without allowing too many strays to escape.
o 'Flightless' – larger than the melanogaster, the hydei has the advantage of providing more “meat” for frogs that will accept larger food items than the melanogaster flies. Hydei will help fill up some of the larger frogs such as tincs, azureus, auratus, and leucomelas.
o 'Flightless (Golden)' – a variety of hydei that is a golden blonde color. The light coloring of the flies can help catch the attention of the frogs and even the pickiest eaters will be unable to resist them. In my opinion, I get a similar level of production from both the standard (black) and the golden strains, though the golden variety seems to move through its lifecycle just a few days quicker.
Fruit Fly Lifecycle
The lifecycle of the fruit fly is relatively short and is one of the main reasons they make such excellent feeders. The melanogaster strains will generally complete their lifecycle in about 2 weeks at 75-80 degrees. The hydei strains will usually take about 3 weeks. It should be noted that the warmer the temperature the flies are kept, the faster the lifecycle will be completed; However, if the temps are greater than ~ mid-80’s the flies may become sterile and the cultures may crash. Because of the 2 – 3 week lifecycle of the fruit fly it is generally recommended that cultures be started routinely on a weekly basis. This will lend itself to ensuring productive cultures are always available to feed from and should help ensure at least a minimal food supply is available even if a number of cultures crash, mold over, or are otherwise lost.
Culturing Fruit Flies
As previously mentioned, culturing fruit flies is both easy and economical. Commercially prepared media is readily available from a number of reputable sources (including JL-Exotics – Click here to visit our online store) and all will produce excellent results in most cases. There is also an endless variety of homemade recipes that can be followed using commonly available grocery store items. Just like buying your lunch every day versus packing yourself a lunch from home…. Homemade media can have the advantage of being less expensive (especially if ingredients can be purchased in bulk) and depending on the recipe followed may be more productive then prepared medias. The trade-off is finding the time to purchase and blend the ingredients at home. I tend to use both, as time and circumstances permit. I will admit that the use of commercially available media has a distinct advantage in terms of time and convenience once one is making a significant number of cultures per week.
Setting a Schedule: How many cultures should I make? How often should I make them?
Knowing how many cultures to make and how often to make new cultures are two very common questions. Getting a straight answer to either of these questions can be difficult so say the least! The number of cultures you will need to make depends on the number of frogs you will be feeding. As a rule of thumb, I have found that making 1 culture for every tank of frogs per weeks works out just about right. I have also found that making fresh cultures on a weekly basis works best for keeping a steady supply of booming cultures available. Some folks with just a few frogs to feed find they can get by with making a culture once every 2 weeks (and in some cases even longer). It is often difficult for people unfamiliar with culturing feeder insects to visualize the entire process. To assist in this, I have created the graphics below. In the first graphic, 1 new culture is made per week. Following this schedule it will take ~6 weeks to reach full capacity with 3 blooming cultures, 1 or 2 cultures expiring, and 2 new cultures that have not begun to become productive.
1 new culture per week
If the schedule is reduced to making 1 new culture every 2 weeks we see that we only have 1 or 2 actively booming cultures at any time. With a small collection this may be plenty, but the risk of a culture crash or mite invasion could potentially wipe out your producing cultures for 2-3 weeks while you wait for your new cultures to become productive. If you have back-up food supplies this risk may be minimal, but should be taken into consideration just the same. It is better to have too much food, rather than too little…
1 new culture every 2 weeks
Now from time to time we will all miss a week of making fresh cultures. If you are well prepared and routinely make ample cultures for your collection the impact should be minimal. But, if you should get lazy for 2 or more weeks in a row the consequences can become much more significant. Just a 2 week lapse in fresh culture production can result in extended shortages lasting 2-4 weeks!
Accidentally skipping 2 weeks in the schedule
To ensure a steady food supply for your collection, find a schedule that works for you and stick to it. Consistency is the key!
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