• Insects as Part of the Diet

    One of the most common treats for hedgehogs is various insects. Since hedgehogs are insectivores, there is a lot of debate on whether insects should actually be considered a treat, or if they should be a good portion of the hedgehogs' diet. My personal opinion is that they should be used as a treat. In the wild, hedgehogs do eat insects as a very large percentage of their diet. However, in captivity, their activity levels and other habits are very different than those of a wild hedgehog, and therefore, an insect diet is not exactly suited to their nutritional needs.

    One of the main things to remember about insects is that wild caught bugs are not a good idea for feeding hedgehogs. It is impossible to know what the insects that you catch outside have been exposed to. They could be carrying parasites, toxins, bacteria, or fecal material that they have tracked through or landed on. Even if you don't use pesticides or herbicides on your property, it is possible that your neighbors do, and therefore any use of wildcaught bugs could make your hedgehog susceptible to toxins from these materials, that can make your hedgehogs very ill. Therefore, you should ONLY feed farm raised insects (or home raised) to your hedgehogs.

    One of the most commonly fed insects are crickets. Adult crickets contain approximately 65% protein and 14% fat(1). This makes them a great protein source for a treat, with a relatively low percentage of fat. Typically, I feed 3-6 crickets per serving. How you feed these crickets also has a wide variety of choices. Crickets can be purchased live from many pet stores and online distributors. These can either be fed as is (which also provides stimulation to the hedgehog) or pre-killed. The easiest way to kill crickets is to put them into the freezer for a while. They are also available "freeze dried" from some online distributors and pet supply companies. These are pre-gut loaded to provide them with extra vitamins and minerals, and then packaged in small jars or cups. Packages are usually sold by weight, and be aware that with the moisture removed, a couple ounces of freeze dried crickets are actually a substantial number. Freeze drying provides these crickets with a long shelf life, and the convenience of not storing and feeding live crickets.

    Closely tied with crickets for feeder popularity are mealworms. Mealworms are actually the larval state of the mealworm beetle, and all stages of life of these insects are suitable for feeding. Mealworm larvae (what you will recieve when you order mealworms) contain approximately 53% protein and 33% fat. The beetles contain 64% protien and 18% fat. I recommend 3-4 mealworms or 4-5 beetles per serving. Live mealworms are also usually available in pet stores and most online insect distributors. If you have a little extra space in a warm area of your house, you can start your own mealworm colony. I use sterilite sweater bins with very small holes poked in the top half of the box. Then, I dump a box or two of oatmeal and a box of unprocessed wheat bran (both available in most grocery stores) into the bin, along with a "starter batch" of mealworms. 500 mealworms will provide a very active and self sustaining colony for most small usage feeding situations. Periodically, perhaps 2-3 times per week, you can add things such as baby carrots, apple slices, or potato slices to the top of the bedding, removing any leftovers from previous materials. Placed in a warm area, these mealworms will eventually morph into pupae, which are white legless creatures that resemble alien movies, that wiggle their tail section frantically when picked up. These pupae can also be fed, with 55% protein and 31% fat. After a period of time as pupae, they will shed into an adult beetle. These are approximately 1/2 in. black beetles, and according to my hedgehogs, are crunchy and delicious. I will take their word for it. These beetles are the sexually mature form of mealworms, and will breed and lay many eggs before dying. If you leave your colony alone for a couple of cycles through this process, you will have MANY mealworms that are ready to be fed. This colony is odorless, completely silent, and takes up very little space for the amount of product that it can produce for your hedgehogs. These mealworms are also available in some sources as a freeze dried version, with hundreds and hundreds of worms packed into a small jar. Long storage life, and very convenient for the more squeamish hedgehog owners.

    Less commonly used, but still suitable insect treats include wax worms. These are the larval stage of wax moths. These are more pricy than the previously stated insects, and are not as easily found, but if you find them, they contain approximately 42% protein and 46% fat. Definitely not a low fat treat, these should be fed in extreme moderation, perhaps 1-2 per serving. They also come in the roasted variety, packaged in a small jar. These smell alarmingly like peanut butter in my opinion, but when you open the jar, it is almost definite that it WILL catch your hedgehogs' attention.

    Another of the less known feeder insects are silk worms. These are definitely harder to find than the crickets and mealworms, and the price shows this as well. From what I have read, these are best fed in a young stage, as the full grown silk worms are... um.. substantial. I was not able to find the nutritional content of these worms at this time.

    Earthworms can be fed, but in my opinion, are one fo the less desirable choices. A whole earthworm is almost guaranteed to give your hedgehog very foul smelling liquidy poos, and cutting them into manageable portions is almost as icky as teh poo that the hedgehog produces.

    Nutritional information for various insects cited in this article was found at Nutrition Advisory Group Handbook