Catching Flies to Feed Your Reptiles and Amphibians

If your pet collection includes reptiles or amphibians (herps), then your house probably contains a variety of live feeder insects.  Most common are mealworms and crickets, as they can readily be purchased at most pet stores. For smaller herps, however, I like to supplement their diets with houseflies. It helps ensure a more nutritious diet, and frogs and small lizards eat them up – literally. Here are some tips to make catching flies to feed your reptiles and amphibians easy and fun.

catching flies

Many species of frogs are ambush hunters. They wait patiently for a fly or other insect to come within reach. Image credit: Tetyana Yana-t Petruk

The Butterfly Net Method for Catching Flies Outside

When catching flies outside I use a butterfly net. You just need to be sure the surface the fly has landed on is bigger than the circumference of your net. Otherwise the fly will escape through the opening, even if it’s just a tiny gap. It may take a little practice, but before long you’ll be a pro.

  1. Once you have a fly trapped in the net, use one hand to apply pressure to the rim so that it stays firmly against the surface.
  2. With the other hand, corral the fly to the very tip of the net’s end.
  3. Now, about two inches further down from the fly, pinch the net shut and twist. You should now have a small two inch section of the net that is twisted apart from the rest, with your fly in the contained portion. At this point you no longer need to anchor the rim, so you have two hands to work with.
  4. Next, hold the net together just above the twisted spot with one hand, while untwisting it. (You are now holding the fly in by simply pinching the net together.) Place your other hand (and arm) inside the net and gently let go of a tiny bit of the pinched portion, allowing just enough free space to insert your fingers (from the second hand) and grab the fly. (Do this one at a time if you happened to catch more than one fly.)
  5. Firmly hold the fly’s abdomen between your thumb and forefinger, making sure the wings are free on top. With your second hand and a small pair of sharp scissors, cut both wings about half way off. Doing this will ensure that the flies remain accessible to your herps since they will not be able to fly.
catching flies

Although mantids aren’t herps, people do keep them as pets. They also enjoy dining on flies. Image credit: Avenue

The “Snapping Towel” Method for Catching Flies Inside

When inside the house I use the locker room “towel snap” method for catching flies. This takes a lot more practice and finesse that the butterfly net method. (I have found it comes in handy even if you don’t have herps to feed.)

  1. Get a dish towel and, holding one end still, twist the other end until it will not twist anymore.
  2. Let go of the still end, and very quickly, before the towel untwists itself, snap the fly. This will take a lot of practice, but once you discover just the right technique, it works quite well. This stuns the fly, but does not crush or kill it. It is also gentle enough that you shouldn’t break anything in the house.
  3. Pick up the fly, and repeat Step 5 above.
catching flies

This common monkey lizard munches on a wild grasshopper. Being able to hunt for his food helps keep him healthy and fit. Image credit: Bernard Dupont

One of the benefits of catching flies to feed your reptiles and amphibians is that they contain a different set of vitamins and minerals than farm raised crickets and mealworms. The same holds true for other wild caught insects such as grasshoppers, moths and grubs. However, we also run the risk that they may have been exposed to insecticides or herbicides prior to being caught. If this is the case, we could sicken or kill our herps. Due to this risk, it’s important to consider your surroundings and only feed wild caught insects when the pesticide risk in that area is very low.

38 Comments

  1. I don’t and never will have a reptile or anphibian in my house, so I had no idea. I always just thought that food for them was available at PetSmart. You learn something new everyday.

    • In my old neighborhood I used to pay the kids five cents each for live bugs to feed my frogs. They loved catching them and watching the frogs eat.

    • I can stare at frogs hunting and eating live insects for hours. It’s just so interesting. Then once you become familiar with what they look like when they feed, it’s easier to tell if they’re sick, because their feeding behavior often changes.

  2. Not going to lie, I am not the type of person to catch flies to feed to our pets (my dog is pretty good at catching them herself). We used to have a bearded dragon and I was always so grossed out when I had to go and get him bugs to eat from the pet store. He loved them but it totally grossed me out.

  3. I have a friend that has a few lizards and she typically goes to the store to buy crickets. I think you have a good point here, that are more well-rounded diet would include flies. I’m gonna show her this post so that she knows how to catch them.

  4. I NEVER knew there were so many ways to catch flies. In fact I never thought of catching flies for reptilian and amphibian pets instead of buying them from the pet store which I imagine can be quite expensive.

  5. Omg, I love reptiles…from a distance! LOL. I have a friend who’s son has a tortoise and a gecko. I’m definitely going to share this with them 🙂

    • When I was a kid I used to rescue terrestrial turtles. I and my friends who’d visit spent hours catching grasshoppers to feed them. Those were fun and memorable times.

    • The butterfly net method is pretty straightforward. If you have what is called a “sweep” net, you can catch all kinds of feeder insects.

  6. Never been a big reptile fan. Have a nephew who has all these different reptiles and he really enjoys them. Will have show him your site.

    • I’ve lived in the country a good portion of my life. I love finding frogs, but I’m a little more tentative around wild snakes.

  7. Too funny – we have done this for our cats! They love chasing flies but sometimes they need a little help. I can see us doing this if we had reptiles. My daughter has been begging for a bearded dragon so we could catch some flies for it (if we get one!).

  8. Oh my goodness. You had every strand of hair on my body stand on its ends. I am terrified by reptiles! No one in the family was ever interested in having them for pets. I will send your link over to my friend who has a pet iguana.

    • Iguanas are really cool pets. I’m in Belize right now for an extended trip, and they are all over the island here.

    • Jenn – reptiles and amphibians have long, sticky tongues so when they catch a fly, they swallow it whole. Mantids, on the other hand, chew their food head first. I agree – it is pretty barbaric.

  9. I didn’t realize that this was something you could and should do! That’s so interesting that they have different nutritional content.

    • I’ve never kept a snake that was large enough to eat mice. That’s getting into an entirely different realm of catching food!

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