ROYAL OAK, Mich. (AP) — A lion-tailed macaque fishes a cricket out of wood chips, pulls off the insect's wings and pops the rest in its mouth.
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 Detroit Zoo this spring began producing its own.
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 in suburban Royal Oak 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 Detroit 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 Detroit 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.
And 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."
Detroit Zoo: http://detroitzoo.org
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