What's new at Basel Zoo

Insects are a staple food source for many animals in Basel Zoo. Basel Zoo now breeds the animal insect connoisseurs’ favourite dishes behind the scenes at the zoo itself.

Insects are a real delicacy for many zoo animals, including reptiles, birds and monkeys. For some animals, insects are even their main food source. However, every animal group has different requirements from its insect nutrition, which is why around ten species of insects are bred behind the scenes at Basel Zoo.

Insects are on everyone’s lips

The Lord of the Flies at Basel Zoo is zoo keeper Thomas Aerni. He makes sure that the breeding of grasshoppers, crickets, rose chafers, wax moths, houseflies, firebrats, springtails, fruit flies, earthworms and cockroaches goes without a hitch. The nutritional value of an insect is only as good as the food the insect receives when it is growing and hygiene is also very important as insects are very sensitive to changes in temperature, germs and dirt. Any interruptions in the breeding process must be avoided as many animals rely on their daily insect delivery.

For example, wax moth larvae are used by birds to rear their chicks.  Firebrats and springtails are the ideal food for small frogs and also act as a cleaning team in the terrarium: they eat the smallest particles, which helps keep the terrarium clean. The archerfish in the vivarium shoot crickets off leaves using a jet of water and rose chafers and larvae are delicacies for the lizards, small monkeys and meerkats. Even the hissing cockroaches, which look very unappetising, are devoured by the crab-eating macaques with great enthusiasm.

Thriving aviculture thanks to insects

Basel Zoo first began breeding grasshoppers in 2001 when it opened the Etosha house. Before this, insects were bought in from outside the zoo, as is the usual practice in zoos. In recent years, Basel Zoo has formed its own insect service, whose task it is to breed insects to use as animal food. Insects are not only a source of food but also a source of activity for the animals, and in some cases even part of the exhibition itself: in the Etosha house, a swarm of one hundred grasshoppers brings the depiction of the food chain in the house to life.

Once a day in the Etosha house, visitors can watch the impressive feeding routine of the meerkats, southern carmine bee eaters, red-billed hornbills, sociable weavers and elephant shrews; they chase the insects given to them by their zoo keepers, dissect them and then gleefully devour them.

Today, the breeding programmes for many bird species in the bird house are thriving because of this insect breeding, and the reptiles and amphibians at the zoo are benefiting from it too. Birds need animal protein to rear their young during the early stages, and this even applies to birds which are frugivores. Basel Zoo now produces insects of the highest quality and in sufficient quantities to satisfy its needs - and the results speak for themselves: for example, the red-legged honeycreepers have raised more chicks than ever before in the history of Basel Zoo thanks to having wax moths as food for their chicks.