Two inmates at Cedar Creek Correctional Center have had so much success raising Oregon spotted frogs that they recently expanded to breeding their own crickets so their project can be totally self-sustainable.
The move means significant savings on the $3,000 bill that was coming in every six months to pay for the frogs’ food – hundreds of thousands of crickets shipped from Louisiana.
Cricket breeding began six months ago but the inmates didn’t really get the knack of things until October.
“It was trial by fire and we’ve been burning up for a while,” said Harry Greer, who with James Goodall is raising the frogs and crickets.
They started in the greenhouse but one batch died, probably because of the weather.
Now, prison officials have insulated a shed and set six glass aquariums on a shelf. Heat lamps suspended above the tanks ensure a 90-degree climate for the miniscule crickets, which are segmented by their age because bigger frogs get bigger crickets.
Kept in containers of aerated soil, the youngest crickets couldn’t be seen until Greer softly blew into the tank and the crickets panicked and moved.
Orange slices placed in the tanks provide the crickets with moisture and vitamin C. They are fed a blended mash of oatmeal, bran, powdered milk, cat food and kibble.
Cotton balls cover the bottom of a plastic container filled with water so the crickets, which easily drown, have something to walk on while they drink.
As the crickets grow, they seek shelter in cut-up egg cartons separated by newspaper.
Goodall said the newspaper has improved their survival rate because it absorbs some of the moisture in the tanks.
For two men who had never bred or raised animals before, it took some time to figure out what worked.
They consulted research scientists and ordered pamphlets off the Internet. They hope to get permission from the prison’s superintendent to watch an episode of the TV show “Dirty Jobs” to pick up tips on tending to crickets.
Dozens of crickets have died during the trial-and-error phase but Greer estimates they now have between 4,000 and 6,000 crickets in their care.
“We save the department money and give back to the community by ecological restoration,” said Marko Anderson, a classification counselor who supervises the frog and cricket projects.