09 05/09/2017

Meet Jasper Hughes

Nutrition Intern

Jasper is studying a degree in Zoology at the University of Manchester. He was determined to learn something new during his placement year and Chester Zoo provided him with the opportunity to work on a topic he didn’t know much about: animal nutrition.

At Chester Zoo, we give all our animals the best possible diet. In terms of the insects used to feed our amphibians and small reptiles, did you know that not all crickets have the same nutritional value?  Jasper, our Nutrition Intern, has been comparing crickets’ gut-loading diets to determine the best method to produce highly nutritious crickets.

Now that his placement year is reaching an end, we asked Jasper to reflect on his year at Chester Zoo. 

Jasper weighing out crickets to be divided between the different treatments

Jasper, would you tell us a bit more about your project?

“I have been looking at different gut-loading diets for the crickets Chester Zoo feeds to the small reptiles and amphibians. More precisely I compared two different diets: a commercially available gut-loading diet, which we regularly give to our reptiles and amphibians, and an alternative recipe for a gut-loading diet successfully used by other institutions.

“I wanted to find out which one was actually the right diet to use. I’ve also been looking at different species of crickets we could use to see if one species might take up more than the other. So I put crickets from different species on a different diet, left them with the diet for few hours and then I analysed what their nutritional composition was by looking at proteins, fat, beta-carotenoids, phosphorus and calcium. The latter is an important nutritional indicator to look at because reptiles and amphibians often have problems with calcium deficiency so we need to make sure the crickets we feed them are rich in this particular mineral. 

Weighing out Repashy SuperLoad powder to mix with water to make the diet paste

“I found out that the commercially available gut-loading diet, which is more convenient to use than the homemade diet, does meet the target we wanted to reach for calcium levels. Also, I found no difference based on the species of crickets I used.

“From there, I am now influencing the actual intake of the crickets. To do so, I look at whether keeping crickets in a covered container or providing them with a larger area of food increases the amount of food they eat.”

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your research?

“I realised that sometimes it takes a bit of time to get things done so it is essential to communicate with the team early enough to anticipate any potential problems. Other than that I think all the rest went fairly smoothly in terms of having to adapt to anything. It took a while to get going but as a result of that it meant that when I was doing things, everything was prepared for.

Recording the weights of food portions allocated to the different tubs of crickets

How is this year going to help you with your degree and future career?

“I’m a lot more pro-active about getting things done now! When I first got here I used to send an email to my supervisor to see if she could ask someone to do certain things for me. Now I email the person directly and if they don’t reply after a couple of days I send them another email to remind them.

Crickets in open-topped tubs provided with one and two dishes

What is your best memory from this year at Chester Zoo?

“One of the things that I liked the most was spending time on section with the Reptile Team. Being in the Science Team, you don’t see that side of the zoo very much so it was nice to get out and actually spend some time with the animals.”