In 2015 I was working on multiple projects to find ways to help insect farmers with their two main issues: Farming requires too much manual work and that there are too many risks in farming. One solution to fight these two issues was a prototype of Semi-Automatic Water Station for Crickets. I designed the following prototype with one great engineer, but due to lack of time we did not push the design further. The prototype has been tested in couple of farms the basic functionality has been confirmed, but for sure there are details to improve in all aspects.
The problem of high risks and need of manual labor.
Here is an example of a regular cricket farm. Picture taken from Entomo Farms’ Instagram: (https://www.instagram.com/p/BHhtRZVg4JU/?taken-by=entomofarms)
UPDATE 30.4.2017: New updated picture from Entomo Farms was uploaded USAID- Medium profile. Very interesting set-up! Photo courtesy of Stewart Stick, Entomo Farms. Link to the article: https://medium.com/usaid-2030/3-food-innovations-changing-how-the-world-eats-ddda0414fbb
What you can see from the picture is that there is wooden plate for the cricket feed and black plastic “river” where water flows for the crickets to drink. The water system has multiple problems. Well, before going in to the problems it must be said that this river-thing is a lot better than the other traditional drinking device: “the sponge-thing”, sold e.g here: https://www.armstrongcrickets.com/waterdevice
Both of the shown methods of bringing fresh water to crickets suffer from the same problems of crickets dying and dropping feces into the water. What the river-method has better that the sponge is that you don’t need to be filling up the water tank frequently.
The Solution: Semi-Automatic Water Station
Here below I present my concept of low manual labor that has minimized the risk of crickets touching the fresh water. In the first picture below I show the basic unit of the system. The shape and size of the pipe can be basically anything, in this case the pipe is made for a regular plastic container. There are small drinking holes in the long sides of the pipe and for each hole there is an individual ramp. The ramp has such surface that the crickets are able climb on it, but the pipe itself is so slippery that they cannot move on it. This way the crickets will only move to the drinking hole and no where else. Additionally, the holes are so far away from each other that the while the head of the cricket is at the drinking hole, the other end does not reach the neighboring hole.
The pipe is filled with plastic mesh that has tiny holes. The mesh is rolled and pushed into the pipe. This way the mesh is exposed at the drinking holes and capillary action offers fresh drop of water for the thirsty animal. When the small drop has been drank, the capillary action will bring a new one.
In the next picture the flow of water is explained. The water enters the system from the left by a drip hose that is either connected to water line (best option), or a separate tank. In this example the rearing boxes are piled on top of each other. Water enters the top most box from the left and exists from the right. To the next one the water enters from the right, exists from the left and so on. Under the last one there is a overflow tank that collects the water that was not drank during water’s way through the system. In large scale operation the water would go to the drain or possibly pumped back to circulation.
The system is calibrated in two steps. First of all it is essential that the system is level, if tilted the water can overflow on one side and leave the opposite side with no water at all. The correct flow of water can be confirmed by in the beginning checking how much water comes out to the overflow tank. If you can get e.g one drop every 10 min, you know that there is water throughout the system and that the water is not stagnant either.
Service and cleaning of the system is essential. The boxes can be taken out from the system by lifting out the flexible pipes connecting the boxes from the hard plastic that is inside the boxes.This way you can even taken out one of the boxes in the middle of the pile without touching the ones below and above. The hard plastic pipes are removable as well. As you can see from the first picture the pipe is connected by two holders. When you click the pipe out from the holders the pipe can be taken out completely, or just pushed out of the way when e.g the cartons are changed. The plastic ramps are connected to the pipes by clicking action as well.
I believe the system will remain clean for the duration of one life cycle of crickets, so the cleaning would happen in the same time when the crickets are harvested. The pipes, hard and soft, can be placed inside a dishwasher and the plastic mesh can be taken out easily before that. One could also try running strong alcohol through the system to clean out bacteria.
Please feel free the take this idea to your farm and let me know what if it works or not. And especially if it doesn’t, I would love to hear what are the reasons.