Feeding mealworms for your bearded dragon might seem straightforward, but there are a number of things you should consider first.
This guide will go over if bearded dragons can eat mealworms safely, how often they should be included in the diet, and the best ways to prepare them.
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Can Bearded Dragons Eat Mealworms?
Mealworms are one of the most accessible feeder insects available. Many pet stores carry them alongside crickets; you can even find these critters freeze-dried for longer shelf life. With the widespread availability of mealworms, bearded dragon owners naturally consider adding them to their pet’s diet.
But can bearded dragons eat mealworms?
Bearded dragons can eat mealworms, but they should never be a staple of the lizard’s diet. Like superworms and other high-fat food, it’s best to view mealworms as a snack more than anything else. A few mealworms a week won’t do any harm, but feeding your beardie too many could lead to significant health problems.
How Many Mealworms Should You Feed Bearded Dragons?
Bearded dragons need a balanced diet that’s roughly 80 percent insects and 20 percent leafy greens and vegetables. That 80 percent should consist of many different types of insects. Mealworms can contribute to these pet lizard’s diet, but they should only make up a tiny part of their overall dietary intake.
Generally, veterinarians and experienced reptile enthusiasts recommend feeding adult bearded dragons no more than five or six mealworms a week! Furthermore, it’s best to break up that allowance over several days instead of supplying it all at once.
A simple rule is to simply allow your beardie to enjoy one or two mealworms every few days. Any more than that, and you can encounter a few issues.
Are Mealworms Good For Bearded Dragons?
While it’s wise to think of mealworms as a treat for your bearded dragon rather than a diet staple, these feeder insects still have a lot to offer. Like many common foods, mealworms have advantages and disadvantages.
Benefits Of Mealworms
Let’s start with the benefits.
Mealworms are the larvae of the yellow mealworm beetle. In the larval stage, mealworms are a tasty snack that most reptiles living in captivity can’t resist. Bearded dragons love to eat mealworms because they have a relatively high fat content.
The fatty nature of mealworms has its pros and cons. We’ll get into the downsides of fat later, but there’s no denying that it makes a delicious treat for bearded dragons.
Many reptile enthusiasts use mealworms as a way to coax lizards to eat. It can restore the creature’s appetite and encourage them to eat more food. The fat content is also an excellent energy source that can perk up a lethargic beardie.
Another major benefit of mealworms is that they’re about 60 percent water. Bearded dragons rarely lap up water from the bowl. Even if you provide a dish of clean water in the enclosure, most beardies prefer to stay hydrated through food.
The high moisture content in mealworms can prevent dehydration and keep your lizard healthy.
Other notable perks of providing mealworms include protein content, availability, and convenience.
Expert Tip: When it comes to protein, mealworms are far from the greatest. There are other better sources of protein out there. But at least it’s not an empty snack. As part of a carefully planned diet, mealworms can serve as a mouth-watering protein source that most bearded dragons will not ignore.
Finally, let’s talk about convenience. One of the reasons why owners love feeding mealworms to their bearded dragon is that they’re readily available, quiet, and easy to feed. Unlike other feeder insects like crickets or Dubia roaches, mealworms don’t have many care requirements.
As long as you feed them in a timely manner, they don’t go through the metamorphosis and turn into beetles. They don’t make annoying noises that will drive you and your lizard mad, either! Instead, they’re a simple, no-fuss treat that beardies love.
Downsides Of Mealworms
With all the good that mealworms offer, why can’t you feed them to your bearded dragon more often?
Unfortunately, feeding your beardie too many mealworms can lead to many health issues. Think of mealworms as fat and sugar-filled cake for humans. While fine in moderation, too much of a good thing can be detrimental to one’s health.
The first major issue with mealworms is the fat content. The fattiness of mealworms makes them irresistible to bearded dragons, but it’s not great for long-term health. These reptiles are already prone to weight problems when living in captivity. The lack of exercise and room to roam makes managing a beardie’s weight more challenging than most realize.
When you pile fatty mealworms on top of that, it’s a recipe for disaster. Bearded dragons fed mealworms as a regular diet staple often gain excess weight and adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. It can even cause blood sugar issues and turn into conditions like fatty liver disease.
That’s not all. Mealworms can also pose digestive troubles. These reptiles have tough digestive tracts that can take care of tough exoskeletons. But the chitinous exoskeletons of mealworms can pose problems if bearded dragons overeat.
It can irritate the system, increase compaction risks, and more.
Another substantial problem with mealworms is the calcium and phosphorus content. Reptiles like bearded dragons need a calcium to phosphorus ratio of about 2:1. They need more calcium than phosphorus because phosphorus inhibits calcium absorption.
When there’s too much phosphorus in a bearded dragon’s diet, it can’t synthesize and utilize calcium. The result? Debilitating conditions like metabolic bone disease.
Metabolic bone disease is a painful disorder that causes skeletal deformities, bone fragility, and more. It can be fatal and significantly increase the chances of fractures.
Mealworms have significantly more phosphorus than calcium. The ratio can be as high as 1:5, making it a potentially dangerous food for bearded dragons to eat frequently.
Expert Tip: Another unexpected downside is that bearded dragons often get “addicted” to them. When these reptiles overeat mealworms, they grow increasingly reliant on them. Many reptile enthusiasts report problems getting their beardies to eat anything else.
The lizards can get notoriously picky, and starting their love of mealworms early can create many problems moving forward. That’s why treating mealworms as a snack is paramount.
The Right Way To Feed Mealworms To Bearded Dragons
Feeding mealworms to a bearded dragon is easy. These lizards love the larvae, and most aren’t hesitant to gobble them up!
Ideally, it would be best for bearded dragons to eat mealworms as part of a larger meal. The goal should be to integrate the larvae into the lizard’s diet without making it the star of the show. As mentioned earlier, five to six mealworms a week is the most you should feed an adult bearded dragon.
When you treat your beardie, add the mealworms to a large mix of insects, leafy greens, and fruit. Remember to gut-load and dust the mealworms in supplement powder.
Many pet stores sell gut-loaded insects, but you can also do it at home. Feed the mealworms leftover fruits and vegetables a few days before feeding them to your bearded dragon. As the mealworms eat the plant-based matter, they flush out potential toxins from the system and take on more nutrients that your lizard can take advantage of when they eat.
Always dust feeder insects in calcium supplements. The supplement powder will help to improve the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of the larvae. While dusting alone won’t be enough to compensate for the high phosphorus content, it shrinks the gap a bit and makes the mealworms a little healthier for your beardie.
When feeding mealworms to your bearded dragon, you can place them on a tray or use tweezers to give them to your lizard directly. Mealworms can bite and try to wriggle away. Direct feeding with tweezers can minimize issues and ensure that your pet performs a quick kill.
Can Baby Bearded Dragons Eat Mealworms?
Bearded dragon babies and juveniles should not eat mealworms.
Younger beardies have still-developing bodies. Feeding them a fatty diet of mealworms will only increase their risks of obesity and developmental problems. The calcium and phosphorus ratio is not conducive to the bearded dragon’s growth, and it could throw off the delicate balance growing babies need to reach maturity.
Babies also encounter issues with the tough exoskeleton of mealworms. Adults can handle the rigid shell and usually have no problem with digestion. But a baby’s digestive system is still developing.
Mealworms significantly increase the risks of compaction, putting your lizard’s health at risk before they see maturity.
Where Can You Buy Mealworms For Your Beardie?
Finding mealworms for your bearded dragon to eat is easy. They’re readily available at most pet stores, and you can also buy them online in many forms.
Freeze-dried mealworms are easier to store. They usually come in an airtight container and have natural preservatives for more extended shelf life.
Most bearded dragons prefer to eat live mealworms. If you buy live larvae, you must take extra precautions to keep them safe and healthy until feeding.
That includes keeping the mealworms in the refrigerator to prevent metamorphosis into the adult beetle, gut-loaded to boost nutritional value, and more.
Bearded dragons can eat mealworms, but they shouldn’t be a major part of their diet. Fortunately, you shouldn’t have any issues feeding these insects to your pet if you follow our guidelines.
If you have any questions about how to incorporate mealworms into the diet of your beardie, get in touch with us!