Mealworms as Feeder Insects

If you have an insectivorous pet reptile or amphibian of any variety, odds are you have at least heard of mealworms. But just in case you haven’t, you should know that in the reptile enthusiast world, mealworms are feeder insects that are commonly consumed by virtually every type of critter that needs protein in its diet.

In this article, we’ll touch upon the life cycle of the mealworm, tell you why you should feed your critter mealworms, and even discuss how you can raise feeder mealworms of your own.

What are feeder mealworms?

Mealworms are the larval form of a beetle called the mealworm beetle (Tenebrio molitor). They essentially look as their common name describes them – like worms. If you examine them closely, however, you will be able to see that they do have segmented bodies with short legs towards their heads.

When in the larval state, mealworms are light brown and can have darker brown accent bands. Standard size worms will range in size from a quarter of an inch up to three quarters of an inch. There are also giant mealworms available, which measure approximately an inch long on average.

In their natural habitat, mealworms can be found in dark, damp and warm places such as underneath decaying logs or compost. They are composters by nature  and will essentially eat anything that is decomposing, including garbage.

mealworms as feeder insects
These mealworms are being kept in a container that is too tall for them to climb out of.

Why should I use mealworms as feeder insects?

Mealworms are readily available at pet stores and are extremely common feeder insects for all types of exotic pets. This is mainly because they are extremely high in protein content which makes them very nutritious to reptiles and amphibians.

Reptiles and amphibians such as bearded dragons, frogs, chameleons, leopard geckos, and even some turtles enjoy eating mealworms. In fact, pretty much any carnivorous reptile, amphibian, and even tarantulas and scorpions on occasion will consume mealworms.

Because mealworms can vary so much in size, we do recommend that you carefully assess whether or not the mealworm in question is too large for your pet. Generally, if the invertebrate is not larger than the space between the eyes of the animal that will be consuming it, it is safe to feed to your pet.

Interestingly enough, mealworms can also be frozen or dried as a means to preserve them. However, we want to make it clear that not many reptiles or amphibians will recognize dead insects as a food source. The movement of the invertebrate is usually what triggers the food response in your pet, so a dead mealworm is not usually a viable option for most owners, even if it might be more convenient. We’ve really only seen dried/frozen mealworms work as feeders for aquatic eaters like some species of turtle.

How can I raise mealworms of my own to feed to my pet?

mealworm
On this close up photo of a single mealworm, you can see that this “worm” has small legs near its head.

Once they have stored up enough energy to transform into the next phase of their life cycle, a mealworm will become a pupa and then a beetle afterwards. If you want to continue the life cycle of your mealworms on your own, it won’t really require much effort on your part.

If you intend to prolong the shelf life of the larval worm stage, keep uneaten worms in the refrigerator and take them out every few days to feed them. The cold will slow their metabolisms and hopefully give you more time with the worm phase (i.e. the edible phase).

Once you are ready to start the worms breeding, all you need is a container, substrate, food, water, and approximately a hundred worms to start your colony.

A container tall enough that the worms can’t crawl out is all you need. Your mealworm’s substrate will be its food. Wheat bran, oatmeal, corn meal, and other dry grainy foods are all options.

Don’t put a water dish in the enclosure as the worms will just drown. Instead, some water-heavy veggies are the way to go. Try putting some potato slices, carrots, or apples in the mealworms’ home for the best results.

Allow the life cycle to continue on and remove any new beetles and pupa as they accumulate.

Conclusion

Mealworms are very tasty treats for reptiles and amphibians of all types. If you own a carnivorous pet, odds are it will avidly consume mealworms.

Backwater Reptiles sells feeder mealworms of various sizes and in various quantities.

Are Hornworms Good Feeder Insects?

Tobacco Hornworms (Manduca sexta), or Goliath worms, are caterpillars that transform into the Carolina sphinx moth. They are green with seven diagonal markings along their sides and a red, spiked “tail” adorning their rear ends, which is where they get their common name.

These caterpillars, which are more commonly known as just plain ol’ hornworms, feed on both tobacco and tomato plants, which means they are widely considered to be pests by farmers and gardeners.

Hornworms make excellent and nutritious meals for many animals sold through Backwater Reptiles, but many people don’t know much about these juicy little feeder insects.

In this article, we will answer the questions:

-What types of animals eat hornworms?
-How do I care for my feeder hornworms?
-What is the nutritional value of hornworms?
-What is the difference between the two species of hornworms?

Hornworms as feeder insects
This is a tobacco hornworm. You can tell by the red horn on its rear end.

What types of animals eat hornworms?

Hornworms are great feeder insects for virtually all types of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates including, but not limited to, turtles, frogs, scorpions, spiders, and lizards.

When you receive them, your hornworms will not be full-grown. At this smaller size, they can be fed to smaller animals or juvenile animals.

Once they have grown a bit and plumped up, your hornworms will be especially great feeders for animals that live in dry, arid environments where getting water from food is a requirement. Examples of these types of desert species that love to eat hornworms are: uromastyx lizards, collared lizards, agamas, tarantulas, and even scorpions.

Chameleons are also big fans of hornworms. We can’t stress enough that hornworms contain lots of water, so they are great to help your chameleon stay hydrated.

How do I care for my feeder hornworms?

When you place an order for feeder hornworms, you will receive a container that holds caterpillars that are either one inch or two to three inches long, depending on what option you select when you checkout.

Your hornworm pod will contain food for the hornworms on the top. It will also contain a screen for the hornworms to climb on to reach the food. The food will sustain the worms until they reach about four inches in size. This will usually take two to three weeks.

Feeder Hornworm Pod
This is what your hornworm pod will look like. The bottom is removable.

The hornworms you receive are basically in their own little ecosystem. Your hornworms are self-contained and have everything they need to thrive for a few weeks. All you need to do is remove the bottom of the container and empty out the hornworm droppings every few days.

What is the nutritional value of hornworms?

Hornworms are very high in calcium so they make excellent nutritional supplements for animals that need regular vitamin dusting such as leopard geckos.

As previously mentioned, hornworms are very succulent and high in water content. This makes them excellent food items for desert critters.

They are also great food for animals that are finicky eaters. They are even good for enticing animals on “hunger strike” to eat once more. If you have a picky eater on your hands, we suggest giving hornworms a try.

What is the difference between the two species of hornworm?

There are actually two types of hornworm that appear very similar – the tomato hornworm and the tobacco hornworm. People commonly confuse and mistake the two.

The tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) is the type of hornworm sold by Backwater Reptiles. They differ from the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) slightly in physical appearance. Rather than diagonal lines on their sides like the tobacco hornworm, the tomato hornworm has “V” shaped markings. In addition, the tobacco hornworm’s tail spike is red, while the tomato hornworm’s tail spike is black.

Large hornworm
This is an average-sized feeder hornworm.

Both species feed on the same plants in the wild and we do not recommend capturing wild hornworms of either species to feed to your reptiles. This is because tobacco hornworms are actually capable of collecting and storing the toxin found in the tobacco plant, which means they could be fatal if ingested by your pet. So if you don’t know the difference between the two caterpillars, we suggest avoiding wild-caught hornworms altogether.

Conclusion

Pretty much any reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate that is large enough to eat a hornworm will find it a tasty treat.

If you have a desert-dwelling critter, picky eater, or spoiled rotten pet reptile, Backwater Reptiles has feeder hornworms for sale. Order some today – your herp will thank you!

How to Dust Feeder Insects for Chameleons

Keeping chameleons in captivity can be a challenge. These delicate lizards have very specific care requirements and need their wild habitats to be replicated as closely as possible in order to thrive as pets. Dusting their feeder insects properly is a key to keeping chameleons successfully.

How to dust feeder insects
Pictured is one of our extremely healthy female Oustalets chameleon, fed a diet of properly dusted insects.

Besides requiring a mesh enclosure or cage, a dripping and misting system to meet humidity requirements, and UV lights and heat, chameleons also require their invertebrate meals to be extremely nutritious. This means that you can’t just feed your pet chameleon any old feeder insects. You will need to make sure your chameleon’s insects are gut-loaded and vitamin dusted regularly.

So what is vitamin dusting? What vitamin dusts do you give a chameleon and how often do you need to do so? How do you go about dusting the insects?  These are all questions we will address in this blog article, so read on if you want to make sure your chameleon stays healthy and strong.

What is vitamin dusting?

The answer to this question is actually very simple.

Vitamin dusting is where you coat your feeder insects in a film of powdered vitamin supplements before feeding time.

Do you take a multivitamin pill daily? How about a vitamin C tablet every now and then? Well, dusting your chameleon’s feeder insects is basically the same concept. The only difference is that because it would stress the animal to try to get it to ingest a vitamin pill, reptile hobbyists have invented a clever way to get the animals their vitamins. By coating the insects, the chameleons don’t even notice they’re eating the vitamins they need.

What types of vitamin dusts are good for chameleons? How often do you need to dust your feeder insects for your pet chameleon?

These are questions we get a lot at Backwater Reptiles. This is because there’s no manual on how frequently dusting needs to be done and the frequency as well as type of vitamin dusts required can vary from species to species.

At Backwater Reptiles, we use five main vitamin dusts for our chameleons – bee pollen, spirulina, a calcium + D3 supplement, a calcium supplement, and Herptivite/Supervite supplement.

The general rule of thumb with baby chameleons is to dust pinhead crickets (or whatever food source you give them) fairly frequently with calcium. Babies are growing fast and their little bodies need lots of nutrients to make sure their growth process happens smoothly.

Listed below are the vitamins used at Backwater Reptiles and the schedule we subscribe to when it comes to dusting feeder insects for our chameleons.

Bee pollen

Bee Pollen Vitamin Supplement
Bee pollen can be bought in powdered form from specialty retailers and health food stores.

In the wild, chameleons eat insects that could have recently pollinated a flower. Supplementing with bee pollen is said to help avoid chameleon “hunger strikes.”

Frequency:
Babies: once monthly
Sub-adults: twice monthly
Adults: twice monthly

LoD (calcium + D3)

Calcium and Vitamin Supplement
This Repashy vitamin and calcium supplement is what we use at Backwater Reptiles.

At Backwater Reptiles, the type of LoD vitamin supplement we use is called “Repashy Superfoods Calcium plus LoD.”

Frequency:
Babies: once monthly
Sub-adults: twice monthly
Adults: twice monthly

NoD (calcium)

Powdered Calcium Supplement
This powdered calcium supplement is used frequently when feeding baby chameleons.

The kind of calcium supplement used at Backwater Reptiles is called “Repashy Superfoods Supercal NoD.”

Frequency:
Babies: 10-15 times monthly
Sub-adults: 5-7 times monthly
Adults: 2-3 times monthly

Spirulina

Spirulina Powdered Supplement
Spirulina is a powdered algae that can be purchased at health food stores or specialty stores.

Spirulina is an algae that commonly grows in freshwater ponds and lakes. The kind fed to our chameleons is dried and powdered. Any powdered spirulina will be fine for your chameleons, but we use an organic, non-irradiated, and non-GMO spirulina from www.nuts.com.

Frequency:
Babies: once monthly
Sub-adults: twice monthly
Adults: twice monthly

Herptivite/Supervite

Multivitamin Supplement for Chameleons
This is the multivitamin supplement used at Backwater Reptiles.

These are general vitamin supplements or multivitamins. The kind we use at Backwater Reptiles is “RepCal Hertivite with Beta Carotene Multivitamins.”

Frequency:
Babies: twice monthly
Sub-adults: twice monthly
Adults: once monthly

How do you dust your feeder insects?

The good news is that the physical process of dusting your feeder insects with vitamins is not as tedious as it sounds.

All you will need to complete the process is a small plastic bag, your vitamin of choice, and your feeder insects.

Reptile Feeder Crickets
At Backwater Reptiles, we opt to dust our crickets in a bucket instead of a plastic bag simply because we have so many animals to feed. It makes sense for us to do it on a larger scale. But a plastic bag works just fine in most cases.

Just put your insects in the plastic bag along with your vitamins and seal the bag shut. Then shake the insects around in the bag with the dust for a few seconds until you can see that they are visibly coated with the dust.

Now your feeder insects are ready to be eaten!

A quick tip – if you are feeding your chameleon dusted crickets, be sure to feed them to the animal quickly after the dusting process has been completed. Crickets have good hygiene and will clean themselves of the dust as quickly as they can, so the sooner they are eaten, the more vitamins the chameleon will ingest.

Vitamin Dusted Crickets
When your feeder insects are coated like these crickets, they are ready to be served to your chameleon.

How to dust chameleon feeder insects – Conclusion

A healthy, happy chameleon will require supplemental vitamins in its diet. This can be achieved by dusting your pet chameleon’s feeder insects with a number of multivitamins.

 

Drosophila melanogaster vs. Drosophila hydei

In this blog post we compare and contrast Drosophila melanogaster vs. Drosophila hydei. Tiny reptiles and amphibians eat tiny food – makes sense right? But what, you might ask, is tiny enough to feed to a hatchling pygmy chameleon or a baby dart frog (both of which can measure only a half inch long)? The answer is fruit flies.

Backwater Reptiles sells two different kinds of feeder fruit flies – Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila hydei. This article will detail the differences and similarities between the two. Hopefully it will help you decide which type of fruit fly to feed to your tiny critter.

Melanogaster vs Hydei

When you place an order with Backwater Reptiles for a vial, jar, or fruit fly culture kit, you will receive the product via overnight delivery, which helps insure live arrival. Shipping these delicate insects via 2-4 day delivery is a risk.

Any fruit fly kit, jar, or vial from Backwater Reptiles comes equipped with food and egg laying material –everything the flies need to reproduce for at least three weeks. We recommend letting them breed and lay eggs for a few days before beginning to feed flies to your reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate. If you feed them off too quickly, the colony won’t reach it’s full potential.

melanogaster-vs-hydei
A close up of the jar of Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies. The jar contains a food source and everything the flies need to reproduce for several weeks. The inside of this jar is a bit too wet–this happens when there isn’t adequate ventilation (usually a screen top will suffice).

The main difference between the two species of fruit flies is size. D. melanogaster are generally 1/16th of an inch long, whereas D. hydei are approximately 1/8th of an inch long. D. hydei are therefore quite a bit “meatier” and larger of the two species.

fruit fly comparison
Notice how Drosophila melanogaster is smaller than Drosophila hydei. Both are flightless, but melanogaster can jump.

D. melanogaster are not only great feeder insects, but they are very commonly used in scientific experiments. Different genetic varieties exist and there are even wingless variations which make good feeders because they obviously can’t fly away to escape predators. D. hydei can also be bred and purchased as flightless insects, however they will usually still retain their wings. None of the fruit flies we sell can fly.

As far as regeneration of fruit fly specimens goes, D. melanogaster has a quicker life cycle than D. hydei. Starting from scratch, it usually takes around 14 days for a new bunch of D. melanogaster to emerge and from day 14 through 30, new feeder flies are available consistently on a daily basis as new flies are constantly emerging. D. hydei on the other hand, has a regeneration cycle that begins around 21 days when the culture is started from scratch. D. hydei also have population “booms” – every five to seven days after the initial 21 day mark, the culture will go from seemingly empty to bursting with flies overnight. Each culture will produce approximately two to three booms.

hydei fruit flies
A vial of D. hydei fruit flies. The blue at the bottom of the vial is the fly food, and the place where eggs are laid. The little white worms you see on the side of the container are eating the substance and will eventually form a cocoon.

Flightless cultures of both species of flies are capable of regenerating their ability to fly. Because flightlessness is a recessive gene, both parents have to possess this trait. If a wild fruit fly that can physically fly introduces its DNA into the gene pool, you will have flies born that can “magically” fly again. So if you don’t want to deal with pesky little fruit flies escaping and flying all over your home or your reptile’s enclosure, be sure to keep your culture safe from foreign fly DNA.

Both species of fruit flies are perfectly acceptable food for very small reptiles and amphibians. We recommend them for dart frogs, baby chameleons, tree frogs, salamanders, small scorpions, and spiderlings. Backwater Reptiles currently offers both varieties of feeder fruit flies for sale on our website.

melanogaster fruit flies
This is what your jar of D. melanogaster fruit flies will look like. Notice the jar contains food, a ventilation screen, and everything needed for the flies to reproduce.