When it comes to keeping exotic pets like reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, there are plenty of myths and misconceptions that you need to watch out for. Several of these, however, have less to do with your pet and more to do with the bugs that you feed to them. Whether you have a leopard gecko, white’s tree frog, or Mexican red-knee tarantula, here are some common myths about feeder insects to be aware of:
MYTH #1: All lizards eat bugs
Assuming that all lizards eat bugs is like saying that all birds eat seeds — it’s an enormous oversimplification of a very diverse group of animals! As of August 2019, there are over 6,687 recognized species of lizard in the world. Some lizards eat meat, some eat insects, some eat leaves, some eat fruit, and some eat a little bit of everything. Don’t assume that your pet lizard eats bugs just because it’s a lizard — research the type of lizard that you have to make sure you’re feeding it the right diet for its nutritional needs.
Here are some common pet lizards that eat bugs as part of their diet:
- Bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps)
- Crested gecko (Correlophus ciliatus)
- Gargoyle gecko (Rhacodactylus auriculatus)
- Green anole (Anolis carolinensis)
- Leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius)
- Jackson’s chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)
- Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
MYTH #2: Crickets are low-quality feeder insects
It’s true that crickets don’t have the same amount of protein per insect as, say, dubia roaches. Because they’re smaller and lighter, they lack quite the same nutrient punch per insect. But just because they seem to be less nutrient dense doesn’t mean that they are not a beneficial part of an insectivore’s diet.
The key to a healthy pet is offering them a variety of healthy foods, not just sticking to one or two types of feeders because they claim to be “the best.”
MYTH #3: Mealworms are extremely high in chitin and will cause impaction when fed
Mealworms are small, hard, and “crunchy,” so it’s easy to see why people assume that they have more chitin than other feeders, and why that might be a problem. However, like sand, a high-chitin diet only becomes a problem when the animal is dehydrated, has low basking temperatures, or is otherwise unhealthy.
Furthermore, mealworms don’t actually have that much chitin compared to other feeders with better reputations. Chitin is often labeled as “fiber” in insect nutrition information. According to our research, dubia roaches, black soldier fly larvae, superworms, and waxworms all have more chitin than mealworms, yet you don’t see anyone freaking about the chitin content of these feeders, or accounts of these feeders causing significant digestive issues. Myth. Busted.
MYTH #4: Superworms will chew through your pet’s stomach
Many new pet owners are terrified at the thought of feeding superworms to their reptiles or amphibians because they’ve heard that superworms can chew through their pet’s stomach and essentially eat them from the inside out. This Alien-esque imagery is definitely a strong deterrent. However, it’s more urban legend than fact. Superworms are neutralized by the dark, highly acidic environment of your pet’s stomach, and do not poses a threat to healthy animals.
If you are really worried about the safety of feeding superworms to your pet, you can crush the superworm’s head immediately before feeding it off.
MYTH #5: Butterworms are low-fat
Some feeder insect nutrition charts claim that butterworms only have a 5% fat content, which would certainly label them as a low-fat feeder. But here’s the thing: everywhere we looked, we couldn’t find scientific support for this figure. What we did find, however, was “Complete Nutrient Content of Four Species of Feeder Insects” by Mark D. Finke, published in 2012. This paper found that butterworms contain 294g of fat per kg, or 29.4%.
This is a much higher figure, and definitely places them as one of the highest-fat feeder insects we’ve ever seen!
MYTH #6: Superworms, waxworms, and butterworms can be staple feeders
All three of these worms sometimes get mistakenly used as staple feeders. These particular feeders are extraordinarily high in fat and phosphorus — two nutrients that are essential as part of a balanced diet, but become dangerous when consumed in excess. A high-fat contributes to obesity, and a high-phosphorus diet can contribute to metabolic bone disease.
Superworms are nutritious enough to be appropriate as occasional feeders, but you’re better off using waxworms and butterworms as treats only.
MYTH #7: Hornworms should only be used as treats
Hornworms are actually pretty well balanced in nutrition, and comparable to silkworms, which are commonly recommended as staple feeders. This makes them a great addition to any insectivore’s diet. However, it should be noted that due to their low fat and high moisture content, feeding too many hornworms to your pet can cause diarrhea and weight loss. This high moisture content, however, makes them great feeders for dehydrated insectivores, particularly arid species.
MYTH #8: Dried insects are a good replacement for live ones
Dried insects (such as mealworms) are tempting to use because you can simply keep them in your cupboard and dole them out as needed. The main problem with dried insects, however, is in the name: they’re dry — as in, they don’t contain any water.
Many animals (including humans) get a significant amount of hydration from the water in the foods that they eat. When they eat dried foods, these foods essentially steal water from the body instead of adding to it. Dried foods can be okay to use in a pinch (if your pet will eat them), but they absolutely should not be used on a regular basis. Pets that eat too many dried insects are more likely to suffer from dehydration and dehydration-related health problems. Canned insects, which have all of their original moisture and sometimes more, are a better alternative to keep in your pantry.
MYTH #9: Feeders should be heavily caked in calcium powder before feeding
Feeder insects should not be so covered in calcium powder that they look like a powdered donut. That is too much, and totally unnecessary. The reason why we dust feeder insects with calcium is to balance the high phosphorus content found in most captive-bred bugs, not because our pets are somehow inherently calcium deficient.
Generally speaking, too little supplement is going to be better than too much. Use enough calcium supplement to cover the insect in a thin layer of powder. You should still be able to see the insect’s original color after dusting.
MYTH #10: It’s best to feed live insects to your pet in a separate cage
Many people recommend feeding insectivores in separate cages, especially if there is a loose substrate such as sand or soil in the main enclosure. This is said to “avoid impaction” — although as we’ve discussed in our other article, 15 Common Myths About Caring for Reptiles — DEBUNKED!, loose substrate doesn’t cause impaction, so we’re not going to talk about this point further.
Feeding live insects in a separate, specifically-designated feeding cage does have the benefit of not letting feeders run loose in your pet’s enclosure, but it also makes feeding time more stressful for your pet. In fact, it can cause your pet to refuse to eat. Most exotic pets prefer to eat in the comfort of their own home rather than “eating out.”
MYTH #11: Insectivores can eat just one type of insect for the rest of their lives as long as it’s nutritious enough
Thanks to the practice of feeding cats and dogs one brand of kibble for their entire lives, many new exotic pet keepers are under the mistaken impression that it is appropriate to feed their pet the same thing week after week. Here’s the difference: cat and dog food (at least the good ones) are scientifically formulated to meet all of the animal’s nutritional needs. Feeder insects are not, even the ones advertised as being particularly nutritious. This creates the potential for a nutritional imbalance, even when a multivitamin is being used.
To address this problem, exotic pet keepers must strive to provide as much variety in their pet’s diet as possible. Here are some commonly-available live feeders that are good to use regularly, and are generally readily available in stores and online:
- Brown house crickets (Acheta domesticus)
- Dubia roaches (Blaptica dubia)
- Flightless fruit flies (Drosophila hydei)
- Hornworms (Manduca sexta)
- Isopods (Isopoda)
- Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor)
- NutriGrubs a.k.a. black soldier fly larvae (Hermetia illucens)
- Springtails (Collembola)
- Superworms (Zophobas morio)
Canned insects can be a good way to expand this variety. You can get the following “rare” bugs canned:
- American cockroaches (Periplaneta americana)
- Banana skipper caterpillars (Erionota thrax)
- Earthworms (Clitellata)
- Farm-raised snails (Achatina fulica)
- Field crickets (Gryllus linnaeus)
- Javanese grasshoppers (Valanga nigricornis)
- Silkworm pupae (Bombyx batryticatus)
Finally, occasional treats of high-fat feeder insects like waxworms and butterworms provide further variety.
Strive to use a rotation of at least 3 different types of feeders, if not more!
MYTH #12: It doesn’t matter what your feeder insects eat as long as they stay alive
What you feed to your feeder insects eventually makes its way to your pet. That’s the nature of the food chain: what starts at the bottom eventually finds its way to the top. So if the crickets you feed to your pet were chewing on cardboard egg flats, then your pet is essentially eating cardboard. But if the crickets were fed on fresh vegetables and a high-quality cricket feed, then your pet will receive all of the vitamins and minerals from those foods.
Make sure that your feeders get a diet that is appropriate for their species. For example, cricket chow isn’t a healthy diet for dubia roaches. When you are providing a diet that is appropriate to your feeder insect, you are growing healthier, more nutritious feeders for your pet to eat.
MYTH #13: There’s no such thing as an “addictive” feeder
Many insectivorous and omnivorous reptiles have been known to refuse other foods after being fed a diet of primarily superworms, a condition affectionately known as “superworm addiction.” Perhaps “addiction” isn’t the best word here, but is there a better way to describe the way that some animals will absolutely refuse to eat other foods after getting used to one in particular? Fattier foods tend to taste better than others because they’re high in energy, which is what gives them their addictive quality (like bacon).
To avoid your pet getting “addicted” to any one particular type of feeder, use as much of a variety as possible, and reserve high-fat feeders for use as treats only.
MYTH #14: Adult insectivores need to stick to a strict feeding schedule
Feeding your pet according to a certain schedule actually doesn’t guarantee that it will be healthy. Some animals can be fed using the same schedule as for other members of their species, but for one reason or another, they will end up fatter or thinner than ideal. This applies primarily to adults, not growing juveniles, as obesity in juveniles is very rare.
The best way to determine whether the number and frequency of feedings that your pet is receiving is appropriate for them is to pay attention to their weight and body condition. Use a digital kitchen scale to monitor weight, and compare your pet with pictures of healthy wild individuals to determine body condition. If your pet is gaining weight or starting to look chunky, reduce their feedings. If your pet is losing weight or starting to look thin, increase their feedings.
*Note: Female reptiles will gain weight while cycling their eggs. If you think that your female’s rapid weight gain is attributed to egg production, feed her more, not less.
Do you need feeder insects for your pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate? DubiaRoaches.com is proud to offer a selection of the highest-quality feeder insects for your pet. Try a subscription today!