Safe Feeder Insect Sizes for Bearded Dragons

In Care, Nutrition by Tim Steward

Last updated on May 10th, 2021 at 12:57 pm

Figuring out what to feed your bearded dragon can be one of the biggest challenges in keeping them healthy and happy. One of the most important yet most overlooked aspects of feeding is food size. Food that is too large can be dangerous and even lethal to a bearded dragon.

It is not safe to feed bearded dragons insects or veggies that are larger than the space between their eyes. While they will happily eat larger pieces of food, they cannot effectively digest them. Food bigger than this space can easily cause impaction which could result in illness or death.

To see all the foods you can and can’t feed a bearded dragon, make sure and check out our complete bearded dragon food list with 237 different foods listed. We’ll show you what’s safe, what’s not, and what the healthiest food choices are for your beardie!!!

Impaction

One of the most common ailments experienced by bearded dragons in captivity is experiencing an impaction. Impaction is when their digestive system is unable to process its contents and they build up inside your beardie.

You’ll know it’s time to be concerned if your beardie hasn’t pooped in 2-3 weeks. Over time, you’ll get to know your beardie’s pooping schedule. It should be regular and dependable if your feeding schedule is the same.

Several things can cause impaction. Improper vivarium temperatures and improper substrate are common causes. So is improperly sized food. Just because your beardie is able to scarf down something large doesn’t mean its delicate digestive system is able to handle something of that size.

Impactions can be helped with a warm bath. A small piece of watermelon can also “grease the chute” so to speak (this works surprisingly fast!). In the end, though, a trip to the vet may be necessary.

The worst cases of impaction can result in the death of your beardie. No one wants that, so it’s important that we all do what we can to keep our beardies safe from this unfortunately common problem!

Impaction is an important enough topic that we wrote a complete guide to recognizing and dealing with them. You can see that guide here!

Small beardie, big mouth

The younger your bearded dragon is, the more food it will eat. Happily, ravenously, and faster than new beardie owners can believe! In this frenzy to eat, your beardie will not stop to make sure it isn’t eating something that is too big.

Bacardi with a mouth full of Dubia roach

What fits in your beardie’s mouth is not necessarily what will fit through its digestive tract. That’s why we, as owners, need to only feed them food that is appropriately sized.

Bearded dragons are basically wild animals. Their instinct is to eat when food is available. If they can get it in their mouth, even partially, they will try to eat it. Don’t think that just because your beardie was able to scarf it down that it wasn’t too big.

Remember, the food you feed your beardie should be no bigger than the space between its eyes!

Digestion

As just mentioned, it’s not about what can be eaten or what fits in their mouth. It’s about what can actually be digested. It’s the digestion of their food that we are concerned about. Food size is the first step in making sure that what goes in one end of your beardie can actually come out the other.

In order for their food to make this complete trip, the large bits that go in the mouth need to be broken down inside your bearded dragon. That way the necessary nutrients can be absorbed and the waste products can be evacuated.

Some food, like fruit, is very easy for your beardie to digest. It’s soft and even the harder to digest fiber is easy on your dragon’s gut. Other food, like a cricket’s exoskeleton, is very hard to digest. These are the large bits that can become impacted.

It’s very important that we only feed our bearded dragons food that they can successfully digest. This starts with considering both food type and food size.

Bearded dragon food groups

Bearded dragons in captivity eat from several types of food groups. A happy beardie is one that gets a regularly varied diet. A healthy beardie gets its nutrition from a variety of food types. Let’s look at the primary foods and how their size should be determined.

Primary feeder insects (protein)

dubia roaches
Dubia Roaches, our preferred feeder insect

For a majority of bearded dragon owners, there are two choices here. Crickets and Dubia roaches. While we prefer Dubia roaches (and we think you will too after reading our article on the differences here), my beardie does end up getting both insects depending on availability.

Of all of the things you will feed your bearded dragon, this is where the hardest to digest bits will come from. The exoskeleton of these insects contains something called chitin. This fibrous material is what can cause digestive problems for dragons.

Dragons are supposed to be able to digest this material. It’s what constitutes a large portion of their diet when they live in the wild. So we don’t have to avoid it altogether. What we need to do, though, is make sure they don’t take in pieces that are too large to deal with internally.

Back to our rule of not feeding our dragons anything bigger than the space between their eyes, there are a couple of details to pay attention to when it comes to primary feeder insects.

First is that we are looking at the length of the insect, not its width. A cricket, head to tail (do they have tails?), should be no bigger than the space between your dragon’s eyes. It’s not their width that matters. The same goes for roaches. Look at their size from head to tail, not side to side.

Second is that we want to look at the size of the whole insect. Many people will ask if they can’t simply take a larger insect and cut it in half to achieve the desired size. The answer to that is no, you shouldn’t.

It’s not so much the overall size that matters as it is the size of the parts. Large crickets will have large, hard to digest legs. Even if you cut them in half. Large roaches may have a much thicker and harder to digest exoskeleton than an appropriately sized roach.

Not to mention, we want to feed our dragons live insects, not chopped up pieces. They are predators. They are meant to eat live prey. They aren’t meant to snack on roach bits. They are meant to feast on whole roaches!

Secondary protein sources

mealworms
Mealworms, just one of a number of wormy treats your beardie may love!

Most bearded dragons will enjoy an occasional treat. Many times this will come in the form of worms. For a full description of every type of wormy treat your beardie may enjoy, see our article here!

Typically, beardies love these fat and juicy treats. But just like crickets and roaches, some worms have an exoskeleton. That exoskeleton contains chitin. And that means the food size rule applies here too.

Don’t think that just because a superworm is softer that your beardie can handle one that is larger than the space between its eyes. It can’t. Stay on the safe side and stick with appropriately sized worms.

The exception here is that with soft worms (like hornworms or butterworms) you can often go by girth instead of length. With hard shelled worms like superworms, this probably isn’t the best idea.

Fruits and veggies

Bacardi enjoying a salad

While we should be giving our dragons mostly veggies and only rarely fruit, we’ll group them together here. As your beardie ages, this will make up a larger and larger portion of their diet. For adult dragons, it will make up approximately 80% of their food.

While fruits and veggies don’t have exoskeletons, they do contain fiber. Fiber is the part that helps you poop. It doesn’t digest and typically makes the whole trip from mouth to, well, you know.

If you give your beardie too much fiber in each bite, you have the off chance of causing an impaction. For this reason, we recommend using the same size guide with produce as you do with insects. Nothing bigger than the space between their eyes.

In this case, though, it’s expected that we chop up the food to the right size. While we don’t want to chop up crickets, doing so with greens and fruit is perfectly reasonable and usually necessary.

Commercial food

The last main food group we feed to our dragons is commercial food. This is the stuff that comes in a jar or pouch under a variety of names. There’s a ton available and you will find over time that your beardie really likes some and really doesn’t like others.

Luckily, this food almost always comes in a smaller form. And luckier still, those bits will pretty much fit between the eyes of almost any bearded dragon… Almost.

The one time you really need to be careful is when your beardie is young. Even though these commercial foods are typically small, they may not be small enough for a very new dragon.

Be cautious with your young dragon. This is when they are the most fragile. This is also when it’s easiest to feed them bits that are far too big for their digestive tract.

Remember the rule

If we haven’t said it enough times already, please remember to keep your dragon’s food to things that are no bigger than the space between their eyes. It’s an easy thing to do and remember and a great way to make sure your beardie is living and eating and pooping happily. Isn’t that what we all want?

Related questions:

What if I accidentally feed my beardie something that is too big?

Don’t panic. It will probably be okay. Don’t do it again if you can avoid it, but once isn’t the end of the world. Keep an eye on your beardie and make sure they are pooping regularly. If not, check with your vet for guidance.

What if my beardie doesn’t like the food I give them?

Beardies can be picky eaters. It may take some time to find the diet your dragon loves. But stick with it and you’ll figure it out. And no matter what you end up with, remember the food size rule!

What kind of vet do I take them to if I think they are impacted?

You want to find a herp vet (herpetologist) if at all possible. This is a vet that specializes in reptiles. You can also look for an “exotics” vet, but you’ll have to ask them if that includes reptiles. Google is your friend here. You should have a regular vet anyway as your dragon needs yearly checkups. Do this and you’ll already know where to go if there is a problem.

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