What you feed your bearded dragon will be one of the most significant decisions you will make as a beardie owner. Unlike a dog or cat where you simply go to the pet store and buy them a bag of food, beardies need a mix of greens and insect protein sources to be healthy.
We put together a complete nutrition guide for you that you can read here, but one thing we didn’t cover in that guide is the topic of prepackaged bearded dragon food.
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!!!
A trip to your local pet store will give you quite a few options: some good, some bad. One of the more popular options is freeze-dried crickets. Odds are your beardie will love them (ours certainly does), and they are significantly easier to deal with than live crickets (which are horrible, vile little creatures!).
But easier is not always better. There is a fairly regular debate among bearded dragon owners about the benefits and drawbacks of using freeze-dried crickets as a staple food for a bearded dragon.
Freeze-dried crickets can make good treats that your bearded dragon will love, but they are not a suitable everyday food. Dried crickets completely lack nutritional content and moisture, two things bearded dragons need from their food. They can also be an impaction risk if fed in high quantities.
So is it best to stay away from freeze-dried crickets altogether? Are they okay every once in a while? Are there any good alternatives? Let’s dive in!
Freeze-dried cricket benefits and drawbacks
There’s a reason that freeze-dried crickets have been around as long as they have. They do have some benefits.
When you look for information on dried crickets online, you’ll notice there are usually two types of people who post information. One feeds their beardie dried crickets all the time. The other thinks that dried crickets the worst thing you could feed your beardie.
The real answer is somewhere in between those two extremes. There are benefits, and there are drawbacks, and both should be considered.
Benefits of dried crickets
- They aren’t live crickets. Live crickets, in our opinion, have no redeeming qualities. We don’t feed them to our beardie, and they are under no circumstances allowed in our home! See our article here for what we recommend instead.
- They are easy to get. You can find a plastic jar of Fluker’s dried crickets at just about any major pet store. If you need a quick food item, these are easy to source.
- They are an okay meal replacement. There has been more than one occasion where we have run out of live feeder insects for one or two meals. Having a jar of dried crickets on hand has been a great stop-gap measure.
- Beardies love them. On the whole, most bearded dragons will scarf down a pile of dried crickets and be happy about it! Sometimes beardies don’t want to eat, and mixing dried crickets in with their greens is a great way to address this!
Drawbacks of dried crickets
- They have almost no nutritional value. The freeze-drying process removes virtually all of the already small amount of nutritional value they may have had.
- They are not gut loaded. Despite what the package might say, dried crickets do not have any meaningful amount of greens preloaded in their guts. Gut loading is an essential benefit of using live feeder insects, and you simply don’t get that with freeze-dried insects.
- They are mostly exoskeleton. The exoskeleton of crickets, also known as chitin, is hard for bearded dragons to digest. In high quantities, it can pose an impaction risk as well.
- They contain no moisture. Bearded dragons get a good portion (although not all) of their water from the food they eat. Live feeder insects provide bearded dragons with a good amount of hydration. Dried insects offer none.
As you can see, when it comes to what is important, freeze-dried crickets are a negative on almost all fronts. Can bearded dragons eat them? Yes. Should bearded dragons eat them? Only as treats.
We like to think of freeze-dried crickets as the twinkies of the bearded dragon food world. It’s perfectly fine to have one every now and again. It’s even okay to slam down a few in a moment of weakness.
But it’s not okay to live on them. They are not an everyday food.
Live or dead, which is better?
One of the main problems with dried insects of any kind is that they aren’t alive. Feeding your bearded dragon live insects as their protein source has several key benefits. Those benefits are not things you want to take away from your beardie.
The benefits of live feeder insects for a bearded dragon include:
- They contain moisture.
- They can be gut loaded to provide high nutritional value.
- They are easier to digest.
- They move and spark your beardie’s natural hunting instinct.
Live feeders should be a part of every bearded dragon’s diet. To see what kind of live feeders we prefer, you can visit our article on crickets vs. dubia roaches here, and you can see our full rundown on every type of live worm you can feed your beardie here.
As the articles we just linked will point out, we don’t like crickets as a live feeder insect. Many people use them because they can be easily sourced, but once you find a good source of dubia roaches online (we get ours at dubiaroaches.com), they can be delivered right to your door!
Live crickets are a terrible feeder insect for bearded dragons for the following reasons:
- Crickets can have pinworms that are transferred to your beardie, causing them to get sick.
- Crickets bite. You and your beardie.
- Crickets can escape and breed in your house.
- Crickets smell terrible.
- Crickets are hard to handle.
- Crickets are hard for some beardies to catch and eat.
In other words, alive or dead and freeze-dried, crickets don’t have a lot going for them. They are best avoided most of the time.
Make your own dried crickets
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that we keep a container of dried crickets on hand for emergencies. But these don’t have to come from a store.
One great idea is to gut load crickets or dubia roaches and then put them in the freezer. These will keep for some time, which is a great way to have some reserve food on hand if needed.
Let the frozen critters thaw to room temperature before feeding them to your beardie, but once thawed, they make a good treat. And they are far healthier for your bearded dragon than store-bought dried crickets.!
What about other dried insects?
Crickets are not the only insect you’ll find freeze-dried and package for bearded dragon consumption. Several types of worms are also usually available.
In virtually all cases, the same drawbacks that apply to dried crickets also apply to dried worms.
Lump the worms and the crickets together into the “twinkies for bearded dragons” food group.
It’s okay as a treat. It’s okay once in a while. It’s just not an everyday good idea!
How long will freeze-dried crickets stay safe and edible?
Looking at the expiration date on the jars’ bottoms at the pet store, the average shelf life looks to be about three years. We would guess they will last longer than that, but three years is probably a good guideline.
My bearded dragon won’t eat live insects but likes the motionless freeze-dried versions. What do I do?
You can put live insects in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes. When removed, they will still be alive, but they won’t move around. This is a great way to get your beardie to eat live feeders without having to chase them around (which some lazy or spoiled beardies will not do!)
Can I fee my beardie crickets that I find in the wild?
No, this is not a good idea. Because you don’t know what those crickets have been eating, it can be risky to feed them to your beardie. A little pesticide or herbicide can do a lot of harm to your pet. You also risk bacterial and parasitic infections this way.
It’s best to avoid feeding your beardie wild insects of any kind.