waxworms

What Type of Worms Make Good Feeders for your Bearded Dragon?

In Beardie Facts, Nutrition by Tim Steward

Last updated on May 10th, 2021 at 01:01 pm

Imagine eating the same thing every day. The exact. Same. Thing. Even if it was your favorite food, you’d eventually grow to hate it. Pizza… Again?!?!? Not only would you start to dislike whatever your food of choice was, but you would also pretty quickly start to see nutritional deficiencies as well.

As humans, we need a varied diet. Not only do we need a good mix of the three macronutrients, protein, fat, and carbs, but our health benefits from a mix of foods within those macronutrient categories.

Bearded dragons are no different. While they might not develop pallet fatigue like a human would (Our beardie, Bacardi, is never less than frantically ecstatic to see roaches to eat!), they do benefit nutritionally when we take the time to vary their food.

Most worms do not make an ideal regular feeder insect for bearded dragons, but they do make good treats. They don’t have the complete nutritional profile needed to properly nourish a beardie. One exception to this is the black soldier fly larva. This “worm” can effectively be used as a daily feeder.

How to vary your bearded dragon’s 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 good day for Bacardi. A not so good day for the hornworm behind her.

When it comes to greens, this is easy. Your local grocery store will probably have most, if not all, of the items listed on our bearded dragon food guide (check it out here, we are very proud of it!). Every week you can pick something different for your beardie’s salads!

This is not so easy when it comes to their protein source. The only readily available feeder insect in most areas are crickets. This means that by default, a lot of bearded dragons dine solely on crickets.

We decided never to bring crickets into our home and have opted for dubia roaches instead.  You can see why in our comparison here. 

Once every few weeks we place an order online and they are shipped to and held at our post office for pickup. I always get the best looks when postal workers hand me the box clearly labelled “live insects” on the outside!

Because we order Bacardi’s feeders online, that gives us the opportunity to order a few things other than roaches. (We aren’t affiliated with them, but we’ve had amazingly good service and always high-quality insects from dubiaroaches.com)

Our regular order. Roaches and hornworms.

We like to mix it up a little and usually order Bacardi some nice, juicy worms along with her dubia roaches. She has come to absolutely love this treat and has developed her favorites over time. 

Worms are a treat. Most types of worms do not make a good primary nutritional source of protein for a bearded dragon.

Sure there are other things we could do to vary her protein, but worms are easy to care for, easy to get, and there is a wide variety to choose from. Most places that sell roaches also sell at least one variety of worm.

Their fat content is too high. They often contain too much phosphorus in relation to their calcium content. And they don’t usually represent the full spectrum of nutrients found in a primary feeder like dubia roaches or crickets.

Another important note is that you typically can’t gut load worms in the same way you can crickets and roaches. What you feed your feeder insects by default also gets fed to your beardie. It’s an important part of the feeding cycle for your bearded dragon.

dubia roaches
Dubia Roaches, our preferred feeder insect

That means that your bearded dragon will have to get used to a primary diet of either crickets or roaches. Most beardies will love this. It’s rare to see a bearded dragon refuse to eat either one of those staple feeder insects. But that doesn’t mean they won’t also love the occasional wormy treat! 

*Side note… If your beardie is a juvenile or younger (or you are willing to feed your beardie a large number of these), there is one type of worm that can serve as an excellent primary protein source. This is the larvae of the black soldier fly, covered below.

Types of worms you can feed a bearded dragon

As I mentioned above, not only can you mix up your bearded dragon’s diet by introducing the occasional worm, you can also vary the type of worm you use for those treats!

The most common types of worms you can feed a bearded dragon are:

  • Butterworms
  • Mealworms
  • Waxworms
  • Super worms
  • Silkworms
  • Hornworms
  • Phoenix worms*
  • Calci worms*
  • Repti worms*
  • Nutri grubs*

*These are all actually the same thing. Each is a trademarked brand name for the larvae of the black soldier fly, also known as a hermetia illucens. More on those later!

Each of these worm types has pros and cons. All can make tasty treats for your beardie. As long as you mix things up, you can cycle through them and keep a nice variety in the diet of your bearded dragon.

That said, let’s take a closer look at each worm type.

Butter Worms

butterworms
Butterworms

Butter worms (chilecomadia moorei) are the larva of the Chilean moth. They can grow up to 1-1.5 inches in length and are soft and rather plump. They are typically a brighter yellow or yellowish-red color and are fairly active as far as worms go. Their coloring and movement make them appetizing feeders for your bearded dragon.

Store butter worms in your fridge where they can last quite a long time. Never use them as feeders if you see mold growing in their container, but otherwise, if they are alive, feed away!

Pros

  • Color and smell attracts your beardie
  • Easy to care for
  • High in calcium
  • If stored in your fridge at 45℉-50℉ (7℃-13℃), they can live for 1-2 months

Cons

  • High in fat
  • Need to be kept dry or they will die
  • It may be against local laws to ship them to Hawaii, Louisiana, Oregon, or West Virginia

Butter worms are best used for a feeder when you have a picky bearded dragon. Some beardies are very particular about their protein source and the lively movement, bright color, and fruity smell of butter worms appeal to even the most discerning bearded dragon!

Mealworms

mealworms
Mealworms

Mealworms (tenebrio molitor) are the larva of the darkling beetle. Standard feeders grow to .5-.75” in length. There is a “giant” variety that can grow to 1.5”. They are a golden color and semi-active.

Store mealworms in the door of your fridge where they can live up to 45 days.

Pros

  • Easy to source
  • Inexpensive
  • High in vitamins A & B
  • High in protein

Cons

  • Their thicker exoskeletons can be hard to digest for some beardies so they’re not recommended as a frequent food source or treat
  • You have to leave them out at room temp for about 24 hours for them to become active and thus attract the attention of your beardie.

Mealworms are best used when you want a feeder worm to use as an occasional treat. Since they are easy to store and live a long time, you can keep them in your fridge for long periods without worrying about them dying.

Waxworms

waxworms
Waxworms

Waxworms (galleria mellonella) are the caterpillar larva of either the great (achroia grisella) or lesser (galleria mellonella) wax moth. They are a plump, whitish insect with dark-colored feet and heads. In the wild, these moths are a parasite that lives in bee colonies.

Store your wax worms in a cool area but not in the fridge. If stored between 55℉-60℉ (13℃-18℃) they can live 1-2 months, even with minimal food.

Pros

  • High fat content (only a pro if your beardie needs to put on some weight)
  • They can live a long time without food
  • Easy to breed

Cons

  • High fat content (a con if your beardie is packing a little too much extra weight)
  • Can often spin cocoons, which need to be removed prior to feeding

Waxworms are best used when you are trying to get your dragon to put on some weight. We like to use these when our beardie comes out of brumation. Her fat pads are typically slightly depleted then and waxworms are an appetizing high fat treat. They help her gain the weight back that she lost during brumation.

*a healthy brumating dragon will not actually loose much weight (see our full brumation guide here! (article coming soon)

Super Worms

superworms
Superworms

Super worms (zophobas morio), like mealworms, are the larvae of the darkling beetle. They have a thicker exoskeleton, higher protein and fat content, and are more active than their mealworm cousins.

They also stay in their larval stage for a longer time, often up to 3 months if stored with other super worms. Mealworms only stay in this stage for about 3 weeks.

Unlike all the other worms in this article, they can both bite and sting. Handle them with care. This also makes them a poor choice for younger dragons who could be harmed by them.

Store your super worms at room temperature (60℉-80℉ or 15℃-27℃) and leave them some slices of potato for a water source.

Pros

  • Long life
  • Highly active so attract picky eaters
  • Easy to keep
  • Live a long time
  • High in calcium

Cons

  • High in fat
  • They bite
  • They can sting
  • Their thick exoskeleton makes them a poor choice for younger dragons and not optimal as daily feeders

Super worms are best used when you want a hardy feeder that is high in protein and moves around a lot. They are great for adult dragons that are picky eaters.

Silkworms

silkworms
Silworms

Silkworms (bombyx mori) are the larvae of the domestic silk moth. Many consider them to be the most nutritionally beneficial type of worm you can feed your beardie. They are low in fat and high in moisture, calcium, and protein. They are also high in other elements and B vitamins. They grow quickly and can reach sizes of 3” long

Store your silkworms at room temperature. They need to be fed mulberry leaves or a mulberry based feed that you can get wherever you order them. They will grow quickly, up to .25 inches (6 mm) per week. They are considered one of the harder worm varieties to keep alive.

Pros

  • High moisture content
  • High in calcium
  • High in protein
  • Grow quickly

Cons

  • Hard to keep
  • Short lifespan
  • May get too large for younger beardies to safely eat
  • Require a specialty food type

Silkworms are best used for adult beardies who like a moisture-rich and nutritious snack. They do not make good everyday food.

Hornworms

Hornworms

Hornworms (manduca quinquemaculata) are the larva if the hawk or sphinx moth. They are our beardie’s favorite variety of worm and one of the best options for treats. They are the highest in water content of any of the worm varieties and are a great way to help hydrate a beardie who doesn’t like to drink.

They are low in fat and very high in calcium, making them an ideal feeder insect for your beardie. Keep your hornworms in the cup they are shipped in at room temperature. They will grow very quickly, so be cautious as to how many you order.

Their bright blue-green color and robust motion make them a very attractive feeder for even the pickiest beardie. Some owners of picky bearded dragons report that hornworms are the only feeder insect their beardie will eat.

Pros

  • High in moisture
  • High in calcium
  • Soft exoskeletons makes them easy to digest

Cons

  • Can grow to be too big very quickly
  • Their poop smells pretty bad
Bacardi about to feast!

Hornworms are our favorite type of worm and we recommend all bearded dragon owners try them out at least once. Their high moisture and calcium content are great for your beardie. They are easy to keep and your beardie will most likely love them as much as ours does!

Black Soldier Fly Larvae

black soldier fly larvae
Black soldier fly larvae

Hermetia illucens, the larvae of the black soldier fly, is a favorite feeder of breeders for young bearded dragons. They are small, soft-bodied insects and have the highest calcium content of any feeder insect available.

They do not need to be dusted with calcium or gut loaded. They are highly mobile, easy to breed and raise, and are small enough to safely feed to any age bearded dragon. Many say these are the ideal everyday feeder insects for your bearded dragon.

They make such good feeders that they are the exception to our earlier statement that worms do not make good regular sources of protein. They are an ideal everyday feeder insect. It’s too bad our beardie doesn’t like them and won’t eat them. We would definitely feed them to her more often if she did!

They can be purchased as black soldier fly larvae, but they are also found under 4 other proprietary brand names. Those are Phoenix worms, Calciworms, Reptiworms, and Nutrigrubs. Regardless of the name, they are all the same insect.

Pros

  • Highest in calcium of all feeder insects
  • Very nutritious
  • Easy to keep and breed
  • Small and soft-bodied so easy to eat and digest

Cons

  • Very small, so adult dragons would need a lot of them
  • They can readily grow into flies
  • Because of their small size, some beardies will swallow them whole and pass them straight through without being digested

Black soldier fly larvae are best used as an everyday feeder for young bearded dragons. They are also a great choice for those that don’t want to use crickets or dubia roaches for their primary feeder insect. Just be aware that you will need a lot of them once your beardie is grown, even if you order the larger sizes that are available.

Summary

So let’s put all that together. Below is a handy comparison chart that shows you the nutritional values of the types of worms discussed in this article.

Worm TypeProteinFatMoistureCalcium
Butter Worms16%5%59%42.9 mg/100g
Mealworms11%10%63%3.28 mg/100g
Waxworms16%20%63%13 mg/100g
Super worms19%14%62%11 mg/100g
Silkworms64%10%76%34 mg/100g
Hornworms9%3%85%47 mg/100g
Black Soldier Fly Larvae57%na73%81 mg/100g

What do all those numbers mean? There are a couple of key takeaways here.

Other than black soldier fly larvae, worms are probably not the best regular protein source for your beardie.

That said, they can make a great treat and are a fantastic way to vary your beardie’s diet. I definitely recommend using worms as an additional insect feeder fairly regularly.

As much as your beardie will like getting these occasional treats, you will still want to go with either crickets or dubia roaches as your feeder insect mainstay (we highly recommend roaches over crickets!).

bearded dragon eating worms
Our beardie, Bacardi, eating some hornworms dusted with vitamins.

With a solid regular protein source in place, you can now play with giving your bearded dragon worms. Find the ones they like and go with those. While the nutritional properties of the worms we discussed vary greatly, it won’t really matter if they are only supplemental food.

You can also use worms to deal with particular conditions. Is your beardie dehydrated and not drinking? Give them some hornworms! Is your beardie showing signs of calcium deficiency? Black soldier fly larvae will help! Need to fatten up your beardie a little? Waxworms fit the bill here!

In the end, feeding our beardies a healthy and nutritious diet is our responsibility. We’ve written quite a few articles that hopefully help you to do just that. For some of you, worms can be a part of this. For others, you’ll choose not to. But either way, now you know your worms and can make an educated decision!

Related Questions:

Should you dust worms with supplements before feeding them to your bearded dragon?

If they make up the core of what you feed your beardie for protein, you should definitely dust them. See our full supplement guide here for details. If they are just a treat, you don’t have to.

How many worms can I feed my bearded dragon at one time?

Just like other protein sources, your beardie should stop eating when full. Typically, it’s a good idea to offer them for a limited time or limit the number you feed your dragon. The actual amount will vary with the size of your dragon. 

Most dragons in captivity will overeat if given the chance, so we like to limit wormy treat to just a few at a time. That way our beardie stays at a healthy weight and doesn’t overconsumer.

Can you feed a bearded dragon worms you find in your yard?

No. This is a bad idea for any type of insect you find in the wild. Our world is so polluted with pesticides, there’s no way to know what you’ll be giving your beardie along with the worm or other insects.

Also, parasites abound in the wild. Feeding your beardie from your yard will most likely expose them to these parasites and you’ll end up with a sick beardie.

We strongly recommend only feeding your beardie worms and other insect feeders that you source from a reliable company breeding them for reptile and bird food.

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