Bearded dragons are omnivorous animals, so they eat insects, fruits, and veggies. However, their diet varies drastically based on age. Baby and young bearded dragons require a lot more protein and fats, so 80% of their meals consist of insects, with the rest of 20% being fruits and veggies.
Adult bearded dragons reverse those values completely. Due to their slower metabolic rates, they only need 20% insects but 80% fruits and veggies for the additional fibers. These aid in digestion, preventing constipation and impaction.
But we’re not here to discuss that, but rather about the bearded dragon’s predilection towards a specific larva. More specifically, we’re talking about hornworms. Can bearded dragons eat them, are they nutritious, and what else should you learn about them?
Let’s check it out!
Are Hornworms Safe for Bearded Dragons?
Yes, they are, generally speaking. However, I have some mentions to…mention:
- Size matters – If the hornworm is too big, your beardie will choke on it. If that doesn’t happen, the hornworm may get stuck in the intestinal tract, leading to impaction, which, in turn, can degenerate into paralysis and death. If you don’t think that that’s likely, think again. Impaction is quite common among both bearded dragons and reptiles in general. To prevent that, make sure that the hornworm is no larger than the distance between the beardie’s eyes.
- Hornworms bite – That’s right, these insects can bite. This is generally not a reason for concern because bearded dragons will eat them fast; they won’t have the opportunity to react. The problem occurs when you leave the hornworms in your beardie’s enclosure even after the reptile has done eating. Many people do this to prevent preparing another meal for their lizards. The meal is right there, waiting for them. The problem is that the live hornworms can crawl and bite the lizards. While their bites aren’t dangerous, they will sure bother and stress the beardie and prolonged reptile stress is a notorious killer.
- Sourcing your hornworms – You should always get your hornworms from trusted sources. I recommend setting up a feeder enclosure to provide you with a continuous supply. Although, truth be told, you most likely won’t need it since hornworms are mostly treats, not main courses. Even so, breeding the hornworms yourself eliminates the risk of contamination with parasites, bacteria, or environmental chemicals that can transmit to your beardie.
- Moderation is key – Hornworms possess some protein and minerals, but they’re mostly rich in fat. The exact type of thing that bearded dragons need little of. You should only feed your dragon one or 2 hornworms per week and complement the lizard’s diet with more nutritious elements along the way.
Benefits of Hornworms for Bearded Dragons
The primary benefit is the added protein and fat that can complement your bearded dragon’s diet. Beardies also love eating them, which can lift their spirits, especially if the worms are alive during the process. They will activate the lizard’s hunting instincts which doesn’t happen with dead worms.
Even so, you can use dead hornworms if you lack the means to grow live ones. Your beardie most likely won’t make the difference.
Risks of Hornworms for Bearded Dragons
The primary risks are those of choking and impaction. This is due to the worm’s sizeable body, often exceeding the lizard’s mouth or esophagus opening. The lizard won’t be able to appreciate that, though. Swallowing an unfit worm can put the reptile at risk of choking.
Another noticeable risk comes from eating too many hornworms too often. Many inexperienced aquarists are guilty of the sin of overfeeding hornworms to their beardies. This behavior comes with good intentions, but it, nonetheless, produces catastrophic results. The main one is nutritional deficiency due to the beardie getting full-on hornworms instead of more nutritious foods.
Finally, we have the risk of chemical contamination, parasites, and bacterial infections, which we’ve already mentioned. These are noticeable risks that are more prevalent among wild-caught hornworms.
How to Feed Hornworms to Your Beardie?
The most obvious method is to throw the live hornworm in your beardie’s enclosure. The lizard will do the rest. However, if the worm is too large or the lizard is too little, consider finding a smaller worm or chopping the one available in half.
Make sure that the halves are slim enough for the dragon to swallow them effortlessly. Also, keep in mind that hornworms are thick and meaty. They will produce quite a mess upon cutting. This doesn’t mean anything; it’s just a ‘Watch out, disgustingness ahead’ warning.
Are Hornworms Good for Baby Bearded Dragons?
Yes, hornworms are good for baby bearded dragons, especially since young beardies require more animal protein than fruits. The challenge is to find a small-enough worm for your beardie to eat safely. Younger bearded dragons are notorious for their increased appetite and may be greedy and reckless. They can easily choke or experience impaction due to ingesting an oversized worm.
Then you have the problem of nutritional imbalances. Hornworms should be treats rather than standard foods. Provide your baby or juvenile bearded dragon with a balanced diet and a variety if insects, fruits, and veggies, according to their nutritional needs. Calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation is also necessary to prevent the younger beardies from experiencing life-threatening deficiencies.
Where to Buy Hornworms?
You can purchase hornworms online, from your brick-and-stone reptile shop, or from a professional breeder. Whichever option you would go for, make sure you can verify the quality of the worms.
How to Store Hornworms?
Hornworms can survive approximately 2-3 weeks, so you can store them in a personalized habitat with temperatures around 80-82 F. Their habitat should be dry and warm, as these parameters prolong the worm’s lifespan considerably. This storing method is great if you want to keep your hornworms for longer, so your bearded dragon has a steady supply of worms.
You can feed your hornworms greens like spinach, collard greens, red bell peppers, tomatoes, etc. Just keep in mind that a nutritious diet and higher temperatures will considerably boost the worms’ growth. If you want to slow your hornworms’ growth, lower the temperature to 55 °F at most.
If you’re not interested in housing your hornworms for too long, consider freezing them upon arrival. This storing method is only useful for 2-3 days, after which the worms are unfit for consumption.
Hornworms make for great treats, and your bearded dragon will love them. Get them from trustworthy sources and add them to your beardie’s diet as weekly treats. Your dragons will love them.