Bearded dragons are beloved reptile pets, notorious for their ease of care and cuddly personalities. But this doesn’t mean that you should take them for granted. Bearded dragons have complex needs, especially when it comes to diet.
These omnivorous animals consume a variety of foods, but today, we will only discuss one – superworms.
These are highly nutritious food items for pretty much any omnivorous reptile, but how often should your bearded dragon eat them, and are they all good, always? Let’s have a look!
Nutritional Value of Superworms
Superworms are a popular food for bearded dragons and many other lizards thanks to their high nutritional value, which consists of:
- Protein – A fully-grown adult superworm can deliver a pack of 20-25% protein. This is plenty for a bearded dragon, especially an adult lizard that doesn’t need as much protein as baby and juvenile individuals.
- Fat – Superworms deliver a 13-18% fat content, which qualifies them as high in fat compared to other insects.
- Carbohydrates – Almost non-existent, which is great news for bearded dragons. These lizards only require protein and fat, as they will get most of their carbs from veggies, fruits, and plants.
- Vitamins and minerals – Not many of either. Superworms are stacked in protein, fat, and water, but they only contain traces of vitamins and minerals, nowhere near enough to satisfy your beardie’s nutritional needs. This is why you should always feed your bearded dragon a varied diet with plenty of food sources, including other feeder insects like crickets and dubia roaches.
While superworms appear quite nutritious, they are considered specialized foods for bearded dragons.
They are only useful for their protein and fat content but should only be fed in moderation because they are often associated with obesity. Superworms are great snacks, and you should treat them as such.
Benefits and Risks of Feeding Superworms to Bearded Dragons
Despite their high nutritional content, superworms are by no means well-rounded in terms of nutritional value.
Because of this, they come with both pluses and minuses, so let’s look into these:
- High in protein – Superworms live up to their name in terms of protein content. They are stacked with protein, which turns them into great protein snacks for bearded dragons, especially during the lizard’s juvenile phase. This is when lizards have a higher metabolism and are overall more active, requiring a plus of protein to grow healthy and strong.
- Long shelf life – The best superworms are those served fresh and kicking. Fortunately, these insects can live up to several weeks in good conditions, which means growing them as feeder insects is totally worth it. Especially if you have more than one bearded dragon to feed.
- Ideal treats – Bearded dragons should have a well-rounded and nutritious diet, but they should also have their fair share of occasional treats. These should ideally be delicious, easy to consume, and pack a powerful nutritional punch, preferably with a lot of protein. If this sounds like I’ve just described superworms, that’s because I did.
- High in fat – The high fat content is great for baby lizards and even juveniles because of their faster metabolism. But it can be detrimental to adult beardies because these lizards are prone to obesity. Their bodies don’t break down fat too effectively, especially since lizards aren’t the most active animals in the world, to begin with.
- Low in nutrients – Aside from protein and fat, bearded dragons don’t carry any other nutritional components. For a well-rounded insect-based meal, I recommend mixing it up a bit. Consider crickets, dubia roaches, locusts, and other insects that tend to be more nutrient dense.
- Difficult to digest – Superworms have very hard exoskeletons, making them difficult to digest. Feeding them to your beardie in excess can lead to constipation and even impaction, which may require the assistance of a veterinarian. Also, keep in mind that the superworms’ exoskeleton gets harder as the insect matures. So, you can feed your lizard younger worms to circumvent this issue.
- Biting risk – You may not have seen this one coming, but adult superworms can actually bite and injure your lizard. To prevent this, I recommend decapitating the worm before mealtime.
I would say that the risks associated with superworm consumption are not complete deterrents.
So, you should still feed them to your lizards, but only as treats and always with the risks in the back of your mind.
Preparing Superworms for Feeding
Not all superworms are made equal. Some are more nutritious than others, depending on the preparation that went into…preparing them.
So, let’s see what you can do to boost their nutritional value:
- Acquire healthy specimens – If you don’t have a feeder setup and prefer to buy your superworms instead, make sure you prioritize quality over anything else. The perfect batch of worms should be lively, with fat and wriggly worms with no signs of damage or illness.
- Gut-load them – Gut loading refers to feeding the worms a nutritious and healthy diet, primarily consisting of carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, some fruits, etc. The goal is to help the worms grow healthy and fast while packing a serious nutritional output. Feed them more nutritious meals and larger food portions 24 hours before feeding them to your lizard.
- Dust them – Get a bag of calcium powder, throw the superworms in, and shake it well. The powder will coat the worms, enhancing their nutritional value considerably. Most bearded dragons require calcium supplementation to prevent deficiencies and Metabolic Bone Disease over the years.
- Cut them – Adult superworms can be somewhat aggressive and can bite your lizard during feeding. To prevent that, cut off their heads before feeding. Your beardie won’t mind that much and will happily eat them just the same.
These approaches should enhance the worms’ nutritional content quite considerably.
Feeding Superworms to Bearded Dragons
Superworms are undoubtedly great for bearded dragons, thanks to their outstanding nutritional content. But they aren’t the ideal food for lizards for some of the reasons we’ve just discussed.
So, if you plan on including superworms into your beardie’s diet, consider the following:
- Moderation is key – Superworms are packed with protein and fats, much more than other insects. This makes them great for baby lizards but not so great for adult lizards and their slow digestion. This means you should only feed your reptile superworms in the form of treats, preferably no more than once or twice per week. The ideal portion size in one sitting is obtained by measuring the worms against the lizard’s head. The number of superworms put together length-wise shouldn’t exceed the lizard’s head length.
- Always combine them with other insects – Superworms are great sources of protein and fat, but that’s about it. You should combine them with other insects for a more well-rounded and nutritious diet.
- Mind the size – The larger the superworms are, the more protein and fat they will contain. Also, their exoskeleton grows thicker with time. Knowing that superworms can reach 2 inches in their final form, you need to choose them carefully, depending on the lizard’s size and nutritional requirements.
- Watch out for digestive problems – You’re primarily interested in constipation and impaction. Both of these issues are often the result of excess protein and fat, as well as ingesting too many superworms with hard exoskeletons. These worms are particularly difficult to digest, especially for younger lizards. So, you should only feed your juvenile beardie young and soft superworms and only sparingly.
As an important note here, keep in mind that the bearded dragon’s diet changes gradually over time. Baby and juvenile lizards have a diet of approximately 90% animal protein and 10% plant-based foods, while adults have it almost the other way around.
A typical adult bearded dragon requires a diet of 80% veggies and fruits and 20% insects.
The 80% part should also contain greens and veggies primarily, with fruits qualifying as treats. The excess sugar in the fruits can easily lead to beardies becoming overweight.
Sourcing Superworms for Your Beardie
If you plan on buying your superworms, instead of multiplying and growing them yourself, look for them in nearby pet stores, local breeders, or online retailers.
The market is pretty stacked with offers in this sense.
Overall, there are several tips I consider essential when it comes to sourcing your superworms:
- Look for a reputable seller – I would stay away from standard reptile shops. These tend to ignore basic hygiene rules, so they’re unlikely to keep their superworms in ideal conditions. And you don’t want to feed your lizard spoiled worms. Look for a reputable breeder or seller that can warrant the worms’ quality.
- Check the superworms before buying them – You should always verify the quality of the superworms to make sure they’re active, wiggling, and show no signs of illness or damage. You should stay away from specimens that appear sick or lethargic.
- Store them properly – If you’re getting a larger supply of superworms, make sure you store them properly. Keep them in a dry, cool (up to 75 F), and well-ventilated area to preserve them in good condition.
If you’re not a fan of buying your superworms, you can always set up a feeder tank instead.
This is actually preferable for several reasons, such as:
- Better quality control – You get to control what and how your superworms eat, so you can adjust their nutritional content properly. You can also remove dead or sick worms so that your lizard only has the best ones as meals.
- Long-term food supply – You can keep the feeder population alive for as long as you need it. This will provide your beardie with a steady supply of fresh worms whenever necessary.
- Feeding multiple beardie generations – Having a superworm feeder system in place allows you to feed your growing beardie(s) worms at different stages of development. This way, you don’t need to feed your juvenile beardie adult worms, which are notoriously difficult to digest even for an adult lizard.
In conclusion, I would recommend getting a feeder system to grow your superworms and insects.
Setting up the system itself isn’t too expensive and will provide you with a healthy supply of nutritious snacks for your reptile.
Also, avoid feeding your lizard wild-caught worms or any other insect, for that matter.
These are often contaminated with viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can severely impact your pet’s health and even kill it.
Bearded dragons are fairly easy to care for, but they still require precise housing conditions and personalized diets to thrive.
Superworms are a critical part of their diets, but they’re better served rare and in small portions.