It’s no secret that bearded dragons love insects. Insects comprise a large part of their diet in the wild, and should make up approximately 75% of an adult bearded dragon’s diet in captivity (with fruit and vegetables making up the other 25%).
Crickets are a popular protein option for many bearded dragon owners. They’re a relatively inexpensive choice, don’t immediately hide when placed in your dragon’s tank, and are easy for beardies to digest because of their softer exoskeleton. But what if you loathe these chirpy little bugs and would like to cut them out completely?
Can Beardies Live Without Crickets?
Yes, bearded dragons can live, quite happily, without any crickets in their diet at all. You’ll just need to make sure that you’re not feeding your bearded dragon too many high-fat insects, and that you’re fulfilling all of their nutritional needs.
This news may come as a breath of fresh air to you as a bearded dragon parent. After all, crickets are noisy, smelly, and are excellent escape artists. Read on to find out how you can successfully replace them in your beardie’s diet.
Bearded Dragon Nutritional Needs
Bearded dragons are omnivores. This means that they naturally consume both meat (in the form of insects) for protein, and plants (or fruits and vegetables). They require a varied diet to stay healthy.
Baby bearded dragons need to be fed as often as three times a day, and require a diet of mostly insects. Juvenile beardies typically need to be fed once per day. Adults can be fed everyday or every other day, depending on their appetite and individual needs.
You should only offer meals that can be consumed that day. If your bearded dragon doesn’t finish a meal, you should consider serving her a smaller amount of food next time. Also, be sure to remove any uneaten insects from your dragon’s terrarium at the end of the day.
Bearded dragons also need calcium, especially as babies when their skeletal system is still developing. As a general rule, veterinarians typically recommend that 2-3 times per week, you lightly sprinkle a baby bearded dragon’s food with a calcium powder that does not contain vitamin D3.
In addition, you should sprinkle their food another 2-3 times per week with a calcium powder that does contain vitamin D3 (for a total of 4-6 total times per week).
Juvenile dragons need a calcium supplement a bit less often, about 3-4 times per week. Once your bearded dragon reaches adulthood, you can supplement a meal just once per week.
Calcium powders stick best to moist foods, such as fruit and vegetables. You should offer these powdered portions of veggies and fruit to your beardie before the rest of her meal to ensure that she eats all of them.
Bearded dragons need vitamin A, which they receive in large part from the vegetables you incorporate into their diet. They also need iron, especially when they’re young. And wouldn’t you know it, crickets are a large source of iron… However, fear not if you’ve elected not to supply these little hoppers to your young beardie.
Bearded dragons can also get plenty of iron from leafy green vegetables and from an iron supplement obtained from your veterinarian. You have options!
Lastly, be sure that your beardie is always provided with a dish of fresh water and is bathed regularly (which affords her the opportunity to drink, as well as providing additional health benefits). Even though they are naturally desert-dwelling creatures, bearded dragons need to be provided with ample opportunity to drink water.
Things to Consider When Feeding Your Bearded Dragon
As you’ve probably guessed, age is an important factor when it comes to your bearded dragon’s diet. Juvenile bearded dragons have bigger appetites and require more protein and fat, in the form of insects, for their growing bodies. Adult beardies have smaller appetites in general, and can consume more vegetables, in addition to insects.
Availability of insects is also an important factor. Bearded dragons will happily eat just about any bug you put in front of them, so it’s perfectly fine to supply them with what you can best afford financially, and what is most readily available from a reliable feeder supplier near you, as long as it is bearded-dragon approved.
This can include crickets, or not. Do keep in mind that you should never feed your bearded dragon any insects that you catch in the wild of your backyard.
Safety is a common issue, especially with young, ravenously hungry bearded dragons. These little guys are prone to ingesting loose substrate, especially sand and gravel, along with their food. Sand is not recommended as a bearded dragon substrate for a variety of reasons, and this is one of them.
To further prevent substrate ingestion, you can use a bowl, or hand-feed your beardie (either with your actual fingers or a pair of tweezers).
You also need to closely monitor the size of the food that you feed your beardie. As a general rule, do not serve them anything larger than the space between their eyes. Feeding your beardie food that is too large can cause a variety of health issues, including impaction and pressure on their spine.
Additionally, do not overfeed your bearded dragon. Overfeeding includes both feeding your bearded dragon too much, too often, and feeding them a large amount of insects that are higher in fat (such as waxworms).
Whether or not you are feeding your bearded dragon crickets matters less than whether you are making sure you are feeding your dragon a diet that is age-appropriate and safe.
So, What Can I Feed My Bearded Dragon?
You have quite the menu of insects to serve to your bearded dragon, excluding crickets.
Baby beardies should be given small prey that is easily digestible for them. Freshly molted worms are one great option.
Older bearded dragons can eat kingworms, waxworms, cockroaches (provided by a trusted feeder insect supplier, not your household roaches), butterworms, silkworms, locusts, Dubia roaches, mealworms, and superworms.
There are pros and cons to each type of insect, so doing your research is important. For example, Dubia roaches are quiet, cannot jump so they rarely escape, don’t smell bad, and have a much longer lifespan than crickets do. They do, however, tend to hide or stand still in your beardie’s tank, making them a bit harder to spot and capture.
As previously mentioned, vegetables should make up a smaller portion of your bearded dragon’s diet. Vegetables will need to be cut into appropriately-sized pieces.
Some of the best vegetables to serve your bearded dragon raw are collard greens, grape leaves, endive, turnip greens, green or red leaf lettuce, bell peppers of any color, carrots, green beans, peas, sweet potatoes, and turnips. You can also give your bearded dragon acorn squash, spaghetti squash, or butternut squash, but these items will need to be cooked before consumption.
You can also give your bearded dragon fruits on occasion. Fruit also needs to be cut into small, manageable chunks and can include apples, bananas, berries, grapes, cantaloupe, pears, and oranges. Bearded dragons also love certain edible flowers such as geraniums and pansies.
Foods to Avoid Giving Your Bearded Dragon
There are some insects and plants that you should never offer your bearded dragon, with no exceptions.
Fireflies or any other insects or worms that “glow” should never be served to your bearded dragon. The chemical that makes glowing possible for these bugs is highly toxic to beardies.
In fact, never feed your bearded dragon any insect that you catch outdoors. The nutritional value of wild insects is unknown, and they can be a source of pesticides and other harmful substances that can pose a serious threat to the health of your dragon.
It is also important to note that you should try to avoid giving your beardie cabbage, chard, and kale as they are high in calcium oxalates and may cause metabolic bone disease. Additionally, do not give bearded dragons much spinach, broccoli, or parsley. These veggies have high amounts of goitrogens which can negatively affect your beardie’s thyroid function.
There are also plants that are downright toxic to bearded dragons and should be avoided at all costs. These include, but are not limited to: Avocados, Boxwood, Elderberry, Iris, Juniper, Poison Ivy, Poinsettias, Tulips, Buttercup, Ivy, Mistletoe, Poison Oak, Rhododendron, Poppy, Water Hemlock, Wild Daffodil, Hydrangea, Oak, Poison Sumac, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Lily-of-the-Valley, Wisteria, and Tobacco.
Even though a diet filled with crickets is a popular choice among many bearded dragon owners, it’s not the only way to keep your bearded friend well-fed and healthy.
Simply fill their diet with lots of safe, insect-based protein options, nutritionally-dense vegetables, a few fruit treats per week, and lots of fresh water. You’ll have one happy, healthy beardie buddy, with or without the crickets.