One of the most common feeder insects is the mealworm. The mealworm is a food source for all kinds of animals, from reptiles to fish and birds. Even humans have been eating live and dried mealworms for centuries. But can crested geckos eat mealworms or should they be avoided?
Crested geckos can eat mealworms as an occasional treat once or twice a month. Mealworms are high in protein but are also high in fat and have a hard exoskeleton. You should only feed mealworms that are small enough (not bigger than the head of your crested gecko).
Mealworms are widely available but are not suitable as a staple food for crested geckos. They’re not the best feeder insect you can give, but they are easier to obtain, can provide certain nutrients (such as protein), and are cheaper than, for example, hornworms.
In this article, you’ll learn everything about the mealworm. In the end, you’ll know how to feed these worms to your crested gecko and where to buy them.
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What Are Mealworms?
Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) are common (agricultural) pests and feed on grains, hence the name mealworm. They probably have their origin in Europe but nowadays can be found worldwide. The mealworm is the larval stage of the mealworm beetle, a species of darkling beetle.
The mealworm isn’t only a common pest but is also bred in captivity to feed to exotic animals such as reptiles, birds, and fish. Humans can also eat them! Mealworms can, for example, be processed to make insect burgers and other processed foods for human consumption.
Mealworms are insects that have a yellow coloration with brown rings across their body. Freshly molted mealworms will have a whiter color.
Some crested gecko owners sometimes notice a kind of beetle in the terrarium. In most cases, this beetle results from an (uneaten) mealworm left in the terrarium. Below you can find an image of mealworms and a mealworm beetle. If you notice this beetle in your terrarium, just remove it and be more careful in the future.
The mealworm is the larval stage of the mealworm beetle. Like most other holometabolous insects, the beetle goes through four stages of life: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Mealworms will eat and grow until they can transform and go into the pupal stage. Mealworms will go through this larval stage in four to six weeks. They can reach a length of up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) and weigh 10 to 11 grams.
Mealworms as a food source for crested geckos
Since mealworms are popular among feeder insects, their nutritional value is well-known. The following table shows the average nutritional value for mealworms as feeder insects based on the numbers in the MSD Veterinary Manual.
Are mealworms good for crested geckos?
Mealworms are good for crested geckos when given in moderation. They are very high in protein. However, they also are high in fat, have a bad Ca:P ratio, and contain a hard exoskeleton (made from chitin). This exoskeleton can cause impaction or constipation.
You should always gut-load and dust the worms to ensure that your crested gecko gets additional nutrients. Most live mealworms come with the food to gut-load them. Then, all you need to do is dust them with the usual supplements.
Are mealworms safe for crested geckos?
Mealworms can be dangerous for your crested gecko because of the hard exoskeleton. It can cause your crested gecko to be impacted. You can decrease the risk of impaction by giving freshly molted mealworms (whiter color). Their exoskeleton is softer and easier to digest.
Some sources suggest cutting the mealworm’s head off before feeding it. However, this is not necessary. Mealworms have strong jaws, but the risk of them biting your gecko in the stomach is minimal. It can only occur when your gecko swallows the mealworm in whole without chewing on it.
How many mealworms can you feed to your crested gecko?
Crested geckos can eat three to four mealworms per serving (once or twice a month), although very hungry crested geckos might want to eat more. Depending on the size of the mealworms, you might want to feed one more to your crested gecko.
Always start with just one mealworm and learn from the experience. After a while, you’ll know how many mealworms your crested gecko can eat in one serving. I recommend giving a maximum of four mealworms per serving to prevent them from overeating and losing their appetite the following days. Mealworms contain a lot of fat and their exoskeleton can cause impaction or constipation. So don’t feed too many, even when your crested gecko can’t seem to get enough of them.
What size mealworms can you feed to your crested gecko?
Crested geckos can eat mealworms that are as big as their head. You can use the distance between their eyes as a general rule to know if the mealworm is too big to feed to your crested gecko. If the mealworm is too big, you can always cut it into smaller pieces before feeding it to your gecko.
How often can you feed mealworms to your crested gecko?
Mealworms can be fed to a crested gecko once or twice a month as a tasty treat. However, because of their hard exoskeleton, they should never be the base of a balanced crested gecko diet. Freshly molted mealworms are better but don’t provide all nutrients that your crested gecko needs.
How to feed mealworms to your crested gecko?
Mealworms can be fed by using a tong. You can also let your crested gecko hunt the mealworms by placing the worms with your gecko in a separate tank. Lastly, you can place the mealworms in a small bowl in the terrarium. This prevents them from burrowing in the substrate.
You can use these feeding techniques for living, canned, and dried mealworms. If you feed canned or dried mealworms, I suggest using a tong to mimic a live mealworm. When you use a bowl, make sure that you get a bowl where live mealworms can’t get out, such as this bowl from Exo Terra.
Exo Terra also sells a vibrating dish called the Vivicator, which can be used for canned and dried mealworms. The product has mixed reviews and a normal bowl works just fine.
Can hatchlings and juvenile crested geckos eat mealworms?
Hatchlings are too small to eat mealworms and benefit more from a well-balanced diet focused on their growth. However, juvenile crested geckos can start eating mealworms once or twice a month as long as the mealworm isn’t too big.
What to do with leftover mealworms?
If your crested gecko doesn’t eat (all) the mealworms you’ve fed, you’ll need to dispose of the leftover worms. The best way to do this is to place the worms in a sealed bag or container and put them in a freezer for at least 24 hours. After 24 hours, you can put them in your garbage.
Where to Buy Mealworms
Mealworms are sold online, in fishing bait stores, and in pet stores worldwide.
Live mealworms are usually sold in larger packs of 50 or more although some pet stores also sell smaller packs. They are usually sold with enough food to last for several days (make sure to check this when you buy them).
Below are some of the more popular sellers and their prices (updated in April 2021). Be aware that there might also be shipping costs.
Mealworms are bred in large numbers and it usually doesn’t matter if you buy small or large mealworms when it comes to the price. However, if you buy large numbers of mealworms, the price will be lower per worm. The lowest amount that is sold usually is 50 per pack. Even for such small amounts of mealworms, the price is very low (averaging $0.05 per mealworm).
It can take a long time to feed 50 mealworms if you’ve got a picky eater or only have one crested gecko. In such a case, buying smaller amounts in a local pet store or fishing bait store might be easier. Another viable option is to buy canned or dried mealworms.
Canned mealworms (gourmet-style)
An alternative to feeding live mealworms is getting a can of mealworms. Canned mealworms have a higher percentage of moisture and are already dead. When opened, the canned mealworms last for two to three weeks when you keep the can in a fridge. Fluker Farms, Exo Terra, and Zoo Med sell canned (gourmet-style) mealworms.
One possible drawback of using canned mealworms is the smell. Some people have noticed that canned mealworms smell terrible and don’t use them for this reason.
If you don’t like live worms and don’t want to give canned mealworms, you can give dried mealworms to your crested gecko. Dried mealworms are available for reptiles, birds, and fish, and many brands sell dried mealworms. However, I prefer smaller packages of dried mealworms because crested geckos won’t eat many mealworms. Fluker Farms has a nice small pack of dried mealworms available. If you prefer a (larger) bag, I would suggest you get the bag from Zilla Reptile.
Dried mealworms have a (very) hard exoskeleton, making them less digestible for crested geckos. When you feed dried mealworms to your crested gecko, make sure to keep an eye on it the following days to make sure it still poops. I mash the dried mealworms up so they’re in tinier pieces to decrease the risk of impaction.
Want to Learn More?
If you want to learn more about crested geckos as pets, please read the following articles.
- Crested Gecko Diet Guide
- Can crested geckos eat waxworms?
- Can crested geckos eat hornworms?
- Do crested geckos need live food?
- Can crested geckos eat superworms?