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Live Insects for Reptile Feeding

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Live Insects for Reptile Feeding

Overview

Nutrition plays a vital role in not only maintaining the health of reptiles but allowing them to thrive. Each reptile has specific nutritional needs, which includes both a variety of foods and the addition of vitamin and mineral supplements. Inadequate nutrition in a reptile’s diet can lead to various illnesses.

Proper reptile nutrition and finding the best diet is critical to meeting your reptile’s needs. Also, it is a great way to help ensure the happiness and longevity of your pet.

 

Types of live insects

Crickets Waxworms
Roaches Flightless fruit flies
Hornworms Mealworms
Calci-worms Superworms

 

Benefits of feeding live insects

Crickets

  • Crickets are the most commonly available food and are readily accessible. They come in sizes from extra small to sizable adults and can fit the needs of almost any reptile
  • Crickets sold at Petco are not just ordinary crickets; they are raised on a feed that has been proven to maintain increased vitamin and nutrient levels throughout the crickets' growing process
  • Vita-Bugs crickets, sold in both bulk and carryout containers, have high nutritional content and are enhanced with vitamin E, vitamin A, beta-carotene, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids

 

Waxworms

  • Waxworms are nutritious, with the highest fat content of any commonly available insect, making them an ideal meal for underweight reptiles and a treat for other reptiles

 

Roaches

  • Roaches are more nutritious than other feeder insects. They contain more protein, with up to 28% in Dubia roaches (compared to 19–20% in other feeder insects), and more calcium than crickets, mealworms and superworms
  • Most reptile pet parents are comfortable picking roaches up by hand to place in their reptile habitats, but feeding tongs work well too
  • The smaller Dubia roaches tend to burrow in substrate, so to overcome this issue, many reptile parents prefer to place them in a feeder dish since they cannot climb well on smooth surfaces

 

Flightless fruit flies

  • Flightless fruit flies are ideal for small or newly born reptiles due their small size and inability to fly
  • Sold in cultures, fruit flies will continue to reproduce as long as a few mature flies remain within the culture

 

Hornworms

  • The hornworm is the larval (caterpillar) stage of the sphinx moth
  • Hornworms are packed with calories and nutrients, and they are high in calcium and low in fat. They have a high-water content, which helps keep reptiles hydrated
  • A large hornworm has the mass of approximately 20 crickets. If you need to put weight on your reptile, hornworms are a good addition to their diet
  • Hornworms have a soft exoskeleton for easier eating and digestion

 

Mealworms

  • Mealworms add variety to a reptile’s diet. Mealworms are available in many sizes, from mini to giant, which means they fit the needs of almost any size reptile
  • Adding mealworms to a reptile’s diet delivers vitamins A and E, plus fatty acids and essential protein
  • They can be conveniently stored in the refrigerator to prevent them from morphing

 

Calci-worms

  • Calci-worms are low in fat and rich in calcium with a natural balance of calcium and phosphorus that helps prevent metabolic bone disease. They are also good for gravid (pregnant) females or females that just laid eggs
  • They are very wiggly, so they tend to entice finicky eaters

 

Superworms

  • Superworms are available in three sizes and can fit the needs of almost any size reptile.
  • Large superworms are a great option for reptiles who need a larger food source
  • They are extremely active worms, therefore, great for finicky eaters

 

Things to remember when feeding live insects to reptiles

  • Insects being fed to reptiles should be no larger than the space between the reptile’s eyes
  • Insects should be lightly coated with supplemental vitamin and mineral additives to increase their nutritional value by adding elements such as calcium and vitamin D
  • Various worms and even roaches are simple to feed because reptiles can easily eat them from a deep dish or feeding tongs

 

How to maintain live insects for reptile feeding

Crickets

  • Provide a clean, high-quality, well-ventilated container for housing your crickets
  • Cricket storage containers should contain clean egg crates or other media to increase surface area and allow the crickets to spread out, but no substrate
  • Provide clean commercial food and a watering method. Crickets need a watering method that makes it impossible for them to drown, such as cricket quencher
  • Optimal temperature range is 70–75 degrees Fahrenheit, with low humidity
  • Crickets generally have a life span of up to 9 weeks

 

Waxworms

  • Waxworms should be kept in the refrigerator and can maintain their high quality for up to 3 weeks at 55 degrees
  • Waxworms do not eat at this stage of their life; over time, they will consume the fat supplies stored within their bodies, and this will reduce their overall mass

 

Roaches

  • Roaches accept a wide range of foods and thrive on high-protein diets, making them lower in fat content. They are also odorless and soundless
  • Roaches have a longer lifespan than crickets and remain edible longer than worms
  • Males usually live 12–18 months, while females may live up to 2 years

 

Flightless fruit flies

  • Fruit fly cultures contain all necessary nutrients to allow the insects to continue to multiply over time
  • Cultures can last 5+ weeks

 

Hornworms

  • Hornworms are best stored at room temperature; they will grow much quicker above room temperature and slightly slower if cooled into the 60s
  • Hornworm cups should be stored inverted, so the food is on top. It’s also important to prop the edge of the cup up to ensure good airflow

 

Mealworms

  • Mealworms can be conveniently stored in the refrigerator to prevent them from morphing
  • Mealworm cups are best kept by refrigerating between 42 and 55 degrees with low humidity
  • Mealworms require food and water about every 3 weeks for optimal quality
  • Mealworms are packed in bedding that serves as their food source but will need to be brought to room temperature for a 24-hour period after 3 weeks to allow the worms to become active and eat
  • Dropping a small amount of cricket quencher in each cup for that 24-hour period is very beneficial. Remove any moisture before putting the product back in the refrigerator
  • Mealworms may morph into inedible beetles in about a month

 

Calci-worms

  • Calci-worms are best kept by refrigerating at temperatures between 42 and 55 degrees
  • Calci-worms are packed in their food source, which will have a slight vinegar odor
  • Calci-worms turn black the closer they become to pupating; black ones are not dead

 

Superworms

  • Superworms are voracious eaters and are packed in mealworm bedding that satisfies their food needs
  • They require a small amount of moisture every few weeks to maintain high quality, which is easily done by adding a few pieces of cricket quencher. Without added moisture, superworms will consume one another
  • Important: Unlike mealworms, they cannot be stored in a refrigerator

 

Where to buy live insects for reptile feeding

Live insects for reptile feeding are available for purchase at Petco online and in store. If visiting your local Petco Pet Care Center location, please call ahead to check availability.

 

Supplies

 

FAQs

  • Where to buy live insects? Live insects, used for feeding reptiles, can be purchased at your local Petco or on petco.com.
  • Which reptiles do not eat live food? A variety of reptiles either do not eat or do not need to exclusively eat live food. For snakes, properly thawed frozen rodents are not only a great alternative to live food, but they are also safer for your snake. Some reptiles, including the uromastyx and most tortoises, are mainly herbivorous, eating a diet that mainly consist of vegetables and fruits (or seeds in the case of the uromastyx), with commercially available diets available to supplement their protein needs. Aquatic turtles can be fed a mix of pelleted turtle food, krill, frozen fish food and vegetables, avoiding the need to feed anything live. Hermit crabs thrive on a diet of pelleted hermit crab food, vegetables, non-citrus fruits, and more. There are commercially prepared diets (pelleted, canned, moist bites, etc.) as well as freeze-dried insect options that can help pet parents provide a nutritionally balanced and varied diet free of live insects for several lizard species. Amphibians and other insectivores may be mentally and physically stimulated when eating live food and tend to prefer live insect options. If a reptile does not take to non-live food options, there are methods that can help you transition your pet, however there are also reptiles who may only eat live food. Researching the specific dietary needs and preferences of your pet, as well as understanding the various protein options available, will enable pet parents to select a diet they feel comfortable feeding while still meeting the nutritional needs of their pet.
  • How long do flightless fruit flies live? It takes approximately 30 hours for their eggs to hatch, and within 2 days, fruit flies have matured and are ready to mate. Typically, fruit flies only live 8–15 days.
  • How many crickets should I feed my reptile? This varies based on your reptile's species, age and size. A general rule of thumb for many adult reptiles is to feed them as many appropriately sized crickets as they can consume in 10–15 minutes; remove any remaining crickets from the reptile’s habitat. Frequency is variable depending on age and species; juvenile reptiles will require more frequent feedings. Remember, it is always best to offer a varied diet to ensure their food is nutritionally balanced, versus only offering your reptile an abundance of crickets at one time.
  • How big can hornworms get? Hornworms are fast growing, reaching full size in 3–4 weeks. Hornworms can reach lengths of up to 4 Inches long and weigh up to 10 grams before pupating.
  • What should I feed my Dubia roaches? Dubia roaches are primarily herbivores but are considered opportunistic scavengers and will generally eat any food provided to them. Fresh fruits and vegetables work well, but you can gut-load Dubia roaches with a cricket or roach diet to improve their nutritional value.
  • How should I take care of mealworms? Mealworm cups are best kept by refrigerating between 42 and 55 degrees with low humidity. Mealworms are packed in bedding that serves as their food source but will need to be brought to room temperature for a 24-hour period after 3 weeks to allow the worms to become active and eat.

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center store employee about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all reptiles are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as salmonella bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your reptile or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease. Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for reptiles and should consider having a pet other than a reptile.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information.

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.