Are Hornworms Safe for Axolotls? Here’s What You Need to Know

Axolotl owners are always worried about what to feed their cute pet. Can axolotls eat hornworms? What kinds can they eat, and how much? We answer all of these questions in the article below.

 

Axolotls are cute-looking amphibians that have been declared critically endangered animals by IUCN. Currently, only between 50 to 1,000 Axolotls exist in the wild.

But many people keep them as pets, and they are quite common in captivity. It is natural for pet owners to want to understand their diet and answer the titular question – yes, axolotls can eat hornworms and other worms.

We will look at some important aspects of feeding hornworms to axolotls in this article.

 

Can Axolotls Eat Hornworms

 

Can Axolotl Eat Hornworms?

Yes, Axolotls can eat hornworms as occasional treats. But they could choke on full-sized hornworms. Hornworms can grow longer than an Axolotl’s head.

Fully grown hornworms can be up to four inches long, so it would be best to feed your pet Axolotl hornworms that are still in their larval stage.

How Many Hornworms Can You Feed Them?

You can feed your axolotl a meal consisting of various insects, including hornworms, crickets, and mealworms, once or twice a week.

Some axolotl owners prefer feeding their pets larvae of hornworms twice a day in small quantities as an occasional treat.

Feeding them insects provides axolotls with essential nutrients. However, make sure never to overfeed them, especially babies.

One thumb rule to follow when feeding your Axolotl is to feed once a day if the tank is smaller than 5 gallons. If your axolotl tank is larger, you should feed your pet twice daily.

How To Stop Them From Eating Too Many?

Axolotls are voracious eaters and eat most of the things you give them in their tank. You need to be wise and put only a small amount of food in the tank, or else they might get sick due to overeating.

How much you should feed them depends on their age and size.

Additionally, an active axolotl would need more food than an axolotl that is less active throughout the day.

They can easily digest insects such as crickets, brine shrimp, and small worms. Insects should be given only as treats in small quantities, not on a regular basis.

You might notice your pet sitting at the bottom of the tank if they overeat. That should indicate that you must remove all food substances from its tank.

 

Can Axolotls Eat Hornworms

 

Do Axolotls Get Impaction From Hornworms?

Axolotls can and will eat anything you put in their tank, including dirt, small stones, and other deposits. These substances often block their digestive tract, causing impaction (a type of blockage).

If you buy hornworm larvae from a trusted store, they are unlikely to cause this condition in axolotls. However, hornworms found in the wild can harm your axolotls (because they contain toxins).

As a result, food substances do not get a way out of the body and start to rot. This can cause serious health hazards in axolotls.

If this happens, you might notice your axolotl sitting at the bottom of the tank for a long time with the tip of its tail curled up. It would not pass any stool and might also become bloated.

This means it cannot move its body upwards and might even suffer oxygen deficiency.

Can Baby Axolotls Eat Hornworms?

Baby axolotls can eat hornworms. Hornworms do not have a hard exoskeleton like other insects, so they are easier to eat and digest. Hornworms are also an excellent source of protein, moisture, and calcium.

You should start by giving frozen or dried hornworms to your baby axolotls to get them accustomed to this food option.

Moreover, live hornworms may have various pathogens within them or on their body that die once dried or frozen. You can use a modal window (dialog window) to introduce food to the baby axolotl’s tank.

What Kind of Hornworms Can Axolotl Eat?

Axolotls can feed on most types of worms, including most species of hornworms. They can consume live, frozen, and dried hornworms. Axolotls are carnivorous and enjoy feeding on insects but cannot digest plants or leafy greens.

However, hornworms in the wild might have harmful chemicals such as insecticides and pesticides, which can be fatal for axolotls.

Dry Hornworms

The best way to introduce these worms to your axolotl’s diet is by giving them dry hornworms from stores. They would be free of any chemicals and pathogens.

However, note that dry hornworms don’t contain moisture; moreover, they might stick on the tank’s walls, making it difficult for your axolotls to catch them.

Frozen Hornworms

Frozen hornworms are easily available in pet stores. They can be a good option if fresh ones are unavailable or if you want to introduce insects to your young axolotl.

Moreover, live worms carry pathogens that die on freezing. Axolotls can digest frozen hornworms, but you must keep the amount in check. Axolotls tend to overeat and often end up being sick due to overeating.

 

Can Axolotls Eat Hornworms

 

Do Axolotls Normally Eat Hornworms?

Axolotls are carnivorous amphibians, and in the wild, they prey on almost any species that are smaller than them. The diet of wild Axolotls mainly consists of insects and worms.

They feed on insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, and some worms, including earthworms, mealworms, and dendrobaena worms. As an axolotl owner, you should try mimicking your pet’s diet in the wild.

Apart from insects, axolotls feed on small fish, crabs, shrimps, and other smaller amphibians such as salamanders. Some axolotls feed on caterpillars like hornworms, while others do not. Although axolotls are gluttonous animals, some species can be picky eaters.

Are Hornworms Poisonous to Axolotls?

No, hornworms are not poisonous to axolotls. Hornworms can be toxic for human consumption and lead to nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. In contrast, hornworms are considered nutritious for axolotls.

But you should not give hornworms that you catch from the wild and whose origin you do not know.

Some varieties are known to contain toxins, while others may have consumed insecticides and pesticides. These hornworms could be dangerous for your axolotl.

So, it would be best if you stick to buying young hornworms at the larval stage or frozen and dried hornworms that are easily available in pet stores quite cheap.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of worms can axolotls eat?

Axolotls are carnivorous and eat various worms, including earthworms, hornworms, mealworms, etc. Dendrobaena worms are considered the best food source for axolotls.

You should cut bigger worms such as hornworms and Dendrobaena worms into small pieces so that your axolotls can easily swallow them.

What insects can axolotls eat?

Yes, Axolotls feed on a variety of insects and their larvae. They feed on worms, snails, ghost shrimps, and even tadpoles of other smaller amphibians.

Their diet mainly consists of various worms, such as mealworms, hornworms, and Dendrobaena worms.

Can axolotls eat live worms?

They can eat live worms after they are three months old. To accustom your axolotl to insects, first, provide frozen or dried insects and gradually move towards a live meal consisting of live worms and other nutritious food options.

Can axolotls eat caterpillars?

It is best if you don’t feed your axolotl any caterpillars that you’ve found in your garden or caught in the wild.

Some caterpillars, such as hornworms, are easily available in pet stores. You can provide these to your axolotl as a good source of protein.

Wrap Up

Axolotls aren’t picky eaters and feed on many insects, worms, small fishes, and amphibians. But owners need to be careful as they tend to overeat.

Hornworms are a good source of protein for axolotls, and you can provide them to your axolotl as a part of a diet of several species of insects. Make sure not to give them hornworms caught in the wild because those may contain toxins.

Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

Reader Emails

Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below.

Letter 1 – Fulvous Hawkmoth Caterpillar from Rwanda

 

Subject: Creepy Kigali Caterpiller
Location: Kigali, Rwanda
January 29, 2013 6:33 am
What is this? We are american Expats living in Rwanda, the Rwandans were terrified of this thing. I can’t find anything online about it. We have been seeing these in our yard.
Signature: Joe Marlin

Fulvous Hawkmoth Caterpillar

Dear Joe,
This is the Caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae.  Sphinx Caterpillars are commonly called Hornworms.  They are not dangerous.  They are not poisonous and they will not sting nor bite.  We will try to determine the species.

Update:  January 31, 2013
We realized that this is most likely the caterpillar of a Death’s Head Hawkmoth.  You can see some wonderful images on the Natural History Museum website.

Correction Courtesy of Bostjan Dvorak
Subject: Rwanda caterpillar found on 29th January
February 3, 2013 1:52 pm
Dear Bugman, dear Joe,
what an interesting discovery!
This is a caterpillar of Coeleonia fulvinotata. It’s caterpillars look very much like those of Acherontia atropos – in both variations, the yellow blue-striped and the greyish pattern. But in contrary to the death’s head hawkmoth’s larva, this one has a thinner and longer horn, a slightly different shape of lateral stripes – and it will pupate to a thinner pupa with a long curved proboscis case very similar to those in the most american Manduca or the asian Psilogramma species. All the 5 species of the exclusively african genus Coelonia are very similar in shape and colour pattern to the Acherontia as adult moths as well, but they have a very long proboscis and feed from flowers howering above them. (Indeed they look like a combination between a Death’s head and a Convolvulus hawk-moth or a Tobacco hornworm, with their brownish marbled wing pattern and yellow body stripes, and long proboscis; in fact, this is a closely related genus, having evolved from the same ancestor as Acherontia, which developped separately in a very special way, with it’s short proboscis and unusual way of life, specialized on feeding from bee-hives, a unique one among the Sphingidae.) Since the moths of all Coelonia species (like this one: C. fulvinotata, the “Fulvous hawk-moth”) don’t migrate and therefore stay confined to afrotropical areas, they are almost unknown, or at least far less known than the migrating genera Acherontia and Agrius. The similarity of the caterpillars in both known patterns, in Acherontia and Coelonia, is really fascinating, making evident that these shapes and colours are a good condition to survive in their common homeland region…
Please continue with Your fascinating site, presenting these great beings!
Best wishes from Berlin,
Bostjan Dvorak
Signature: Bostjan Dvorak

Thanks for your correction Bostjan.  Do you have a link with an image of the caterpillar?

Thanks for Your answer, Daniel; yes, some of them are here, eg.:
http://www.papillon-poitou-charentes.org/spip.php?page=document&id_document=27170 (Photos taken by Constanza Michelle in Yokadouma, shown on the site Papillons de Poitou-Charentes)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/zimbart/7519943262/ (Photos taken by the botanist Bart Wursten, shown on Flickr)
http://www.insecte.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=87615 (Photos by Sebastien Cally, taken in Madagaskar and showing the other colour pattern, also known in A. atropos)
Best wishes,
Bostjan

Letter 2 – Walnut Sphinx Hornworm

 

Subject: Caterpillar … I think?
Location: Abilene, TX
August 21, 2013 6:41 pm
Abilene, TX. August 2013 – I saw this big fat guy crawling past my foot, when I moved my foot it jumped away and hissed at me… Someone suggested caterpillar… is that what it is? It was none to happy about me taking its picture, it kept making noises at me, I wasnt aware that they could make noise!
Signature: Kat

Hornworm
Hornworm

Hi Kat,
This is a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a moth in the family Sphingidae.  We will try to determine the species on the Sphingidae of the United States website.

Update:  Thanks to a comment from Bostjan Dvorak, we now know this is a Walnut Sphinx Hornworm which can be viewed on the Sphingidae of the Americas.  The pink color indicates it is ready to pupate.

Letter 3 – Hornworm

 

Subject: hornworm
December 4, 2013 4:28 pm
Found what appears to be a tomato hornworm in Phoenix.  It is really cold outside.  The kids want to keep it and try to observe it mutating into a moth.  We know that it burrows so we need dirt, but what does it eat and does it need water?  We found it in a yard of a friend.  Not sure what to do with him.  Thanks.  L
Signature: Lisa

There are many hornworms, and without a photo, we cannot properly guide you to the proper food plant.  If the caterpillar was found on the ground, it is most likely ready to pupate and the food plant is not necessary.

Thank you so much.  We let him go in hopes he would dig in.  It will be freezing this week and didn’t want him to die.  Thx
I will send you a pic

Possibly Great Ash Sphinx Caterpillar
Possibly Great Ash Sphinx Caterpillar

Hi again Lisa,
There isn’t enough detail in your photo to be certain, but this is not a Tomato Hornworm.  We suspect it might be a Great Ash Sphinx Caterpillar,
Sphinx chersis, and you can compare your photo to the ones posted on Sphingidae of the Americas.

Letter 4 – Sweet Potato Hornworm

 

Subject: Dark Brown Hornworm
Location: Plano, TX
August 6, 2014 8:27 am
August 2014, Plano, Texas. Found this Hornworm on our patio this morning after a thunderstorm last night. I do have container tomato plants nearby, but haven’t seen a brown hornworm before. I also have a garden devoted to many native plants. Thanks for any help with a more specific ID.
Signature: Naturalist Nancy

Hornworm
Sweet Potato Hornworm

Dear Naturalist Nancy, Please provide a lateral view. Thanks

Subject: Dark brown hornworm
Location: Plano, Texas
August 6, 2014 5:52 pm
Plano, Texas, August 6th
Two more photos related to my inquiry of this morning regarding same hornworm.
Signature: Naturalist Nancy

Hornworm
Sweet Potato Hornworm

Daniel,
I will remember this if there is a next time.  I released the little guy in my alley garden.  I really appreciate your quick response and use your site often, as well as recommend it to fellow bug and nature enthusiasts.
Thank you!
Nancy’s

Hi Again Naturalist Nancy,
We are having a problem with this ID.  A lateral view would be ideal, and since it is a dark Hornworm, the color may not be typical if it is getting close to pupation, a likely possibility if it was found crawing on the ground instead of eating, and it could be a dark variation on a species that is more commonly green.  We have written to Bill Oehlke to request his assistance.

Letter 5 – Hornworm

 

Subject: Huge Orange Caterpillar
Location: Corning, New York
September 29, 2014 3:04 pm
My cat, Mr. Waffles, found this guy crawling around the gravel driveway. It looked like it was trying to burrow into the ground but it was all rocky there and couldn’t. I rubbed a leaf against it and it jumped and curled up and started to pulsate a little bit, like a defense mechanism. After a few seconds it uncurled and started to crawl away.
Signature: Stedge

Hornworm ready to pupate
Hornworm ready to pupate

Hi Stedge,
This Hornworm looks positively ripe, like a juicy piece of fruit, was the first thought in our mind when we saw your images.  This Hornworm in the family Sphingidae is getting ready to pupate, so it has turned from green to those warm, glowing colors.  We believe we have correctly identified your Hornworm as an Elm Sphinx,
Sphinx chersis, thanks to the Sphingidae of the Americas site.  We are going to write to Bill Oehlke to see if he can verify our identification.

Hornworm
Hornworm

Bill Oehlke confirm Elm Sphinx identification.
Daniel,
It is Sphinx chersis. Can you put me in contact with photographer so I can
seek  permission to post and can also find county.
Thanks for thinking of me.
Bill

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

10 thoughts on “Are Hornworms Safe for Axolotls? Here’s What You Need to Know”

  1. Great discovery! The hissing noise is an essential detail in this animal, and it clearly reveals an Amorpha juglandis caterpillar. A. juglandis means “Walnut hawkmoth” (lat. “juglans” < Jovis glans: walnut ("Juppiters glans (oakseed)")), as the caterpillars are mainly found on trees from walnut family (walnuts and hickorys (Carya)). This species is the only member of the genus Amorpha from the Smerinthinae subfamily; it is closely related with the asian genus Phyllosphingia (eg. P. dissimilis) – they are similar as larvae and adults, and the caterpillars of both produce hissing or squeaking noise. As most members of the Smerinthinae, the adults don't feed. Their flattened pupae look like mammal excrements – and hiss as well. These sounds are produced by rapid air compression through the spiracles. The larvae burrow deeply into soil and their pupae overwinter in a chamber or exposed – the found caterpillar was on its pupating trip, to find a convenient place…

    Nice wishes from Berlin,
    Bostjan Dvorak

    Reply
  2. Great discovery! The hissing noise is an essential detail in this animal, and it clearly reveals an Amorpha juglandis caterpillar. A. juglandis means “Walnut hawkmoth” (lat. “juglans” < Jovis glans: walnut ("Juppiters glans (oakseed)")), as the caterpillars are mainly found on trees from walnut family (walnuts and hickorys (Carya)). This species is the only member of the genus Amorpha from the Smerinthinae subfamily; it is closely related with the asian genus Phyllosphingia (eg. P. dissimilis) – they are similar as larvae and adults, and the caterpillars of both produce hissing or squeaking noise. As most members of the Smerinthinae, the adults don't feed. Their flattened pupae look like mammal excrements – and hiss as well. These sounds are produced by rapid air compression through the spiracles. The larvae burrow deeply into soil and their pupae overwinter in a chamber or exposed – the found caterpillar was on its pupating trip, to find a convenient place…

    Nice wishes from Berlin,
    Bostjan Dvorak

    Reply
  3. Hello together,

    this is a very interesting and rather confusing colour variation of a sweet potato hornworm caterpillar (Agrius cinqulatus), I suppose; the brown and brownish pattern variations are more common in the closely related Agrius convolvuli from the Old World, on the other hand.

    Best wishes,
    Bostjan

    Reply
    • Thanks Bostjan,
      We thought that was a good possibility, but we are just not that confident without seeing a lateral view.

      Reply
    • The link you provided included the following comment from Bostjan who also frequently comments on our Sphingidae postings: “This is a grown-up caterpillar of the Fulvous hawkmoth, Coelonia fulvinotata, from the Sphingidae family. It cannot sting nor bite and is completely harmless – in spite of its eventually dangerous appearance; most caterpillars of the family Sphingidae have a hornlike ornament on their rear end, and are therefore often called “hornworms”. This is a typical tropical African species, a moth with a very long proboscis, taking nectar from flowers at night and pollinating some rare orchid species; moths from this group are fast-flying animals, active at night, sleeping on walls and tree-trunks at daytime. The caterpillar of the Fulvous hawkmoth can be found on many different plants; it is found as single animal predominantly on wild species – but can also occur on cultivated plants introduced from other families, and is therefore considered as a synanthropic species in some areas. (Yes, the caterpillar may be poisonous, when it feeds on toxic crops like a tomato or potatoe plant – but only if somebody eats it.) It would be very interesting to know about the plant on which You found the caterpillar… Do You have some photos of that yellow flowers? – Many Thanks in advance, and nice wishes from Berlin, Bostjan Dvorak.” We agree with Bostjan. The Fulvous Hawkmoth does not sting nor does it bite. It has no venom nor any urticating hairs, the most frequent way a caterpillar can be dangerous. Many caterpillars absorb toxins from plants that they are feeding upon and it is possible that they might pose a poisoning danger if eaten.

      Reply
    • Nothing is dangerous. I have often caterpillars of that hawk moth and the moth self in my compound at mt.kenya area. Here exist many

      Reply

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