One of the most popular feeder insects is hornworms. But are they suitable for beardies? Can bearded dragons eat hornworms? Let’s check it out.
Friendly, docile, and beautiful bearded dragons make amazing pets. The fact that there are eight different species of beardies also allows a great deal of diversity.
However, you need to feed beardies carefully, and you might be wondering which feeder insects to stock up on if you are planning to take one home.
In particular, you might be considering feeding hornworms to your pet beardie as they are one of the most common feeder insect species. Let’s find out whether your pet beardie can eat hornworms.
Can Beardies Eat Hornworms?
Hornworms happen to be one of the best feeder insects that you could feed to a bearded dragon due to their high nutritional value.
However, you’ll have to be a bit cautious about it as hornworms can grow quite big. Younger beardies often have trouble eating mature hornworms.
How Nutritious are Hornworms?
A hornworm’s body is 85% moisture. Such high moisture content makes them great for keeping your pet hydrated. These insects also offer 9% protein and 3% fat, in addition to 46.5 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams.
Hence, while hornworms have the lowest protein content among commonly used feeder insects, they offer the most calcium.
Can Baby Bearded Dragons Eat Hornworms?
Yes, you can feed hornworms to your baby beardies too. However, you’ll have to carefully pick small hornworms and feed them in moderate amounts to ensure easy digestion.
As long as you’re careful and your baby bearded dragons can eat and digest these feeder insects easily, it should be fine.
Are Hornworms a Staple for Bearded Dragons?
While hornworms are great for feeding your bearded dragon, don’t make them their staple food. They indeed offer a lot of moisture and calcium content, but they lack other important nutrients.
Just like us, bearded dragons need a balanced diet consisting of different nutritious foods too. Especially when bearded dragons grow into adults, they can no longer thrive on hornworms alone.
Moreover, adult bearded dragons also need a significant amount of vegetation as a part of their diet. Don’t feed an adult beardie with hornworms more than three to five times a week.
Can Beardies Eat Moths?
As hornworm moths are bigger and tougher than hornworms, you might be wondering if it’s safe to feed them to your bearded dragon. Well, bearded dragons can indeed eat hornworm moths too, but only when they’re full-grown adults.
Juvenile beardies can’t handle hornworm moths and might choke on them due to their large size. Moreover, live moths are going to be really hard to catch for your baby beardie, and it might just give up.
When feeding hornworm moths to an adult bearded dragon, make sure they aren’t any larger than the space between its eyes.
Can Beardies Eat Hornworms That Are Dead?
Although it’s much better to feed your bearded dragons live insects, they can also eat dead hornworms. However, these lizards often have a hard time recognizing dead insects as food.
Dead insects (from the wild) are also susceptible to salmonella and can cause your beardies to contract salmonella poisoning, which can further spread to you as well. Hence, it’s much safer to avoid feeding them dead hornworms altogether.
Are They Safe For Beardies?
Usually, it’s safe to feed your bearded dragons with live hornworms as it’s rather rare for the latter to bite beardies.
However, if the hornworms are too big for your bearded dragon, they might bite it (they actually just chew, not bite. They don’t have teeth to bite).
This is why you need to be careful not to feed your baby or juvenile beardies with full-grown hornworms. Apart from hurting your beardie buddy, large hornworms can also cause it to choke.
Baby bearded dragons may get paralyzed or even die trying to eat feeder insects that are too big for them.
How To Feed Hornworms To Beardies
To make sure the new diet won’t cause any issues for your pet, you should consider certain factors before you start feeding it hornworms. With that said, here are a few things you might want to learn about before you buy or breed hornworms for your bearded dragon:
When To Feed?
The best time to start feeding hornworms to your bearded dragons is during the juvenile stage of the beardies, i.e., between 5 to 18 months.
This is a rapid growth stage for your bearded dragon, and its body demands plenty of calcium for skeletal and muscle development.
This makes hornworms one of the best foods for juvenile beardies. However, remember that they still need a balanced diet, half of which should be plant matter.
How Much To Feed?
You’ll have to find out how many hornworms to feed to your bearded dragon each day, based on the beardie’s age and appetite.
For adult bearded dragons, nine to fifteen hornworms per week should be enough, with not more than five hornworms on the same day.
However, as mentioned earlier, juvenile beardies need more of them to acquire the nutrition necessary to support their growth. While baby bearded dragons need hornworms for the same reason, they cannot eat more than one or two smaller ones.
How Much To Feed Juvenile Beardies?
Your juvenile bearded dragon needs a lot of calcium and protein to support its skeletal and muscle growth.
You should feed it with anything between 20 to 50 insects a day in total, which is more than the number of insects an adult beardie should eat every week. Make sure to include other feeder insects besides hornworms too.
How Often To Feed?
Assuming you feed your adult bearded dragon three to five hornworms each time, don’t do it more than thrice a week. You may include hornworms into its daily diet, but only in moderation and as a part of a balanced diet.
Of course, a juvenile bearded dragon can eat these insects more often. Feeding a beardie too many hornworms can cause it to over-hydrate.
How To Feed?
Feeding your pet beardie involves more than simply providing it with food; the feeding technique matters too. For instance, you should feed a bearded dragon only during a time window of 10 to 15 minutes and stop feeding once the time’s up.
Also, try to feed it only cultivated hornworms. The ones in the wild often feed on various poisonous substances. Once you have fed your bearded dragon, remove all the uneaten hornworms so that they don’t bite it later.
Can You Cut Hornworms in Half?
Yes, if a hornworm is too big, you may cut it in half. However, cutting the hornworms will make them less appetizing for your beardie as beardies prefer live food. As you might expect, the process can also be quite messy.
How Long Do Hornworms Live?
On average, a hornworm has a lifespan of 30 to 50 days. They spend about three to four weeks maturing from larvae to adulthood. They continue to live for another two to three weeks as adults before they die.
Hornworms Handling Tips
Now that we’re aware of how to feed your beardies hornworms, let’s check out the best way to handle these insects. You can’t just go and catch wild hornworms to get free food for your bearded dragon.
This is because these worms ingest and retain toxins from plant leaves that they eat that can harm your beardie upon consumption.
Purchasing Your Hornworms
Firstly, you need to source your hornworms from somewhere reliable. Thanks to eCommerce websites, feeder insects such as hornworms are easily available online. Try to pick a reputed seller by going through the reviews to make sure your beloved pet receives quality food.
The way a seller packs the hornworms is important, too – you shouldn’t pay for feeder insects that would be dead by the time they reach you. Besides online marketplaces, you can also buy hornworms from pet food stores catering to exotic pets.
Caring for Your Feeder Hornworms
Once you’ve purchased your hornworms, you also need to take proper care of them. Firstly, they need to stay alive until it’s time to feed them to your bearded dragon.
Secondly, you need to adjust the hornworms’ growth rate to make sure they’re at the right size when your beardie gets to eat them.
Simply adjust the temperature in which you store them – higher temperatures above 77F stimulate faster growth and vice versa. If the feeder hornworms are already at the right size, you may put them in a freezer for a couple of days to stop their growth completely.
What To Feed Hornworms for Bearded Dragon
While you bought the hornworms to feed your beardie friend, you have to feed them to keep them alive too. Hornworms feed on certain weeds and vegetables, especially from the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes.
As their names suggest, tobacco hornworms love to feed on tobacco leaves, while tomato hornworms prefer tomato plants and their yield.
You may also feed your hornworms tiny bits of potato, eggplants, bell pepper, horse nettle, jimsonweed, etc.
Why Using Hornworms As Feeders Can Be Bad Too
When it comes to choosing feeder insects for a bearded dragon, hornworms are indeed a great option. However, you may end up using them as occasional treats due to the following issues:
Hornworms Tend To Be Expensive
Firstly, hornworms cost way more than most of the other feeder insects. Especially if you have multiple beardies or a juvenile beardie that needs a large number of insects daily, it can be very expensive.
They Grow Very Quickly
The rapid growth rate of feeder hornworms poses a challenge too. They tend to mature too fast, which might make them grow past the safe feeding size or even die before you can feed them to your beardie. This means you need to buy these insects more often, in small batches.
They Can Cause Digestive Issues
While the high water content of hornworms is a good thing, excess amounts of moisture can cause digestive problems for your bearded dragon.
When you start feeding it hornworms or increase the number of hornworms in its diet, monitor its health and behavior carefully.
What Else To Feed Your Beardie
If hornworms are unavailable or too expensive for you, you may feed your bearded pet with other protein sources like:
- Wax worms
- Dubia roaches
- Super worms
You may also use these insects together with hornworms or alternate them when feeding your bearded dragon.
What Insects Should I Not Feed My Beardie?
By now, you have a somewhat clear idea of what you should feed your beardie. Now, let’s check out the insects to avoid:
- Venomous insects that may sting or bite it, such as wasps, hornets, beets, spiders, etc.
- Box elder bugs, ladybugs, caterpillars, lightning bugs, or other toxic insects.
- Insects caught in the wild might carry parasites or may have consumed poisonous substances.
We hope that you have learned all you need to know about feeding hornworms to your beardies; you can safely integrate these insects as a part of their diet.
Remember, hornworms aren’t an absolute necessity – you can use them in small amounts or substitute them with other insects if they’re hard to come by. Thank you for reading!
Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below.
Letter 1 – Cardinal eats Hornworm
Cardinal eating hornworm
Love your website! I was searching your site to identify the tomato hornworm eating my tomato plant. Mr. Cardinal took care of the situation for me (note beak.)
What a wonderful addition to our food chain page.
Letter 2 – Death’s Head Hornworm
Subject: Caterpillar Identification
Location: Kempton Park, Gauteng, South Africa
April 20, 2013 1:17 pm
Photo taken by myself approx 3 years ago, of this huge caterpillar, length of 2 x matchboxes placed end to end. Beautiful colors. Found on ground in flower bed, eating leaves. Cannot quite remember the season, but could have been spring or summer as leaves were quite green. It was so beautiful that I placed it on my face book timeline, but was not yet able to identify.
Signature: Leone’ Ferreira
Letter 3 – Early Instar Hornworm from Belize
Subject: Mysterious orange caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug: Belize
Time: 11:46 PM EDT
Trying to identify this caterpillar that came in from a shoot in Belize. The caterpillar climbs up this stand of silk.
How you want your letter signed: Adam
This is an early instar Hornworm from the family Sphingidae, and it looks to us like it might be in the genus Eumorpha, a group that has many members that shed the caudal horn in later, more mature instars, leaving a caudal bump instead of a horn. We could not locate any images on Sphingidae of the Americas that looks similar, but often very young, recently hatched instars are not well represented in images. This BugGuide image of a Gaudy Sphinx Caterpillar, second instar, is the closest visual match we could locate.
Awesome! That at least gives us a direction to go off of!
Letter 4 – Early Instar Hornworm from Singapore
Subject: Bugman Help!
August 28, 2014 3:11 am
Hello! I love reading your page! Its so informative! 🙂 I found this 2cm long, thin green caterpillar with 1 horn at the end on an unknown plant. Im from Singapore, a tropical country with hot, humid and seasonal rain. Hope you can enlighten me on its species because i have searched it on the net but to no avail. Thanks n God bless! 🙂
The best we can do for you at this time is provide a family. This is a Hornworm, the larva of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae, a family that contains many large spectacular species found around the world. It is young, which makes identifications more difficult. Like all caterpillars, Hornworms molt and grow, passing through five instars or stages. The fifth instar is the largest and the one most commonly pictured for identification purposes. Earlier instars like this individual are generally more difficult to find documented. This individual is green with no pronounced markings to help differentiate it from other species. Knowing the plant it was feeding on might help with the identification. If you have the time and inclination, you can try searching the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic to attempt an identification.
Letter 5 – Florida Hornworm
We found the caterpillars in the attached image on a Euphorbia sp. (pedalanthous) in our butterfly garden in Hollywood, Florida. We rummaged through all your caterpillar pages and did not make a positive I.D. The darker (later instar??) caterpillar is ~90mm. long, so we think the resulting moth(???) is large, perhaps a Sphynx species. We will appreciate any assistance you or your interested readers can provide. Best regards,
Jana and Stephen
Hi Jana and Stephen,
This one has us stumped and curious. This is a Sphinx Moth Caterpillar. It looks like a member of the genus Hyles to us, but a Euphorbia feeding species that looks similar is not reported from anywhere near Florida. We have contacted Bill Oehlke and hope he can clear up the mystery. We suspect he might request permission to post your photo to his site as well. Bill Oehlke quickly responded: “Daniel, They are one of the Erinnyis species which can be very variable I suspect ello, but they could also be alope. Thanks for thinking of me. I will ask for a second opinion and get back to you. Bill Oehlke “