Hornworms are common feeder insects. But can chameleons eat hornworms too? Let’s find out.
Trying to figure out what kinds of insects to feed your pet chameleon? If you’re planning to get a chameleon, you might want to arrange for feeder insects in advance, as they eat up as many as 15 insects a day.
You might be wondering about hornworms, given that they are among the most popular feeder insects. Well, chameleons do eat hornworms but wait till your chameleon is at least at a juvenile stage.
Hornworms don’t provide chameleons with enough nutrition when they are babies, and they might be somewhat dangerous too.
What Are Hornworms?
Hornworms are a part of the moth caterpillar family, which means they pupate midway through their life cycle and turn into moths.
Easily differentiated from other caterpillars by the horn on their abdomen, they can grow up to 4 inches and are one of the largest immature insects in the world.
Are Hornworms Poisonous?
Hornworms found in the wild can be poisonous because they consume and store toxins from plants that they eat, such as tomatoes and tobacco.
However, when raised commercially as feeder insects, they’re perfectly safe for your pet to eat.
It is easy to differentiate toxic hornworms from non-toxic ones: if there are no toxins in their body, hornworms are blue. Due to the yellow substance produced by toxins, their color becomes green.
Are Hornworms Good For Chameleons?
Although hornworms aren’t the right food for baby chameleons, they’re an excellent source of nutrition for the juvenile and adult ones.
Well-fed hornworms are among the most nutritious insects and offer ample water content. Let’s get a look at the nutritional value offered by hornworms.
The body of a hornworm has around 9% protein by weight. While this is a significant percentage of protein, chameleons require about 30-50% protein if they are carnivores and 18-22% protein if they are herbivores. So there are better protein sources for your chameleon.
In the wild, chameleons feed on mealworms, wax moth larvae, and crickets, and these are better sources of protein.
While you can still feed them as an occasional snack to your chameleon, hornworms aren’t a suitable diet for baby chameleons because they need even more protein to support growth.
Fat is an essential part of the diet of cold-blooded animals like chameleons, as they need it to insulate their body and keep themselves warm.
Each hornworm contains about 3.07% fat, which is low. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, as being overweight can put female chameleons at a major health risk.
Hornworms are one of the best sources of calcium for your chameleon. Offering 46.4 mg calcium per 100 g by weight, these worms have the highest calcium content among the commonly used feeder insects.
To help put it into perspective, here’s a comparison of the calcium content offered by different feeder insects per 100 grams:
- Butterworms: 42.9mg
- Silkworms: 34 mg
- Crickets: 14 mg
- Waxworms: 13.14mg
- Superworms: 10.8mg
- Mealworms: 3.28mg
Apart from needing calcium to keep their bones strong, chameleons also lose a lot of calcium while shedding their skin. This is why you may notice your panther chameleon eating its old skin after shedding it – to replenish calcium quickly.
The most important part of a hornworm’s nutritional content is the amount of moisture it offers. About 85% of a hornworm’s body comprises water, which makes this feeder perfect for chameleons’ moisture needs.
Chameleons are primarily tropical animals (though some chameleon species, like the veiled chameleons, are found in temperate zones). They are accustomed to high humidity and absorb moisture from the air.
When keeping chameleons at home, you must provide them with a diet rich in moisture to prevent them from dehydrating.
What Are The Drawbacks?
Of course, pretty much every feeder insect has certain downsides, and hornworms are no exception. If you’re planning to feed your pet chameleon hornworms, keep the following drawbacks in mind:
- Toxicity: Both tomato hornworms and tobacco hornworms feed on plants from the nightshade family unless raised domestically with a controlled diet. They absorb toxins from these plants. This can make them poisonous to your chameleon.
- Low protein content: Hornworms don’t offer enough protein for chameleons, especially baby chameleons.
- Diarrhea: Due to the high moisture content of hornworms, your chameleon might suffer from diarrhea if it eats too many of these pests.
- Hornworms bite: Although hornworm bites aren’t painful to humans, they can hurt small animals like chameleons. You should be especially careful when feeding hornworms to young chameleons.
Where Can I Get Hornworms?
Hornworms are quite common at any pet supply store. You can check with your nearby stores if they stock hornworms or simply purchase them online.
Don’t pick hornworms from the wild unless you’ll be using them strictly for breeding purposes, as they can potentially be toxic for your pet.
Most pet supply stores and online sellers sell hornworms in various sizes. It’s best to buy these worms in the smallest available size, as they grow exceptionally fast. In case you purchase large hornworms, you might not get enough time to feed them to your chameleon.
Hornworm Size For Chameleons
When feeding your pet, it’s particularly important to pay attention to the size of the feeder insects. For instance, bearded dragons often have trouble eating big insects and can potentially choke.
However, you won’t face such issues with adult chameleons. The soft body of a chameleon allows it to eat large feeder insects without any issues.
Even if a hornworm is bigger than the space between your chameleon’s eyes (the normal thumb rule for reptiles), it won’t pose a challenge. For juvenile chameleons, you might want to stick to smaller hornworms to be on the safe side.
How Many Hornworms Should I Feed?
Figuring out the right number of insects to feed your chameleon is crucial. Underfeeding can lead to various diseases while overfeeding can cause obesity. The exact number of hornworms that you should feed your chameleon depends on its age and life stage.
Baby chameleons have a huge appetite, and you need to feed them regularly – about two to three times a day. During this stage of your chameleon’s life cycle, you should feed it as much as it can eat.
A baby chameleon can eat about 12 to 15 insects every day.
However, hornworms aren’t the right species of feeder insects to feed a baby chameleon. Although your pet can eat a lot at this stage, it mostly needs protein for growth.
The protein content of a hornworm isn’t enough to cater to the nutritional requirements of a baby chameleon. It’s best to feed your baby chameleon with insects that are richer in protein.
As the chameleons grow about six months old, you can start feeding them hornworms. However, juvenile chameleons still need protein, and hornworms alone won’t suffice.
Apart from hornworms, you’ll have to provide them with protein-rich insects like crickets and roaches. You should bear in mind that their appetite begins to slow down in the juvenile stage.
It’s normal for them to eat less than they used to as babies. You need to feed a juvenile chameleon about 1-2 hornworms, only once a day.
Once a chameleon is over a year old, it matures into adulthood. Its appetite drops drastically, and you need to feed it only six full-grown insects every two days. If you wish to feed it daily, don’t give it more than 3-4 hornworms a day.
How To Feed Hornworms To Chameleons?
Wondering whether feeding hornworms to your pet chameleon is going to be hard or messy? Don’t worry; hornworms are easy to use as feeder insects.
You can simply pick up the worms and feed them to your pet by hand. If you don’t feel very comfortable holding the worms, you can use a pair of feeding tongs instead.
If your chameleon is shy or uncomfortable with being hand fed, you can place the worms on a leaf and drop them somewhere within its field of vision. The chameleon will hunt and eat the hornworms by itself as soon as it sees them.
How Often To Feed Hornworms To Chameleons?
Don’t feed your chameleons hornworms too often, as it might cause them an upset stomach. Although the moisture offered by hornworms is crucial to keep the reptiles hydrated, too much water can result in diarrhea or bloating.
Chameleons also hate a monotonous diet and may go on a hunger strike if you keep feeding them hornworms. If you’re feeding an adult chameleon, a couple of hornworms every two days, along with other insects, should be fine.
The Benefits of Gut Loading Hornworms
Feeding your pets with gut-loaded hornworms will help cover their nutrition needs more efficiently. For readers who are unaware of what gut-loading is, it’s the process of feeding live pet food, such as hornworms, with nutrients they lack to improve their nutritional content.
You can feed your hornworms high protein foods to fill up their gastrointestinal tract before you feed them to your pet. This way, you can provide your chameleon with a protein-heavy meal through hornworms.
Can Chameleons Eat Wild Hornworms?
The hornworms in your vegetable garden look like a nice source of free pet food, right? Well, not really. While you can easily find these pests in nature, it’s unsafe to feed your pet wild hornworms.
Both tomato and tobacco hornworms are harmless to chameleons, but only until they feed on something that can make them poisonous.
Hence, feeding your pet chameleon wild hornworms would be a rather bad idea as you never know what those worms may have eaten so far.
Can Chameleons Eat Dead Hornworms?
Unlike some other reptiles commonly kept as pets, chameleons will eat dead hornworms too. However, you should remember that the nutritional value of dead hornworms is much lower than live ones, especially if they have dried up.
Also, in case the hornworm has died from disease, eating it might make your pet fall sick and lead to many complications. It is best not to feed your chameleon a dead worm.
Other Worms That Chameleons Can Eat?
Chameleons are opportunistic eaters and eat almost any worm or insect. This is indeed a good thing, for it allows you to ensure a varied diet for your pet without much hassle. Two of the most common feeder worms for chameleons besides hornworms are:
These nutritious worms have a high amount of protein, alongside plenty of minerals and vitamins. This allows superworms to supplement the low protein content provided by hornworms. Feeding your chameleon a combination of hornworms and super worms is a good idea to ensure a balanced diet.
Pet owners trying to ensure a particularly healthy diet for their chameleons may consider feeding them silkworms, as they offer plenty of protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin Bs. Besides being highly nutritious, silkworms also have a low-fat content.
Frequently asked questions
Can chameleons choke on hornworms?
The chances of a chameleon choking on a hornworm are rather low. These reptiles have a soft exoskeleton and a flexible structure that allows them to tackle larger insects. Still, you should be a little careful when feeding big hornworms to young chameleons.
Can hornworms bite chameleons?
Yes, hornworms can bite baby chameleons. Although a hornworm’s bite isn’t painful to humans and merely causes discomfort, it can be a bit painful for a baby chameleon. This is another reason why feeding hornworms to baby chameleons is a bad idea.
What is chameleons’ favorite food?
Insects like flies, grasshoppers, and crickets are a chameleon’s favorite food in the wild. You can even give your chameleon a roach or a cricket once in a while as a treat. However, chameleons also love the other common feeder insects.
I hope this has answered all the questions you had about feeding your chameleon hornworms. You can always give your chameleon a tasty treat of tomato hornworms – just make sure that you buy them from a reliable source and that you give them as supplements, not as the main diet.
Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below.
Letter 1 – Hornworm of a Hummingbird Clearwing
Subject: Hornworm? In florida
Location: Wellington, Florida
February 27, 2016 12:02 pm
My horse came in from the field with this weird little guy hitchhiking on his leg.
We believe your Hornworm is that of a Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe, based on images posted to both BugGuide and the Sphingidae of the Americas sites. According to BugGuide, they are found in “Open areas with shrubs, young trees, gardens. Adults feed actively on flower nectar during the day while hovering at blossoms” and “Larvae feed on hawthorn, honeysuckle, snowberry, viburnum.”
Letter 2 – Hornworm: Hyles nicaea
Subject: Mediterranean Spurge Hawk Moth Hyles nicaea
Location: From Southern Europe to Central Asia
July 4, 2016 4:23 am
today I’d like to contribute another interesting hawkmoth caterpillar by a slightly older drawing – that of the Mediterranean Spurge Hawkmoth (Hyles nicaea) from southern Europe; though not from the New World, the asian and european species of the genus Hyles probably represent a relatively young neotropic branch of the Macroglossinae subfamily with a miocene transition to the Old World. A few amazing parallels in coloration and behaviour of these species can be noticed – to those of the Dilophonotini from the other continent; the striking colour pattern, physiognomy and habitus make them look very similar to members of the Pseudosphinx and Isognathus kinds (though they are officially not directly connected to them!) – and indeed many of them feed on very poisonous plants, making themselves unpalatable for most birds and other animals. And then, they also show a tendency for some gregarious behaviour in their younger instars… a very unusual characteristic for Old World Sphingidae. — Hyles nicaea is a quite big animal (compared with H. euphorbiae and other members), but its larvae live on poisonous Euphorbiaceae as well; their colour pattern could be associated with that of the orca-whale. The species’ living area is highly split into different biogeographical regions – making it difficult to define their real requirements on climate and landscape… and presenting quite some puzzles; they can be found along mediterranean coasts, or in high altitudes above 2000 m. I could occasionally observe them in the Karst area along the northern Adriatic coast. They pupate under stones or in other shelter, within a few provisional silk files. — Only a few information can be found on larvae of the New World – species (eg. H. annei, H. calida, H. wilsoni), and I didn’t see any picture of their caterpillars so far.
Many Thanks and Wishes for the great site, and a nice Independence day!
Signature: Bostjan Dvorak
Thank you so much for allowing us to publish your latest drawing. The information you provided is so interesting considering that a North American species, Hyles lineata, has an edible caterpillar that appears in such large numbers in southwestern desert habitats that Native Americans used them for their highly nutritious qualities.
Letter 3 – Hornworm from India may be Chitral Elephant Hawkmoth
Subject: identification of 2 caterpillars.
Location: Bangalore , Karnataka, INDIA
December 12, 2014 2:11 am
I like to photograph nature ,in particular flora fauna around our campus,making it useful for our Bioscience faculty to use it for teaching the students in an excited way.
While doing so i came across 2 caterpillars with strange textures:
1. one had a greyish blue texture with ‘eye like’ spots at regular intervals running right from its snout like mouth till its tail in two parallel lines on the top of its body.
The mouth underneath revealed tooth like structures.This was revealed when it wanted to sense its way forward with its front end extended like a snout of a mouse. It also had a stinger at the end ,but more like a tail.
The area in which it was discovered had bushes of cactii,Aster flowers,Pine tree plants and the general wlid growth of weeds.
2.Second one i will upload in my next mail.
One important thing – These pictures from India – I hope you will be able to accommodate and identify. I am mentioning this because the 2/3 sites where I tried ,INDIA is not on the list of areas to be covered.
Kindly let me know.It will excite the Boys!!
Signature: Nanda Gopal
This is a Hornworm, and we believe it might be the Caterpillar of the Chitral Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila rivularis, or a closely related species in the genus. Our first clue is this posting of the Elephant Hawkmoth Caterpillar on Totally Nailed It, which led us to a nice matching caterpillar image on Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic. Also on the Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic site, Caterpillars of Deilephila elpenor look nearly identical.
Thank you so much for responding and thank you also for the wealth of
information you have supplied along with it.
I also have a small video clip of the movement of the Elephant
Hawkmoth Caterpillar.If it is of importance i can upload it.But
then,how do i do it.?
Thank you once again.
Thanks for the video offer Nanda, but we are not currently featuring videos on our site. Our tiny staff resizes, crops and formats all imagery for the site, hopefully improving the quality of the images sent to us, and we do not have the time to “edit” video footage.
Letter 4 – Hornworm is probably Manduca florestan
Geographic location of the bug: Dallas Texas Area
Time: 01:51 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I found this guy on one of my Vitex bushes this Fall. He is 3″ long. What is he going to be?
How you want your letter signed: Clueless in Dallas
Dear Clueless in Dallas,
This is a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a moth in the family Sphingidae. Thanks for providing the food plant. When we searched for Sphingidae caterpillars that feed on Vitex, we found this posting for Manduca florestan on Wikipedia, and we then checked on Sphingidae of the Americas where we found images that appear to match your individual. Manduca florestan is listed as a stray in Texas. We will contact Bill Oehlke to verify our identification.
Letter 5 – Hornworm from Japan
Subject: Sphingidae, Hawkmoth, possibly Hemaris? caterpillar
Location: Nagoya, Japan
February 12, 2015 6:22 am
Here is a hornworm, found in November in Nagoya, Japan, which I have been trying in vain to identify for a few months. I thought it might be a Hummingbird Clearwing Hawk-Moth, but it has slightly different coloration. It was found on a night time walk near a thickly wooded and planted city park. It was across the street from any foliage and walking down the sidewalk toward a noodle restaurant. Assuming it was looking (in the wrong direction) for a place to pupate, I picked it up and carried it back into the park. It tried to ‘burrow’ between my fingers until I gave it a leaf.
I apologize for the night flash photos, but I didn’t have anything to carry it home in, and I wanted it to have a chance to pupate if possible. I placed it under a bush and when it lay passively, I gave it a poke with a leaf. It immediately displayed a defensive flail that gave us both a heart attack! I have been searching through Sphingidae of Japan, but there is very little information and I have only found one other photo that matches the pale green sides with darker green stripes, tiny red lateral spots and blue ‘horn’. Any hints would be greatly appreciated!
We have posted your Hornworm image, and we hope to be able to provide you with an identification very soon.
Letter 6 – Hornworm of a Leafy Spurge Hawkmoth in Switzerland
Subject: Larval stage of sonething!!
Time: 10:19 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman —
About 10 cm long.
Seen in August
Moves fairly quickly.
How you want your letter signed: Lindymaybug
This beauty is the Hornworm of the Leafy Spurge Hawkmoth, Hyles euphorbiae, as you can see by viewing the images on Sphingidae of the Americas, and the reason this Old World species, native to Switzerland is represented there is explained on the site: “The leafy spurge hawk moth, Hyles euphorbiae (length: 2-3 cm, wingspan: 5-7 cm), was the first classical biological agent released against leafy spurge in the United States, with approval for introduction granted in 1965. Populations of this insect are present in several western states, including Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota and Oregon, and now Washington (Spokane County; David Droppers; BAMONA). The moth was also introduced from Europe into Ontario, Canada, and then into Alberta where specimens are occasionally still taken.“