Turtles are cute and cuddly pets, but their upkeep is a big responsibility. They have very specific dietary needs. For example, can turtles eat hornworms and other worms? We answer this in the article below.
Turtles make unique and amazing pets, but only if you can take proper care of them. If you’re a turtle owner, you may have wondered if it’s okay to feed it hornworms.
It’s important to regulate your turtle’s protein intake. You shouldn’t feed them anything that contains a lot of protein. Hornworms have low protein content and are an excellent source of nutrition for your pet turtle.
Do Turtles Eat Worms?
Although a turtle’s diet mostly consists of vegetation, most of them are omnivorous and can eat insects such as worms.
In the wild, a turtle feeds on a diverse diet that includes aquatic plants, algae, insects, worms, and more. Hence, you may rest assured that worms would make great treats for your pet turtles.
How about hornworms?
Turtles do eat hornworms. They offer 9% protein, which puts them within a turtle’s dietary requirement of less than 15% protein.
They are also rich in calcium and other minerals and are 85% water which makes them a great source of water.
However, make sure to use only domestically or commercially bred hornworms bred as pet food.
Can they eat hornworms from the wild?
While a turtle will gladly accept a wild hornworm, it’s unsafe to feed your pet with hornworms caught in the wild.
This is because once a hornworm feeds on a tomato plant (which they love to do), it eats and stores toxins from the leaves. The toxin can make your pet fall severely ill and develop major complications.
What about tortoises?
If a tortoise is omnivorous, it can eat hornworms. Most tortoise species are herbivorous, and feeding them animal protein can make them fall sick.
Even if it’s an omnivorous species, don’t give your tortoise a high dose of animal protein. While hornworms do fit that bill, make sure never to overfeed animal protein to them.
Do Baby Turtles Eat Them?
It is perfectly safe to feed worms to your baby turtle. In fact, younger turtles need more animal protein than adult ones as protein is crucial for physical growth and development.
However, as baby turtles may have trouble eating big hornworms, you should feed them smaller worms like wax worms and mealworms.
As for the bigger ones, like hornworms, it’s best to cut the worm into two pieces to make it easier for your pet to eat.
How Many Worms Should You Feed Every Day?
All in all, you’ll have to figure out the right number of worms based on the type of turtle, its age, and how much activity it gets.
Wild turtles can eat more worms and insects as they’re more active and can use up the excess nutrients more easily. Since a captive turtle doesn’t get as much exercise, feeding it more than two to three worms a week might be harmful.
Hornworms are typically too big for a turtle. Instead, you might buy super worms (for adults) and mealworms (for babies)
For some turtle species, it’s okay to feed up to 12 to 15 worms per feeding. Younger turtles can eat more worms as they need extra protein for their growth.
Gut loading your feeder insects is a great way to make them more nutritious for your pet. The process simply involves feeding the feeder insects loads of nutritious foods so that the nutrition would get passed onto your pet.
This is especially important when feeding turtles, as feeder insects don’t meet a turtle’s dietary needs on their own.
If you like to keep your worms in storage to slow their growth, be aware that they lose a bit of their nutritional value.
To remedy this, get the feeder insects to eat nutritious foods like carrots, collard greens, and papaya about 12 to 24 hours before you feed them to your pet.
As the main purpose of gut loading is to fill up the live food with nutrients, feel free to feed the insects as much as they can eat.
Feeding Hornworms For Your Pet Turtle: What You Should Do
You’ll have to be careful when feeding hornworms to your pet turtle. Worms are good for your turtle, but only in moderation. Feeding it too many hornworms can lead to several issues. Here are the things you need to consider:
Keep Pyramiding at Bay
Pyramidal growth syndrome, commonly known as pyramiding, is a disease that causes a turtle’s shell to warp at the top.
This problem is particularly common among captive turtles. It happens because pet owners tend to overfeed the turtles, and they lack the exercise that they need to burn off the calories (insert your Jane Fonda turtle workout DVD jokes here).
As pyramiding is quite hard to correct, you should be especially vigilant about it. To prevent pyramiding, keep your tortoise on a diet that’s rich in calcium and fiber but low in protein and fat.
Don’t Cater to their Taste Buds
Unlike humans; turtles don’t realize that too many worms are bad for them. Worms are a tasty treat, and if you feed your pet too many of them, your turtle will shun other food and start demanding only worms.
You’ll face a hard time trying to get your turtle to eat veggies. This can significantly affect its growth and development. Make sure not to cater to such whims and only feed worms occasionally.
We all know that pets are like babies to pet parents, but just because your child is demanding candy does not mean you should give it to them.
Get the Ca:P ratio right
While your turtle does need phosphorus, too much of the mineral can be harmful. This is because the extra phosphorus tends to bind to the calcium molecules to create calcium phosphates, which the turtle’s body can’t absorb.
The wrong Ca:P ratio in their diet can cause metabolic bone disease (MBD) in turtles, which weakens their skeletal structure. Feeding your turtle a phosphorus-rich diet can severely hamper its ability to absorb protein.
Worms offer a significantly higher amount of phosphorus than calcium, which is one more reason why you should not feed them too many worms.
If you want to feed worms, try to increase the calcium content by gut-loading them. Hornworms have a high Calcium content, so they are a good option.
Feeder insects like worms (especially those caught in the wild( often carry a wide variety of parasites like tapeworms, roundworms, and flukes.
It’s a good idea to get your turtle’s stool tested by a vet every six months to check for the signs of such parasitic infections.
Vets usually prescribe a dewormer medicine for gut microbes and parasites that ride on worms to reach your turtle. If left untreated, the parasites may multiply and eventually cause severe complications.
Frequently asked questions
Do turtles eat tomato hornworms?
Yes, tomato hornworms are a good source of protein for pet turtles. However, you should make sure the worms haven’t fed on tomato plants or anything that might make them toxic.
This is why it’s best to buy commercially-bred hornworms from reputed pet stores or breed them at home. Moreover, try to gut-load them with calcium-rich foods before feeding them.
What worms do turtles eat?
Turtles can eat various types of worms, including wax worms, mealworms, super worms, and hornworms.
If your turtle it’s still a baby, it’s advisable to avoid large worms like hornworms and stick to the smaller ones. In general, however, hornworms are a good choice due to their appropriate protein content.
What reptiles can eat hornworms?
Hornworms are a suitable feeder insect not only for turtles but also for various reptiles like bearded dragons, chameleons, geckos, and so on.
This makes hornworms one of the most popular feeder insect species, which is why so many pet stores stock these worms.
Can turtles eat caterpillars?
You can feed your turtles caterpillars, but it’s best not to. Firstly, most caterpillars are capable of stinging and tend to do so.
Secondly, many caterpillar species (especially the ones that are bright in color and have spiky hair) are poisonous to pets.
It’s a good idea to include different types of worms in a turtle’s diet as its source of protein. Hornworms are a good option. Just make sure not to give your turtle too many worms.
If hornworms aren’t available in your nearby pet stores, you may buy wax worms, mealworms, or super worms instead. Thank you for reading!
Over the years, our readers have sent us several emails on this topic. Please go through them below.
Letter 1 – Hornworm from Hungary is Linden Tree Hawkmoth
Location: Budapest, Hungary
September 8, 2016 12:10 pm
Hello! This creation was about 8 cm long and had a blue horn(?). I’ve never seen this kinda living thing before so I’d be happy to know what I met 🙂
This is a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a moth in the family Sphingidae, and its color leads us to believe it is prepupal and searching for a place to dig so that it can transform into a pupa. We are not certain of the species, but the slant of its head and the blue horn lead us to believe it might be the Hornworm of an Eyed Hawkmoth, Smerinthus ocellatus, which is pictured on the Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic site.
Letter 2 – Hornworm from India: Theretra lycetus
Subject: Green Crawling insect
Geographic location of the bug: India- Goa
Time: 12:07 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Please find this bug details.
How you want your letter signed: Ta
This is a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae. We are not entirely sure we have correctly identified your individual, but the caterpillar of the Levant Hawkmoth, Theretra alecto, pictured on Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic looks similar, as does the green variation of the Taro Hornworm, Theretra oldenlandiae, also pictured on Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic. We hope Hornworm expert Bostjan Dvorak can assist in this identification.
Ed. Note: We are thrilled that Bostjan wrote back that “This amazing record documents the spectacular caterpillar of Theretra lycetus, in a rather rare, green morph; it is more common in yellow or brown colour.” The species is not even represented on Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic, which explains why we never even considered it. We do have an image of the adult Theretra lycetus in our archives. We did locate an image of a brown caterpillar on Wikimedia Commons.
Letter 3 – Hornworm from India: Possibly Hippotion celerio
February 9, 2010
I found this insect when we were trekking in Maharashtra, India.
Thanks for the help
Naneghat, Maharashtra, India
This is a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a moth in the family Sphingidae. We looked on the Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic website, and it looks similar to the caterpillar of Hippotion celerio. We then verified that with a photo on the Butterfly House of Australia website. If it is not Hippotion celerio, then we believe it is a closely related species in the same genus. We will try to contact Bill Oehlke to see if he has an opinion on this caterpillar.
Letter 4 – Hornworm from Jordan
Subject: What the bug ??
Geographic location of the bug: Asia > Middle East > Jordan
Time: 04:49 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hey,
I wonder what this bug is, any thoughts?
P.S : I just found this website, I like what you do hope the best for you guys.
How you want your letter signed: Moh’d Hawa
Thanks for your kind words. This is a Hornworm, the larva of a Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae. We searched Israel’s Nature Site where we believe we have correctly identified your Hornworm as Theretra alecto. We then verified that identification on Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa where the life cycle is nicely documented.
Letter 5 – Vine Hawkmoth Hornworm from Madeira Islands
Subject: Cute bug
Location: Madeira Ialands (porto Santo)
September 27, 2015 5:33 am
Here is a photo of a large caterpillar bug found in the madeira islands. It’s easily the size of a large finger with cute markings. awww 🙂
I know its probably the caterpillar of a hawk moth, but which one? I would appreciate any more information you might have..
We agree that this is a Hornworm, but we haven’t had much luck verifying the species. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide additional information.
Correction: A reader provided a comment indicating that this is the caterpillar of a Vine Hawkmoth, and Sphingidae of the Western Palaearctic confirms that identification.
Letter 6 – Hornworm from Mexico: Xylophanes falco
Location: Milpa Alta, Mexico
August 28, 2015 1:26 pm
About 4 inches long
Picture taken Aug 14, 2015
Signature: Leo Perez
This is not a Swallowtail caterpillar. It is a Hornworm, the caterpillar of a Sphinx Moth in the family Sphingidae, but we have still not been able to identify it to the species level.
Update: September 4, 2015
Thanks to a comment from Bostjan Dvorak, we are able to provide a species name of Xylophanes falco, a species that ranges north into parts of Arizona, and BugGuide has some nice images of the hornworm.