How Many Mealworms to Feed a Bearded Dragon?
Mealworms are beetle larvae that are easy to store and breed. Convenience has made them a standard inclusion in many lizard diets, including beardies, especially given they also provide proteins that your reptile needs for growth.
Their popularity as pet food has inspired their provision in pet stores, and their availability makes mealworms affordable. Therefore, making mealworms a staple for your bearded dragon is tempting, but is this a healthy move?
The right number of mealworms to feed a bearded dragon depends on how old the dragon is, the size of the mealworms, and the prevailing dietary needs.
Mealworms have a high fat and phosphorus content which will easily make your beardies overweight if unchecked, leaving them susceptible to multiple health issues. The mealworm shell is also challenging to digest and might overwhelm your dragon’s digestive system, leading to complications that we’ll see later on. However, this delicacy is highly addictive for bearded dragons and can easily make them resent other foods.
There needs to be some form of regulation which is what this article is all about. How many mealworms are healthy to feed a bearded dragon? By the end of the article, you should know the role mealworms play in your pet’s healthy diet, how to incorporate them and when you need to withdraw them completely.
How Nutritious Are Mealworms for a Bearded Dragon?
The nutritional value mealworms bring to the table is distributed as follows: 63% moisture, 19% protein, 1% ash, 14% fats, and 3% carbohydrate. The high fat and moisture content is what hooks these arid creatures to the snack. While it can assist in mass gaining for growth and accumulation before brumation, it is also one of the main reasons their inclusion should be limited in a bearded dragon diet.
The fat content is almost as high as the protein content an adult bearded dragon receives from this meal, which isn’t a healthy ratio. Mealworms are also low in calcium, and you are even advised to dust them in calcium supplements before offering them to your beardie.
In the absence of other foods, mealworms can make your bearded dragon overweight and encourage a malnourished diet. This is why they should only be given in controlled portions - to leave space for more nutritious foods.
Another major concern with feeding your beardies mealworms is their hard exoskeleton. This might not come as a surprise, considering they are beetle larvae. It makes them hard to bite, chew and digest, especially for baby beardies whose digestive systems are still developing and fragile. Their consumption should be spaced to allow recovery.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Love Feeding on Mealworms?
The high-fat content gives mealworms a delightful flavor that adult bearded dragons relish. They also look and smell appetizing, and the way they move is catchy to the dragon’s eye. They could eat mealworms every day if given the opportunity. Your adult bearded dragon could also consume 5 to 10 of them per meal although this is not advisable, as we will see later on.
This insatiable appetite can be used to your advantage when you introduce other less appealing but essential foods to a bearded dragon diet. If you need your beardie to eat more greens, for example, you can place a mealworm on the vegetation, tricking them into eating veggies along with the treat so they can gradually develop a taste for the vegetation and accept it as food.
Another trick you can use is to introduce the mealworms toward the end of the feeding session so that your beardie eats the healthier insects before the mealworms.
How Many Mealworms Should a Bearded Dragon Eat?
An adult bearded dragon is only fed once per day and should eat mealworms at most twice per week. You should serve a maximum of two mealworms per meal as we have established, they are not healthy in large quantities.
A fully grown adult bearded dragon requires more vitamins than protein and fat at this stage. Their protein needs can be supplemented using leaner protein from other feeder insects like hornworms and Dubia roaches.
The fat pads will still come in handy during brumation if they fall sick and are unable to eat. A little fat does no harm, provided the diet is well balanced.
Baby bearded dragons shouldn’t be fed mealworms at all because we are unsure their digestive system has developed the capacity to break down the mealworm beetle shells. As much as they might relish the meal, it might choke them, lead to compaction (the lizard version of constipation) or even be fatal.
If you can’t avoid feeding mealworms to your baby bearded dragon [link to how many mealworms can you feed a baby bearded dragon], make sure they are small, so they can be digested easily. Never present your baby bearded dragon with more than one mealworm per feeding session. Afterward, you should monitor your baby beardie's behavior to ensure they are comfortable.
When the beardie is between 5 and 15 months old, you can loosen the leash. At this age, their bodies can maximize the utility of the protein and fat to grow and gain mass. The ideal diet for a growing beardie comprises 75% protein and 25% greens.
A bearded dragon's digestive system is also developed enough to handle the mealworms’ tough exoskeleton. Adult bearded dragons can consume up to five mealworms per session. Just make sure they are small enough to be eaten safely without choking or indigestion.
How to Feed Mealworms to Your Bearded Dragon
While it may seem like a straightforward process, it is important to know how to present this treat because it is already difficult to digest and might affect the intake of other foods. We have combined a few points we found helpful over the years.
Always Use Live Mealworms to Feed Your Bearded Dragon
A dead mealworm shouldn’t be fed to a bearded dragon regardless of how fresh they look. They will have lost their nutritional value significantly, and the skeleton becomes even harder once they are dead.
The bearded dragon easily recognizes a live mealworm because it moves. The smaller they are, the easier it will be for your pet’s digestion. They are readily available in most pet stores and come in different sizes.
Dust the Mealworms with Calcium Before Presenting Them
Sprinkling calcium dust on mealworms helps feed supplements to your beardies naturally without struggle. It is good for healthy bones but doesn’t exist in the snack.
Feed Your Bearded Dragon Mealworms by Hand
Using your fingers enables you to serve the mealworm as a treat to manipulate the lizard into doing what you want for the reward. They are likely to lick your hand in the process, which can also be a good bonding moment.
You should be careful not to spook them while doing this, or you will be bitten accidentally. Although it might sting a bit, a bearded dragon bite is not dangerous. If you are not confident doing this, you can use tweezers to feed them. Alternatively, you can place the mealworms in a shallow tray and leave them in the enclosure for your bearded dragon to find.
Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after feeding mealworms to your bearded dragon. They often carry germs in their excretions that you may come into contact with. A CDC investigation into a surge in salmonella infections even linked bearded dragons to the outbreak's origin.