Nutritional Facts And Lifespans Of Feeder Insects

I created this post about the nutritional facts on feeder insects (also called feeders) to help you find the best information about the food you’re putting in your reptile. It doesn’t matter if you have an insectivore or an omnivore, bugs are a big part of your reptile’s balanced diet.

Not all bugs are created equal! Some have higher fat contents, and others have higher moisture levels. Knowing what prey items provide what nutrients to your animal will go a long way in helping you determine what and how much to feed your reptile. Just remember to mix up the feeders. You don’t want to give your animal the same thing every day. You could end up doing it harm because your reptile isn’t getting all of its required dietary needs met. There is a huge variety and plenty of locations and online vendors to help you with that variety.

There are several vitamins and minerals that go into making up a healthy and balanced diet. For the sake of simplicity, I will be talking about only a few of them. The ones discussed here are the ones you should focus on the most. Let’s start out with one you may not know about or know what it is: ash, but not cigarette ash or fireplace ash.

Earthworm on wood

Ash. Ash consists of salts, metals, minerals, and in this case, whatever the prey item had in its gut when it was eaten. The bigger the prey item, the bigger its gut, and potentially the more vitamins and minerals it may possess. This is just one great reason for gut loading feeders.

Fat. Insects are in general considered to be unsaturated fats. Fat, as a nutrient, tends to be very high in energy versus carbohydrates and protein. Fat does play an essential part in a few good things for the reptile’s body. It provides cushion for the internal organs, helps maintain body temperature, and helps absorb vitamins.

In the wild, reptiles can burn all the fat energy they get because they move and hunt all day or night while doing what it takes to survive. Captive reptiles don’t get the range of space in an enclosure that they would in the outdoors. Also, because the reptile’s food source is dropped right in the enclosure with no hunting or foraging required, reptiles can get a bit lazy, which means more fat.

There’s also a notion that spoiling your reptile with excessive treats will somehow brighten its day. While getting more food may in fact make your reptile happier, it will also make them fatter and bring on health problems. A healthy reptile is a happy reptile.

Fiber. Quite a bit of the fiber count of an insect comes from chitin (KY-tin), a modified composite carbohydrate that comes mainly from an insect’s exoskeleton. Chitin can also contain calcium and nitrogen. There are some insectivores that produce chitinase, which is an enzyme that breaks down the chitin.

Protein. This is absolutely necessary for the reptile’s body’s ability to build and maintain strong muscles and provide energy. When it comes to insectivores, which are reptiles that eat only bugs, you have to switch up the insects from time to time to provide the reptile with all the different nutrients they require. You can also switch up what you gut load your cultured feeder insects.

Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio (Ca:P). Reptiles must have twice as much calcium as they do phosphorus because it takes calcium to properly digest phosphorus. Make sure the calcium to phosphorus ratio is 2:1. If the reptile doesn’t get enough calcium to digest the phosphorus, its body will steal what it needs from other areas, like from their bones for example. This theft of calcium over time can cause metabolic bone disease (MBD). In advanced cases, MBD can lead to bone fractures and tremors.Hornworm on twig

Nutritional Content Chart

The following data are gathered from very reputable sources of nutritional information for the different types of feeders. These data are based on the assumption the feeders have been properly gut loaded and are healthy. Please understand that the nutrient content of a given feeder is going to vary based on the quality of the insect breeder and their prevailing husbandry skills and practices. This is designed to help you make the best decision you can when picking your animal’s feeder food and treats. Feel free to mix it up and try any and all of the listed feeder items to see which ones your animal likes and which ones they won’t eat. Some reptiles are picky eaters, just like humans. It’s the way it goes.

I use the word Moisture in the chart below because you are feeding your animal live feeders that contain moisture: body fluids. In most studies I found, they used the term Dry Matter because they were basing the nutritional content on dead and dehydrated or persevered insects. I want to be as accurate as possible, so the numbers in the studies have been converted to reflect the changing of dry matter to moisture content.

Meal Moisture Ca:P Ratio Fat Ash Fiber Protein
Butter worm 60% 1.5:1 17% 1% 1% 16%
Notes: These insects produce an acid-like substance that is harmful to geckos’ skin. High in fat and phosphorus. Use for treats only.
Cricket, domestic 72% 1:9 5% 2% 2% 19%
Notes: Make sure to add a calcium supplement.
Dubia roaches 65% 1:3 7% 3% 1% 21%
Earthworms 72% 1.5:1 10% 4% 8% 11%
Notes: Do not buy worms from bait stores or shops.
Fruit flies 70% 1:10 5% 2% 5% 21%
Grasshoppers 72% No data 2% 2% 5% 21%
Giant mealworms No data 1:1 17% No data No data 15%
Notes: Treat only. Very high in fat.
Hornworms 85% 1:3 3% 1% 1% 9%
Locust 62% 1:6 9% No data 4% 22%
Mealworms 65% 1:7 9% 2% 3% 19%
Nightcrawlers 84% 1.5:1 2% 2% 2% 10%
Notes: Do not buy worms from bait stores or shops.
Phoenix worms 63% 1.5:1 10% 4% 8% 18%
Notes: Also called Black soldier fly larvae, calcium worms.
Silkworm 79% 1:25 2% 1% 3% 13%
Silkworm pupae 76% No data 6% 1% 2% 15%
Superworms 60% 1:18 18% 1% 5% 19%
Notes: Treat only. Very high in fat and phosphorus.
Wax worms 61% 1:7 22% 1% 4% 15%
Notes: Treat only. Very high in fat.

Your reptile is only as healthy as its diet, and you are the one in control of that. To help you better plan for your reptile’s meals, here’s a bit of extra information for you. I hope this helps.

Grasshopper on leaf

Lifespan of Feeders

The following information is presuming the feeders are being kept in the best possible conditions and fed the proper diet. Also, these times are not perfect and do not take into consideration the entire lifecycle of each feeder. These are the approximate lifespans of the feeders at the stage of life they are in when being used as feeders.

Butter worms: Usually live for around 2 to 3 months.

Crickets: Live to be about 8 to 10 weeks.

Dubia roach: Females live up to 2 years; males live 12 to 18 months.

Earthworms: 1 to 2 years is very likely.

Fruit flies: On average, between 40 and 50 days.

Grasshopper: Up to 7 weeks.

Giant mealworms: These have a wider range than most and largely depends on the living conditions, like it does with most feeders; 2 to 10 weeks and time is up.

Hornworms: 2 to 3 weeks.

Locust: Usually live about 2½ to 5 months.

Mealworm larvae: Usually live in the refrigerator between 2 and 3 months with proper care.

Nightcrawlers: They are good for 3 to 5 weeks.

Phoenix worms: While they can be stored at lower temperatures, around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, for several months, truly they should be fed within 3 weeks to be sure they are the freshest for your reptile.

Silkworm larva/pupae: Silkworm larva live 20 to 30 days, and silkworm pupae live 10 to 14 days.

Superworms: Can live for 6 to 12 months if kept with other superworms. If they get isolated from other superworms, they will begin to pupate and will transform into a beetle that most reptiles won’t eat.

Wax worms: They will be fine at temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit for about 2 weeks. Most refrigerators are a bit too cold for them, but if you must keep them in the refrigerator, place them in the door as close to the top as possible.

Happy feeding.

Feeders PDF

Silkworm PDF


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