Benefits of homegrown mealworms for reptiles
This blog will discuss live mealworms as a food source for those reptiles that require a level of insect protein in their diets. The benefits of growing your own mealworms for your reptile will be looked at. To finalize the reptile classifications and those that may require insects as a food source will be listed.
Some reptiles must have insects as their only or main food source, these obligate insectivores have evolved to get all their nutritional requirements fulfilled by eating insects alone. Others require the nutrients from insects at varying levels, some are more omnivorous so can fulfill their dietary needs from other sources but can still benefit from the nutritional and behavioral enrichment feeding live mealworms provides.
In a captive situation nutritional deficiencies can easily arise if the feeder insects are of poor nutritional quality or when there is not enough variety in the food available. Whatever the species of reptile, there is one common denominator in the diets of all their wild counterparts, that is variety, studies on wild populations of various species have shown them taking advantage of a wide range of food sources whether that be insectivores, herbivores, omnivores or carnivores. They often feed on as many different foods as are seasonally available, this should be replicated as much as possible in the captive environment, doing so will give those in your care a broader, more balanced nutritional profile.
Mealworms, especially when given the correct feeding themselves, are a good source of proteins and minerals. Mealworms are higher in fats than some other feeder insects, fat being an essential nutrient providing energy and aiding in the development of tissues. However, this is something to be mindful of when looking at your feeding regime as it could become an issue if the animal is overfed and underactive. As with other feeder insects mealworms are low in calcium so dusting or gut loading (by feeding mealworms on calcium rich foods before harvest) can increase this to avoid deficiencies.
Mealworms are by far the easiest of the feeder insects to raise yourself....
Mealworms require little care and take up little space, raising them yourself could be good for you in that it will save you some money but even better for your reptile, having a closed system means you can trace what has gone into not just the mealworms but the parent beetles too, so from egg to feeding you can ensure that it has been given everything it needs to be of maximum benefit to your reptile.
Livefood is a key part of many reptiles diet and adds enrichment benefits as well as nutritional. Many reptiles will eat based on seeing their food move and many reptile will not eat food that they cannot see move which emphasizes the reality of why reptile are mainly fed on live food rather than dried or frozen equivalents. Producing your own mealworms provides healthier more active mealworms for your reptile compared to shop bought live mealworms which can often have travelled long distances with a relatively bland substrate and minimal water source. Growing your own also allows you to select mealworms at the right feeding size with Leopard Geckos as an example preferring smaller mealworms.
It is impossible in this blog to cover individual reptile needs as the class Reptilia (reptiles) covers tens of thousands of species, each individual species will all have species specific dietary requirements, the amount of insect protein required for each species will vary significantly.
There is a few different schemes of classification within the class Reptilia in use especially when it comes to sub orders and as it is further broken down, so the following are the 4 orders that are widely accepted by the herpetology community.
Chelonia is an order which includes turtles and terrapins (such as the red eared slider, painted turtlesand map turtles) many of which are omnivorous so can benefit from mealworms in their diet, turtles are also in this order although most are strictly herbivores a small group are omnivorous (such as the red footed tortoise) and require a small amount of animal protein included in their diet, mealworms and other insects can fulfil this need.
Rhynchocephalia has just one living species and sub species remaining, the Tuatara which is endangered and highly protected, so although not relevant to this blog has a very interesting taxonomy worth mentioning.
Squamata is the largest order comprising of lizards of which the dietary requirements are as diverse as the species within it including carnivores to herbivores and everything in between, the leopard gecko can have mealworms as a staple part of a varied insect based diet, the bearded dragon can have them as a treat and enrichment food or the blue tongued skink can have them as part of their insect based percentage of their diet. it also includes snakes of which a majority will only feed on vertebrates, there is a small handful that feed on insects and mealworms can be given occasionally as part of a healthy diet (such as the rough green snake).
Crocodilia includes the crocodiles, alligators and caimans. Not traditionally kept as pets and eat a far more carnivorous diet than a mealworm can cater for. Hatchling caiman can eat invertebrates but this is such a specialized area it could not possibly be covered in such a general blog such as this.