Insects and grubs are commonly fed to bearded dragons by their owners. Being rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals; they usually make a great addition to the diet. But what about mealworms in particular? Are these safe to offer, are there any benefits in doing so or is there any considerations in which a beardie owner needs to be aware. Having spent several hours researching the literature, the thoughts of veterinarians, reptile experts and fellow owners, I have found out for good whether mealworms are an appropriate food.
So, can bearded dragons eat mealworms? Bearded dragons can eat mealworms, although it is best to feed them in limited quantities in moderation. Mealworms are high in fat and phosphorous, relative to protein and calcium – so there are better options out there. Excessive feeding of mealworms can lead to excess weight gain and other health complications. Equally, you should never feed mealworms to bearded dragons under 18 months old as only adults can digest mealworms properly.
An adult bearded dragon needs a balanced and varied diet with a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1. Calcium is crucial in the bearded dragon’s diet, especially since they are susceptible to conditions like metabolic bone disease.
Feeding a calcium-rich diet to your beardie is essential and leafy greens are an excellent source of calcium. Bearded dragons like to eat insects, but they are not a staple for these reptiles – nor should they be.
Bearded dragons can regulate their diet and know instinctively the right foods to eat; however, in captivity, an owner must control and monitor what their pet eats.
This is important since not all insects are the same – they have different levels of proteins, fats and minerals like calcium and phosphorous.
In the following sections, we will explore why mealworms are not an optimal food source before looking at some better treats to feed that will do a better job at serving the health of your beardie. So, be sure to keep on reading!
Are Mealworms Bad For Bearded Dragons?
Yes, mealworms are bad for bearded dragons in excess. Just like most foods for a bearded dragon or a human for that matter.
As mealworms are high in fat so can easily result in weight gain if consumed too much or too regularly.
While this does not mean you should eliminate them entirely, it does mean you should exercise some control in the frequency and serving sizes you offer.
Adult bearded dragons are known to enjoy eating mealworms, but there are a number of reasons in why they do not make an optimal food source. We will take a look at these further in the sections below.
Ultimately, a couple of mealworms per week for an adult bearded dragon should not be a concern or an issue. We must remember as owners that we are unlikely to feed them exclusively to our beardies.
We will likely pair mealworms with other foods, such as green leafy vegetables, that help to balance out the poor calcium to phosphorous ratio.
In fact, we can use a small serving of mealworms to our advantage – making other foods more appetizing by mixing them in. We can get our bearded dragons to eat much more health-promoting foods through the strategic use of mealworms.
That being said, other foods are likely to contain fat; so we can easily give too much of it to our bearded dragons without even realizing.
It all leads to suggest that mealworms are okay in moderation, have their uses in the diet for adult beardies, but are bad in excess.
There is only one main caveat: Baby bearded dragons should not eat mealworms at all.
It is strongly recommended not to feed mealworms to baby bearded dragons because of their structure. Mealworms have rough exoskeletons, making them hard for babies to digest.
If a baby eats a mealworm, they can suffer from an intestinal blockage. If your notice that your baby beardie is struggling to eat certain foods, remove that food from their cage and feed smaller, more manageable to digest foods to your baby bearded dragon.
While it is true that baby bearded dragons need a lot of protein in their diet; with insects making an excellent source of it – there are better options available. Keep reading to find out which are the best ones!
Can I Feed My Bearded Dragon Only Mealworms?
It would be very irresponsible to feed only mealworms to your bearded dragon, so the answer to the question is no, you cannot feed your bearded dragon only mealworms.
An adult beardie needs a diet consisting of mostly vegetables for general health, according to the guidelines of veterinarians.
Equally, mealworms do not contain enough protein a young bearded dragon requires, and it does not provide the nutrition an adult bearded dragon needs.
Let’s explore in more detail three reasons why mealworms can be a problem for bearded dragons:
- Mealworms are addictive for bearded dragons, and if they overeat, they will eat nothing else. Mealworms are the reptile equivalent of fast food.
- Mealworms contain a lot of fat but little protein, which is what young bearded dragons need the most. Captive bearded dragons tend to be fatter than their wild counterparts, as they don’t have enough room in their cage to exercise, and they don’t forage for their food. As an owner, you must take this into account when feeding your pet. Adult beardies need more greens in their diet than protein. As hard as it is to believe, there should be days when you don’t feed your bearded dragon; this is far healthier for them.
- Mealworms don’t have the right balance of calcium to phosphorus ratio, and are too high in phosphorous. If a beardie doesn’t get enough calcium from their meals, their bones become very soft leading to metabolic bone disease.
How Many Mealworms Should A Bearded Dragon Eat A Day?
Adult bearded dragons (over 18 months of age) should only eat mealworms at most once a week, once they are rotated with other insects.
To achieve the right nutrition for your adult beardie, consider a balance that consists of three-fourths fruit and vegetables and one-fourth insects.
Adult beardies tend to be overweight, so practice portion control with your pet.
You can offer more food to female beardies when they are breeding. Keep in mind that mealworms are just a treat.
Better Treats For Bearded Dragons
Baby bearded dragons can have a hard time eating certain foods, especially if the skin is hard or the piece is just too big. To avoid intestinal blockages that are dangerous for baby beardies, feed small foods like crickets, tiny wax worms, and fruit flies, they are a better treat for your baby dragon.
Thankfully bearded dragons are omnivorous and can consume a wide array of insects, fruits, and vegetables as treats. It is best to feed bearded dragons foods they eat regularly as treats. Excellent protein sources include the following:
- King worms
Fruits make ideal tasty treats for your beardie but exercise caution when feeding soft fruits because of their high sugar content.
Soft fruits should be fed to beardies no more than once a month. Fruits should include:
Bearded dragons can have their pick of vegetables. Excellent vegetable choices include the following:
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potato
- Bok choi
Greens are an excellent source of calcium for bearded dragons greens include:
- Turnip greens
- Dandelion greens
- Mustard greens
Some fruits and veg are okay for bearded dragons to eat occasionally, these items include tomatoes, broccoli, pears, grated carrot, cucumber, grapes, bananas, and blueberries.
Mealworms are okay to offer your adult bearded dragon, but sparingly. Mealworms are high in fat and phosphorous and do not contain balanced nutrition to keep your bearded dragon healthy and happy. Bearded dragons should eat mealworms no more than once a week, as they can quickly become addicted, develop a preference and begin to ignore other, more nutritious foods.
While bearded dragons are omnivores, they still cannot consume certain foods like:
- Wild insects – as they could have parasites in them that can harm your pet. Purchase your insects from a pet store; this is the safest way.
- Iceberg lettuce – it has little nutritional value and consists of mostly water.
- Spinach and beet tops – as they contain chemicals that can attack calcium in the body of the reptile, resulting in metabolic bone disease.
- Avocados – chemicals in avocados can make your beardie sick if consumed in small amounts; if consumed in large quantities, it can be fatal.
- Rhubarb – has high levels of oxalic acid, which can be highly toxic for bearded dragons.
Remember, keeping a bearded dragon in captivity means that you will automatically restricting their movements and keeping exercise to a minimum. It follows that weight gain can happen easily – and many owners do a disservice to their beardies by letting them gain weight with incorrect diet and feeding.
Do mealworms cause impaction in bearded dragons? Mealworms have been reported to cause impaction in some bearded dragons. Young bearded dragons are especially susceptible. This is due to the shell of a mealworm, which is a challenge to break down and digest. It mostly happens in bearded dragons that have been consuming mealworms to regularly, and in beardies with a general poor health status or with digestive track issues.
How do you know if your bearded dragon is impacted? A bearded dragon will display the following symptoms if they are impacted: unable to excrete regularly, straining while trying to go, having trembling legs, regurgitating food, dragging their back legs and not being able to walk properly.
Are Mealworm Beetles Safe For Bearded Dragons? Mealworm beetles contain more protein and less fat than regular mealworms. They are a better insect to offer your beardie from a nutritional perspective. However, most bearded dragons do not enjoy eating mealworm beetles as much and they are generally less appetizing.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.