If you own a bearded dragon or are hoping to purchase one, you may find yourself curious about hornworms. They’re not one of the more commonly recommended feeder insects, but can bearded dragons eat them?
Yes, your bearded dragon can eat hornworms, as part of a well-balanced diet, that includes a variety of other insects. A moderate source of protein and an excellent source of calcium and moisture, hornworms are a nutritious addition to your beardy’s diet.
We will further discuss the pros and cons of adding hornworms to your bearded dragons’ life, but it is important to note that these worms aren’t all that easy to offer. They are often overpriced and grow quickly, which can make them hard to store. Regardless, you should aim to feed your bearded dragon a mixture of fresh foods and water. Let’s discover how hornworms fit into the equation.
What Exactly Are Hornworms?
If you haven’t heard of hornworms, you may be wondering exactly what these delicious treats are and how they can benefit your bearded dragon. You have probably heard of tomato hornworms, the destructive insect that wreaks havoc on the favorite summer fruit.
Commonly sold by most insect companies, the two species of these caterpillars that make a good food for your bearded dragon include:
- Tobacco hornworm, “Goliath worm” or Manduca sexta
- Tomato hornworm, or Manduca quinquemaculata
Most often, you will see the tobacco hornworm appear in green color with seven diagonal markings along their sides, and a red, spiked tail on their back ends. This spike or ‘horn’ is what gives them their name. In the wild, you will find that they feed mainly on tobacco and tomato plants and are often considered a pest by most gardeners and farmers.
Tomato hornworms are slightly different. They have a V-shaped marking on their back and a black spike on their tail. Essentially, these worms can feed on the same plants and offer the same nutrition to your bearded dragon, which means they are practically the same. It just depends on your preference which you buy, based on availability and price.
Feeding Your Bearded Dragon Hornworms
Hornworms are great feeder insects for virtually any reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, including bearded dragons. You will receive these hornworms at a smaller size, which is great for feeding your bearded dragon if it is still a juvenile.
Hornworms tend to grow quickly, which makes them a good feeder for larger bearded dragons as well. Whatever the size of your beardy, you have to use the hornworms before they get too hard for your lizard to handle. Most often, your bearded dragon wants its worms alive, so keep this in mind.
- To give your bearded dragon hornworms, simply add them into their usual diet. Dangle the worm in front of your pet and let him have at it. Most pets love the insect and will snatch it as soon as it is offered. Dead worms aren’t always recognized as food, so live hornworms are the way to go.
- A huge benefit of using these worms in your bearded dragon’s diet is because they are ideal for animals that live in more arid environments. These worms are high in moisture levels, making them a great extra source of water. Of course, this high moisture content is a great way to hydrate your dragon.
- Hornworms have a lower percentage of protein content than many other insects, but they offer other nutritional benefits as well. Mix up your beardy’s menu to make sure you are offering a well-rounded diet.
The Nutritional Value of Hornworms
The table below better explains the hornworm’s nutritional value compared to other commonly used feeder insects. Credit for this information goes to the homes alive pet shop.
Calcium (per 100g)
As you can see, the hornworm is very high in calcium compared to other common feeder insects. If you tend to add vitamin dusting to your insects for bearded dragons or other animals, this is a great way to get around this. Hornworms have enough calcium on their own that they do not need added nutrients.
However, as mentioned, they have a fairly small protein content and are also low in fat. Though they cannot be relied on as a sole food source and should definitely be incorporated into a varied diet, they are great for a bearded dragon that may be struggling with nutrition.
If you have noticed that your bearded dragon is not eating as much as you would like or is even on a hunger strike, adding a hornworm is often be just the treat they need to pep back up. They are also great for those who are not intaking water as much as you would like.
How Often to Feed Hornworms?
As mentioned, hornworms should be offered as part of a well-rounded and varied diet. They do not make a good base of protein in your bearded dragon’s diet but can be great when used in addition to other nutritious foods.
It is also important to note that hornworms grow very quickly, which can make them difficult to feed smaller bearded dragons. As a simple rule of thumb, many suggest that you never offer a feeder insect that is larger than the space between the bearded dragon’s eyes. This can be very small for a baby or adolescent bearded dragon, which means you will want to offer the hornworms very quickly after purchase.
Diet of a Dragon, Based on Size and Age
Though your bearded dragon may enjoy a different diet, the commonly recommended percentages of food are:
- Baby bearded dragons – up to five months: fed approximately 60% to 80% insects and 20% to 40% plant matter
- Juvenile bearded dragons – five to eighteen months: fed approximately 50% insect prey and 50% plant matter
- Adult bearded dragons – 18 months and up: fed about 25% to 30% insect prey and about 70% to 75% plant matter
You can simply add hornworms to this mixture as you see fit, ensuring to pair them with higher protein insects along the way for a balanced diet.
Purchasing Your Hornworms
As with everything that you feed your bearded dragon, you will want to guarantee that you purchase from a reputable website or a quality local shop. We will talk about some of the negatives that come with hornworms later, but an issue some bearded dragon owner run into is high prices. You’ll want to find a quality company that offers your insects at a reasonable rate.
One thing to remember is that you should never capture wild hornworms and feed them to your bearded dragon. The problem that arises when you catch them in the wild is that you do not know what they have ingested or where they have been. Tobacco hornworms are actually capable of collecting and storing the toxins from tobacco plants.
Essentially, if you find your own hornworms outside of your home or in your area, they can be fatal if ingested by your pet. Tomato hornworms pose a smaller risk, but the two species can be mixed up very easily. For the safety of your pet, it is always smarter to just purchase safe hornworms from a quality source.
Caring for Your Feeder Hornworms
When purchasing from most companies, you will receive your feeder hornworms in a container that holds the caterpillars. When arriving, they should be around one or two inches long, with some companies offering varying sizes as needed. You should always look before placing your order to see if the vendor offers different size options.
The container you receive should contain food for the hornworms on the top and a screen for them to climb on to reach it. The food should sustain the worms for some time, usually until they reach four inches. This takes around two or three weeks.
You will also want to read the information available on the website you are purchasing from or the store you are purchasing from to see exactly what your hornworms come with. Most are sold in these little food pods so that they can basically live in their own ecosystem. This allows them to thrive on their own with little work on your part, except maybe cleaning out the droppings every few days.
The Disadvantages of Hornworms
Though they can make a tasty treat for your bearded dragon, hornworms do come with a few disadvantages that make many owners avoid them. As we already discussed, they should mainly be used for an occasional treat and probably are not something you will purchase for everyday use. A big reason for this is because they are not super nutritionally solid and are high water, high calcium, but very low protein.
Hornworms Tend to be Expensive
One of the biggest problems that bearded dragon owners run into is that hornworms are far more expensive than other feeder insects, which can really add up when your pet needs a large sum of insects each day.
If you have more than one bearded dragon, the costs can outweigh the benefits of adding the insect to your pet’s diet. This is another reason why only offering them sparingly can be beneficial, as can purchase to serve as a treat, rather than as part of the daily diet.
They Grow Very Quickly
Another issue that many run into is that hornworms can grow exceptionally fast! They may arrive at you at only an inch but in a matter of two weeks be four inches and growing. This can be super challenging with smaller bearded dragons because you simply do not have time to feed them to your pet before they reach mature age and size.
This may require you to purchase smaller amounts of the caterpillar at the time so that you have plenty of time to feed them to your pet. However, you can run into problems with this as some companies do not offer small amounts per purchase. You don’t want to be overrun with small hornworms that grow too quickly for you to serve them.
They Can Cause Digestive Issues
A final problem that some owners run into when feeding hornworms is that the high-water content can cause some tummy issues in their bearded dragons. Though they are a great water source, adding too many into the bearded dragon diet can cause too much water intake.
Something to remember is that you should always monitor your pet after adding a new ingredient to their diet. If you see any adverse reactions or noticeable digestive issues, you may want to avoid offering more hornworms or lower how often you offer the treat.
Tomato Hornworms can be a good addition to your beardie’s diet, but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of the insects that you’re feeding. Feed them in moderation, maybe a few times per week, and they shouldn’t cause any problems.