Mealworms are popular treats for all kinds of household reptiles. And although we are all aware of the dangers of getting bitten by a pet reptile, you may be unaware of the potential dangers of getting bit by their food!
Mealworms have jaws that are capable of biting. However, they are non-vicious and will not bite skin while being held. A small meal worm’s mouth is much too small to break through human flesh. Giant mealworms or super-worms have bigger mouths that are more likely to be able to bite human skin.
The average mealworm will never bite a human with enough force to hurt them. But no matter what your use for the worms is, whether it’s to feed a hungry reptile, make friends with the neighborhood birds, or to watch their lifecycle unfold, there are some important tips you should know before handling them.
Mealworms are so small and harmless that they are hardly able to hurt you. The only reason they have their tiny mouths and jaws are to take bites of their food. Their bites are not designed to inflict pain.
A mealworm will eat anything that is decaying or soft and moist. They eat meat, fruits, vegetables, dog food, fungus, decaying plants, decaying bugs, and mold.
Because their diet consists mainly of soft, decaying foods, they have no need for a strong jaw that can bite through human flesh. They just need one that can munch through plants and garbage mush. The worst that a small mealworm can do is try to nibble on a ridge of your fingerprint and even then they will be unable to bite through.
This means you may be able to feel a slight pinch from their bite. Don’t worry, the bite is not harmful. Just always remember to wash any bacteria off of your hands after handling bugs or reptiles, especially if you are going to be eating later!
Do Mealworms Even Have Teeth?
Mealworms are insects, this means that instead of teeth, they have tiny structures in their jaws called mouthparts, or “mandibles.” These are powerful parts of an insect near the mouth that chew up all kinds of plants and decayed things. A mealworms’ mouthparts are incredibly small. You can’t see them very well with the bare eye, but they are there.
Luckily, because they are so small, as was discussed above, a bite would be too small to feel any pain from. The average mealworm is between 1/8th of an inch and 1/2 an inch long. This makes their mandibles incredibly small and unable to chew through anything harder than a leaf.
Mealworms weren’t designed to be able to bite you. That’s why most of the time, they don’t!
Larger mealworms have mouths that are a bit larger and therefore are stronger and have a more powerful bite. If any mealworm is going to bite you, it will be a giant worm or super-worm. Again, these bites will not hurt more than a pinch and are not harmful.
If you are dealing with super-worms or giant mealworms, then it sounds like you should be more nervous about the creature you’re feeding them to than the worm itself!
Real Life Experience
After some research, we found a community of reptile owners sharing real-life experiences of mealworms biting them.
One member shared that a fully grown mealworm beetle was trying to bite the skin on their hand to no avail. The beetle was clawing and supposedly trying to burrow, but human skin is just too strong!
As far as mealworms biting your reptile, this is also something that you don’t need to worry about. If you’re worried, some people will decapitate a mealworm to prevent it from chewing through the stomach of their reptile.
Decapitating a mealworm before feeding it to your lizard is unnecessary, as the mealworm has likely already been long dead before it reaches the stomach of your pet. A mealworm will not chew through your lizard.
They also will not bite your lizard on the outside for a few different reasons.
- Being natural prey, a mealworm would rather hide than fight back to a huge predator.
- Your reptile will likely get to the worm first before the mealworm even knows what’s going on.
- An alive and well lizard is much faster than a mealworm. It can take one step and go more distance than a mealworm can in 10 seconds. A mealworm will only prey on a dead, decaying animal.
What About Birds?
If you have questions about feeding mealworms to the birds outside, the forum linked below is helpful to read. Don’t worry about the worms hurting a bird’s babies in her nest. The mother will crush the mealworm in her beak long before it reaches her young.
Feeding mealworms to the neighborhood birds is a great way to bring them closer to the community and keep them healthy. Dried mealworms can be mixed in with other bird feed or served by themselves and the birds will love it!
Live mealworms should be well-fed before being fed to the birds, or any animal for that matter. Try leaving mealworms with fruits and vegetables for a few days to get them nice and vitamin-filled before letting the birds go crazy on them!
Getting bit by a mealworm can be a scary thought. For many, mealworms are a new experience they haven’t been exposed to yet. But there’s nothing to be afraid of when it comes to the harm a mealworm can inflict on you. You are more likely to be bit by the bird or reptile you are feeding the mealworm to than to get bit by a mealworm in your hand.
If you want to be extra cautious, or just more sanitary, you can always try feeding your pet a mealworm with tweezers. The animal won’t always take it (they tend to prefer the hunt) but some will snatch the worm right out from your tweezers! No handling necessary!