When it comes to your gecko’s nutrition, variety is vital.
However, since leopard geckos are pure insectivores, your options are a bit more limited than they would be for an omnivorous reptile.
One prevalent feeder insect is the superworm, but are these massive worms really safe for your gecko to eat?
Superworms are fine for adult leopard geckos to eat but should be avoided for babies and juveniles, as they have pincers they will use to potentially injure small, weak geckos. They should only be fed occasionally, however, as they are high in fat.
To learn more about these popular feeder insects, their nutritional value and risks, and what other options you have to feed to your gecko, keep reading!
We’ll cover everything you need to know about superworms and other popular, more nutritious feeders.
Table of Contents
Can Leopard Geckos Eat Superworms Safely?
Yes, it is (mostly) safe for your gecko to eat superworms.
While superworms are undoubtedly capable of using their pincers in self-defense, most reptiles, including leopard geckos, know to bite the heads off of the worms quickly before gulping down the rest of the worm’s body.
Even if they happen not to crush the worm’s head entirely, the superworm still presents minimal risks, as the lizard’s stomach acids will break down the worm before they ever get a chance to pinch or otherwise harm them from the inside.
It’s rather gruesome to imagine, but rest assured; unless your gecko is very young, very old, or struggles with eating due to a disability, superworms are safe for them to eat from time to time.
If you’re still paranoid about the worm pinching your beloved gecko, get a pair of tweezers or tongs and crush the worm’s head prior to feeding.
This way, it’ll still move around enough for your gecko to show interest in it, but its pincers will be rendered useless long before they get close to the lizard’s mouth.
We say “from time to time” because while these insects are acceptable feeders, they are not necessarily the ideal staple insects.
Superworms are exceptionally high in fat and relatively low in other nutrients your gecko needs to thrive.
Think of them as the leopard gecko’s equivalent of a big, greasy cheeseburger; they’re delicious, sure, but these fatty insects are definitely not very nutritious.
For a balanced diet, it’s best to opt for better staple insects like mealworms, crickets, and Dubia roaches, but we’ll cover those in more detail soon.
For now, let’s focus on the superworm’s nutritional value to give you a better idea of why these aren’t the best bug to feed to your gecko for every meal–or every other meal, for the matter.
Superworms: Nutritional Value
Superworms, when compared to other feeder insects, are nutritionally poorer than most of the options you have to feed to your gecko.
To start with, their bodies are made up of a relatively high amount of fat, coming in at around 17%, compared to just about every other feeder insect, save for waxworms (which are a whopping 22% fat!).
Next, let’s look at these worms’ protein content.
Protein is an essential component of your gecko’s diet, so it’s best to opt for insects with high levels of protein, like Dubia roaches and crickets, which both contain well over 20% protein.
Superworms contain about 17% protein, roughly equal to the amount of fat they contain, which is middling at best.
As far as moisture is concerned, superworms contain around 60%, which once again is lower than virtually all other feeder insects.
Even though leopard geckos are desert animals, they still require adequate hydration, so their feeder insects should contain a fair amount of water since they don’t actively drink much.
Finally, let’s look at superworms’ calcium to phosphorus ratio.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, their calcium to phosphorus ratio is pretty abysmal, at only 0.053%, or 1:18.
This ratio comes in at second to last, with only mealworms having an ever-so-slightly worse ratio.
When it comes to any foods you give to your leopard gecko, the Ca:P is pretty essential.
Since phosphorus prevents your gecko’s body from absorbing calcium essentially and adequately renders it useless, you ideally want to opt for foods with, at the absolute least, a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. 3:1 or even 4:1 is ideal, with the general rule being the higher, the better.
So, overall, superworms aren’t very nutritionally rich for your gecko’s diet, so they should be avoided as a staple insect.
They’re OK to feed to your gecko a few times per week, but be sure to supplement their diet with a decent variety of plenty of other, much better feeder insects (which we’ll cover in more detail soon).
The Difference Between Superworms and Mealworms
Superworms and mealworms appear very similar, but they have many crucial differences when it comes to your gecko’s diet.
|Hard chitin or shell||Easier to eat|
|Large pincers may bite small geckos||No risk of injury|
|Low in calcium, low in fiber||Low in calcium, low in fiber|
|High in fat||High in fat|
|Low in protein||Medium in protein|
|Low in water||Low in water|
To start with, superworms are around five times larger than mealworms on average.
They’re both wider and longer than mealworms, yet they are nutritionally poorer.
In addition, superworms have much more chitin, which is a fibrous substance making up the worm’s exoskeleton or outer shell.
While an adult gecko will be able to digest the superworms’ shells just fine with no real issues, they won’t be as tasty to them as other feeder insects with less chitin and more meat, fiber, and protein.
Despite what you’ve probably heard in the reptile-keeping community, the risk of impaction with superworms is actually relatively low unless you’re only feeding your lizard superworms every single day.
Now, if this is the case, you and your gecko have much bigger issues to worry about than impaction, like the worms’ poor nutritional makeup, lack of moisture, and abysmal calcium to phosphorus ratio.
The next significant difference between superworms and mealworms is the pincers present on superworms’ mandibles.
As we mentioned earlier, though, these pincers present a minimal real risk of injury unless you have a baby gecko or an elderly or disabled lizard who struggles with eating correctly.
Mealworms lack these pincers entirely, making them wholly harmless and slightly safer for very young, very old, or otherwise physically weak geckos.
In terms of nutrition, superworms and mealworms are pretty similar.
Mealworms contain around 3% more protein than superworms, approximately 7% less calcium, and about 3% less fat content overall. Additionally, they have about 5% less fiber.
These differences are minimal, making mealworms and superworms pretty even as far as nutrition, with mealworms faring just a tiny bit better in the most critical categories.
Overall, mealworms are better to feed to your gecko more often than superworms, but neither should be a staple insect.
Check out our post on how many mealworms to feed leopard geckos for additional information.
There are far better, more nutritious options available, like crickets, Dubia roaches, and Phoenix worms, to name a few.
We’ll get into their nutritional value soon, but first, let’s go over how many superworms your gecko should ideally eat at a time and per week.
How Many Superworms Should a Leopard Gecko Eat?
As we mentioned earlier, it’s best to avoid feeding superworms to baby leopard geckos entirely, as their pincers and large size are often problematic for such small lizards.
Since they aren’t the best staple insects, it’s best to keep superworm feedings to just a couple of times per week, maybe once or twice at most, to stay on the safe side.
Usually, you’ll be feeding your gecko anywhere from two to five worms at a time, or until they are full and stop showing interest in the worms.
If your gecko happens to be underweight, though, a great way to fatten them up a bit is to give them superworms and waxworms* no more than three times per week, as they both are notably very high in fat compared to most other feeder insects.
*Further Reading: How many wax worms are safe for leopard geckos?
Anyway, once your gecko has reached their full adult size, it is entirely safe for them to eat superworms on occasion, even if you don’t crush the worms’ heads prior to feeding.
Your gecko will figure out how to handle their pincers and chomp the heads off first.
Now you know how many superworms your gecko should eat, but what about how to prepare them?
How to Prepare and Feed Superworms
First and foremost, regardless of the type of feeder insect you give to your gecko, you should always dust them generously with a calcium powder containing vitamin D3.
Your gecko needs plenty of calcium and D3 to support their bone and muscle health, and since they are insectivores, they don’t have any options when it comes to dark, leafy greens, or other vegetables, for example.
When getting ready to feed your gecko superworms, you should have a designated shallow food dish to toss the worms and other feeder insects into.
This way, your gecko won’t end up chewing on their substrate, and they’ll be able to more easily locate and handle their food if the worms are contained in a dish and prevented from crawling away.
Some more squeamish reptile owners prefer to use long tweezers or tongs to transport the worms from their container to the gecko’s dish (or, in some cases, hand-feed the gecko).
In general, if your gecko is physically able to eat by themselves without assistance, they should do so whenever possible.
If you’re opting to hand-feed your gecko, be careful and make sure the lizard doesn’t bite down on the end of the tongs, as this will be painful and upsetting for them.
Once the gecko is finished eating, always be sure to remove any uneaten insects from your gecko’s tank.
This is especially important when it comes to superworms, as they will often use their pincers to irritate and injure your gecko while they’re sleeping or resting.
Generally, you’ll be able to just put the uneaten worms back in your designated feeder insect container after each feeding session.
Should Superworms Be Gut-Loaded?
A popular method of adding a bit of extra nutrition to your leopard gecko’s diet is gut-loading their insects, which is just a technical term for feeding the bugs before you provide them to the gecko.
There are a lot of options available when it comes to feeding superworms and other feeder insects, as they aren’t very picky.
If you want an especially budget-friendly option for gut-loading, toss a piece of potato or carrot into the insect container and let the bugs chow down on them.
This isn’t quite as nutritious as some of the other gut-loading options, but it’s certainly better than nothing if you don’t have anything else available.
Some other great options for gut-loading your superworms include:
- Dark, leafy greens, like collard greens, spinach, or kale
- Just about any fruits or vegetables work fine in a pinch
- Pre-made gut-loaders, such as Insecta-Load or Nature Zone’s Total Bites
The best yet most expensive option by far is pre-made gut-loading supplements, which are specially formulated to contain calcium and other essential vitamins to help boost your gecko’s overall nutritional intake.
They are designed to be used for all feeder insects, not just superworms, so they’re pretty versatile.
Of course, if you aren’t interested in buying these gut-loaders, using any veggies, fruits, or even oats you happen to have lying around is just fine, too.
Related: Can leopard geckos eat fruit?
Other Great Feeder Insects For Leopard Geckos
So, we’ve established superworms aren’t suitable staple feeder insects, though they are safe to feed on occasion.
Which insects, then, are better options?
The best feeder insects to feed to your gecko are:
- Dubia roaches
- Phoenix worms
These feeder insects all have decent amounts of protein and moisture while being relatively low in fat.
The best two staple options by far are crickets and Dubia roaches, while mealworms and silkworms are best to only feed to your gecko on occasion.
Hornworms and Phoenix worms are somewhere in the middle as far as their overall nutritional value.