Leopard gecko owners need to feed their pets a nutritious diet.
Leopard geckos are insectivores, meaning their diet should consist of various insects.
Crickets are the most common food for geckos, along with Dubia roaches, waxworms, super worms, and mealworms.
Leopard geckos usually prefer live feeder insects, but will they eat dead mealworms?
As a general rule, leopard geckos will not eat dead mealworms, as they rely on the movement of live insects to hunt their food. Dead mealworms do not have as much nutrition as gut-loaded live insects. Their lack of moisture content makes them difficult for a leopard gecko to eat and digest.
The dried exoskeleton of a dead mealworm will not break down properly in a leopard gecko’s digestive tract and increases the risk of impaction.
Since leopard geckos like to hunt active feeder insects, they may refuse to eat if their crickets or mealworms are not moving.
While it is possible to create insect movement using feeder tongs, you are unlikely to fool a gecko with a dead mealworm.
Read on to learn how often to feed mealworms to leopard geckos and how to ensure your lizard receives essential nutrients.
How Often Should Leopard Geckos Eat Mealworms?
Mealworms are an excellent source of protein for geckos, but they should only be fed as a treat due to their high-fat content.
It is safe to feed baby leopard geckos mealworms every day along with crickets until the lizards are about 4″ inches in size.
But, an adult leopard gecko is prone to becoming obese, so it is best to feed mealworms twice per week as a supplement to its normal diet.
Mealworms also have low calcium to phosphorus ratios, which could cause health issues for your gecko.
Too much phosphorus inhibits a gecko’s absorption of nutrients like calcium.
Calcium is a crucial nutrient, and deficiencies in leopard geckos lead to metabolic bone disease, which is often fatal.
A healthy calcium to phosphorus ratio in feeder insects for most reptiles is 2:1 or 1:1.
Mealworms have a calcium to phosphorus ratio ranging from 1:7 to 1:11, and these phosphorus levels are too high to be a staple food in a leo’s diet.
If you do not refrigerate your mealworms, they will begin to molt until they transform into darkling beetles.
When a mealworm has reached the darkling beetle phase, it may still be fed to a leopard gecko as long as it is small enough.
Adult mealworm beetles will sometimes grow too large to be fed to a gecko, but they may be used for breeding your own colony of mealworms.
Further Reading: How many mealworms a leopard gecko should eat?
Creating a Balanced Diet for a Leopard Gecko
Gut-loading feeder insects and adding vitamin supplements to your leo’s diet will keep your pet in good health.
Use a small feeding dish to prevent your gecko from accidentally ingesting any substrate.
Always remove any uneaten insects from your gecko’s food dish after every feeding/
This prevents the bugs from hiding in the tank and causing possible injury to your pet.
Besides to a balanced diet, providing your gecko with a clean, fresh water supply daily to keep your lizard properly hydrated is crucial.
The water dish must be shallow and large enough for your leo to soak.
While they are not frequent water drinkers, leopard geckos receive a lot of hydration from soaking in their water dish.
It makes shedding easier, too.
Your gecko will likely poop in its water bowl when it gets in to soak, so frequent water changes are necessary.
Further Reading: Leopard gecko poop problems explained!
Offer a Variety of Insects
Offering your leopard gecko a varied diet of active insects ensures they receive essential vitamins.
It also prevents the lizard from becoming bored with its food.
You wouldn’t want to go through life eating the same thing all the time either, right?
When a leopard gecko is bored with its food, it may develop a loss of appetite.
Live crickets and Dubia roaches are awesome feeder insect options as typical staples in a diet for geckos.
Dubia roaches are high in protein and an excellent alternative to crickets as a staple food.
Fatty insects like mealworms, super worms, and waxworms should only be offered as occasional treats.
Further Reading: Can leopard geckos eat wax worms safely?
In the case of an underweight or sick gecko, waxworms may be fed more frequently to increase the lizard’s appetite and encourage weight gain.
You will feed your leopard gecko two appropriately-sized insects for every 1″ inch of body length.
Baby and juvenile leopard geckos are usually fed smaller crickets and mealworms.
An adult leopard gecko may be fed larger insects like Dubia roaches and superworms.
As a general rule of thumb, the feeder insects should not be larger than the space between a leopard gecko’s eyes.
Feeding appropriately-sized insects to your leo reduce the risk of choking.
The following table shows the nutritional value for common feeder insects included in a leopard gecko’s diet.
Gut Load Feeder Insects
Gut-loading feeder insects with vegetable scraps and small pieces of fruit add essential nutrients.
These will pass to your leo when eaten.
Carrot peelings, potato slices, leafy greens, and small apple pieces are all excellent for gut-loading.
These foods are also a good way to give the insects hydration without the risk of drowning them.
It is vital to gut load the insects within 24-48 hours of feeding them to your leo.
This time frame allows the feeder insects to digest the nutrients, so they are full before your gecko eats them.
Add a Calcium Supplement with Vitamin D3
Adding a calcium supplement with added vitamin D3 is essential to your leopard gecko’s diet.
Vitamin D3 allows the gecko to metabolize calcium properly.
Low calcium levels are very dangerous for a leopard gecko and, over time, will lead to metabolic bone disease.
Metabolic bone disease occurs when a leopard gecko’s body leaches calcium from its bones to compensate for a mineral deficiency.
This disease results in softening of the bones and crippling deformities of the spine, legs, and jaw.
There is no cure for metabolic bone disease, and the effects are irreversible.
In severe cases, metabolic bone disease is usually fatal.
Leopard geckos may get D3 from UV lighting.
But since they are less active during the day, there is no guarantee the lizards will bask in the light long enough to receive any benefits.
To ensure your leo is getting these essential nutrients, lightly dust the feeder insects with a calcium supplement.
This supplement needs to contain vitamin D3 before feeding twice per week.
We recommend this calcium plus powder (found on Amazon) for drizzling on insects.
You may also leave a dish of calcium powder in your leo’s tank for a constant supply of calcium.
But it is more difficult to know whether your pet is getting the recommended amount.
Foods Leopard Geckos Should Not Eat
Insects like lightning bugs and fireflies should never be a food source for a leopard gecko, as they contain highly toxic chemicals.
It is also best to avoid feeding wild-caught insects to your gecko because they may be infested with parasites or other harmful diseases.
Wild insects may also be exposed to hazardous pesticides, which are very dangerous for your leo.
Store-bought insects are free from parasites and disease and are readily available.
Many lizard owners choose to raise their own feeder insects in a separate tank for a steady food supply and to reduce feeding costs.
Fruits and vegetables should also be avoided since leopard geckos cannot digest the cellulose in these foods.
Human food is unsuitable for geckos, so never give your lizard table scraps.