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Can Chameleons Eat Dead Crickets Or Other Dead Insects?

can chameleons eat dead insects

Chameleons are known insectivores. Though many chameleon species can eat lizards, small birds, and plant material, they prefer insects. But does this mean that chameleons will eat crickets or other insects even if they’re already dead?

Though chameleons are insectivores, they prefer eating live crickets and insects. Aside from not finding them attractive, dead insects lose moisture and nutrients through evaporation. They also release ammonia, which causes them to stink and is poisonous to your chameleon. 

Keep reading, as this article will explain in detail why dead crickets and insects aren’t suitable food sources for chameleons.

Why Chameleons Can’t Eat Dead Crickets or Other Dead Insects

In the wild, a chameleon’s diet consists of mantids, grasshoppers, locusts, flies, worms, and crickets. Though you need to feed them with various insects in captivity, crickets are the easiest to get. 

However, these crickets and insects should be alive for chameleons to eat them. Some of the reasons chameleons love live prey include the following:

Dead Insects Aren’t Appealing

can chameleons eat dead crickets

Dead critters aren’t as attractive to chameleons as they’re not moving. They won’t touch them, let alone notice its presence, as it’s not wriggly enough to catch their attention. 

Only when your chameleon is starving and can’t find other food sources it might dare touch a dead insect.

Tip: If your chameleon isn’t eating properly, read our article here to learn why your chameleon isn’t eating anymore and what you can do about it.

Moisture and Nutrients Evaporate When Feeder Insects Die

Preference aside, dead insects aren’t as healthy compared to their live counterparts. When insects die, moisture starts evaporating from them.

Once moisture leaves the critter’s body, valuable nutrients dissolved in them also go with it.

What’s left then is an empty shell of what that insect has been. They give crunch, but that’s it. They’re like chips that taste good but are not healthy.

Dead Insects (Crickets Included) Release Harmful Gases 

Findings from David Rollo’s research point out that all animals — insects included — produce a death stench. As soon as the insect dies, a fatty acid blend composed of oleic or linoleic acids is released from its body cells. 

Chameleons and other animals near the dead critter will then avoid it. This helps them avoid catching a possible disease that the insect might have carried. 

Aside from this “death stench,” dead crickets also release ammonia. This ammonia is another reason crickets stink after their death.

When not disposed of immediately, the build-up of ammonia can suffocate the healthy crickets in their feeder insect box. 

When your chameleon eats dead bugs, it will be exposed to ammonia, too. Ingesting high concentrations of ammonia can lead to lung damage and even death. 

Dead Insects Carry Pathogens

do chameleons eat dead insects

Dead crickets or other insects also become hosts to parasites and bacteria. If this is the cause of the cricket’s death, they’ll only multiply in number after they die. 

When chameleons ingest these pathogen-laden critters, they also ingest the toxins they release. This then causes health problems like gastric distress that will warrant a visit to a herpetologist or exotic animal veterinarian immediately.

Tip: We highly recommend you read this article so you’ll know what to do when your chameleon experiences diarrhea, which can be a symptom after ingesting dead crickets and insects.

How to Avoid Having Dead Crickets In My Feeder Insect Box?

Since we want to take proper care of our chameleon pals, it makes perfect sense to take care of their food, too. When the crickets you’re giving are healthy and happy, your chameleon will be healthy and happy as well.

First, find a trustworthy supplier of live crickets. Attend reptile conventions and shows near you so you can ask for tips on where to buy live crickets. Right now, Josh’s Frogs is one of the top recommended feeder supplier. 

Then place the crickets in a container deep enough so they won’t escape. You can opt to use a large plastic box or buy a cricket keeper. We bought and reviewed this cricket keeper and highly recommend it!

Just make sure the lid has holes for ventilation. Not only does this allow the crickets to breathe, but also prevents humidity from building up. Placing dry egg cartons also helps lower the humidity in their containers.

Tip: High humidity and ammonia buildup are the top two reasons for crickets to die.

Also, to be extra hygienic, create zones in their container. One area should be dedicated as their feeding zone where you can put their water and food

Since crickets readily drown, you can choose from the 3 ways of providing them with moisture: 

  • Placing the water in shallow containers
  • Submerging cotton balls in water
  • Use of water-storing crystals (Fluker’s Cricket Quencher is recommended as it is calcium-fortified)

Make sure your crickets are well-fed by gut-loading them with nutritious food. They can eat plants (fruits and veggies included), grains, insect larvae, and commercially-produced cricket food.

do chameleons eat dead bugs

Lastly, dispose of dead crickets immediately. Ammonia quickly builds up in their pens and suffocates the other healthy crickets if you don’t throw the dead ones. Do this daily, or else you’ll be left with a stinky and cricket-less container soon.

Is It Safe to Feed Dried Insects to Chameleons?

Technology has made it possible to store feeder insects like crickets in a way that makes their shelf-life longer. One known process is freeze-drying them. 

But as freeze-drying dehydrates the insects using low temperatures, the moisture in them is removed. Along with moisture removal, essential nutrients like fat and calcium are also removed.

Not to mention that freeze-dried insects and crickets are essentially dead. Since they aren’t wriggling as they should, our chameleons aren’t attracted to eat them. 

You also can’t gut-load or dust them even if they are lacking in phosphorus and calcium, as they are already prepared beforehand.

Hence, avoid giving your chameleon freeze-dried critters. Gut-loaded live insects are always the best option to keep your color-changing lizard in the best of health.

Don’t forget to vary what a chameleon eats too. In this way, you get to supplement your chameleons with much-needed nutrients naturally on top of dusting their food.

What Other Foods Should I Not Give to My Chameleons?

can chameleons eat dried crickets

As chameleons are insectivores, insects like crickets are their staple food. In the wild, chameleons hunt for insects that are readily available and are in season. 

In captivity though, reptile parents have to provide them with varied insects to meet their nutritional needs. But, there are some insects that you shouldn’t give them no matter what.

Wild-caught Insects

Wild-caught insects, though high in protein, aren’t the healthiest for your captivity-bred chameleon. One reason for this is that they might carry parasites and other diseases that they can pass to your chameleon.

These insects might also be exposed to pesticides sprayed in the area they’re living in. These chemicals can then be passed to your chameleon when they ingest them, making them sick.

Toxic Bugs

Chameleons can eat almost all insects as long as they are alive. But there are some bugs deemed toxic for their health.

Name of InsectReason

• They build up toxins within themselves as they grow
• They then excrete or hiss these toxins as an irritant bad-smelling spray when escaping

Lightning Bugs or Fireflies
• Contain “lucibufagins,” steroidal pyrones that protect the fireflies from being eaten by predators like the chameleon
• If ingested, can cause firefly toxicity symptoms about 20 minutes from ingestion (symptoms include head shake, retching and/or vomiting, keeping the mouth open)
• Can cause death in under 2 hours of exposure 

• They don’t offer nutritional value and taste bitter or foul as they’re moderately poisonous 
• Have toxins in their skin that harms chameleons
• They also secrete fluid in their legs when they’re threatened
Centipedes• Can poison your chameleons when they bite

• Bites from spiders contain toxins that can harm or even kill your chameleon

Monarch caterpillars and butterflies
• Contains toxic plant glycosides that are capable of making your chameleon sick

• Chameleons won’t opt to eat them as they taste bitter due to the formic acid they contain
• Some ant bites can cause severe allergic reactions in chameleons
• Avoid feeding fire ants as they inject venom that can instantly kill your chameleon
A table on toxic bugs for chameleons

The general rule here is if you’re not sure whether you can feed this type of insect to your chameleon, don’t give it.

Tip: Read our care guides for veiled chameleons and panther chameleons so you’ll have a better idea of their ideal diet.

Pierre And The ReptileCraze Team
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