Hornworms: Can Leopard Geckos Eat Them?

can leopard geckos eat hornworms?

Most Leopard Gecko owners know that their lizards enjoy eating caterpillars, but opinions on individual species are often subject to discussion. The most frequent questions are whether Leopard Geckos eat hornworms and what is the recommended number that will not endanger their health.

Hornworms are sizable and thick caterpillars that are hard for young geckos to chew and swallow. While you can offer these worms of various sizes to adults, juvenile leopard geckos can consume only small ones. Never use wild-caught hornworms since they can carry harmful bacteria and parasites.

In this article, you will find the answer to the question of can Leopard Geckos eat hornworms. Plus, you will discover possible restrictions in this regard.

Benefits and Downsides of Feeding Your Leopard Gecko With Hornworms

Feeding your Leopard Geckos with any food type has its advantages and drawbacks. It is similar to hornworms. So, let’s see why you should pick out these caterpillars and what possible restrictions are.

Pros

  • A bright green body color makes hornworms easily visible even from a distance, making them appealing to your Leopard Gecko.
  • Since they are slow-moving worms, your lizard will catch them effortlessly.
  • Hornworms contain enough protein and high calcium levels, making them an excellent source of these nutrients.
  • Thanks to high moisture content, these caterpillars are an excellent solution for sick Geckos, particularly ones suffering from dehydration.
  • They don’t contain chitin, making them easily digestible, while a low fat level will keep your pet fit.
  • Since hornworms come in the cup with necessary food, there is no need to store and maintain them besides cleaning.
  • The best thing is that a package includes worms in different sizes. As a result, you will have suitable bites for your Gecko, regardless of age.

Cons

  • The protein level that hornworms contain is low compared to mealworms, crickets, or super worms.
  • Geckos adore hornworms’ taste and may quickly become addicted when consuming them too often.
  • Hornworms grow fast, making it impossible to use the same packaging to feed hatchlings and juveniles for a long.
  • Gut-loading hornworms is not a viable option in the long run since they are suckers for sweets without consuming other food.
  • Since these caterpillars have a short lifespan, you can store them only for up to two months.
  • Hornworms are costly food difficult to stock up on.

Simply said, your Leopard Gecko can eat hornworms (Goliath Worms) without worry, but the question is how much and how often. Plus, not all lizards are the same, and their taste for food can vary considerably.

Worms typically differ in flavor, activity level, size, and structure. Therefore, you should test your leo’s preferences before completing the final feeding schedule. Always check how your pet responds and consult your vet about the best approach.

Hornworms are an excellent soft treat full of moisture, making them healthy and yummy to eat and a perfect alternative to the usual diet. However, their size can be a limiting factor if you have a small leopard gecko.

Most experts recommend offering full-size hornworms to adult Leopard Geckos only since their size can make them hard for juveniles to swallow safely.

You should use live hornworms bought in a local pet shop whenever possible. Another option is to order them online. Never feed your Gecko with wild-caught hornworms because they are often carriers of bacteria and parasites that may jeopardize its health.

Live hornworms are typically packed in a cup habitat with enough food. If it is not the case, you should gut-load them before feeding your pet. (We explain how to feed hornworms to your leo in detail here)

Be prepared that these caterpillars grow quickly. You will probably buy  0.5 inches (1.3 cm) long hornworms, but they will reach 3 to 4 inches (7.6 – 10 cm) in only two weeks.

It can be a problem if you have a young Leopard Gecko unable to swallow such a big bite. In that case, you should avoid keeping hornworms in a warm place.

The better option is to keep a cup at 55 to 60 F (12.8 – 15.5 C) to slow down caterpillars’ growth. You can also put them in the fridge for a day or two, but never let them at low temperatures for long to prevent their hardening.

Hornworm nutritional value

The rule of thumb is to feed your Leopard Gecko with ingredients its species typically consume in the wild. Since these insectivores eat hornworms in their natural habitat, you can freely offer these giant caterpillars to your pet.

However, you should be careful because lizards need a balanced diet as similar as possible to the one they would find in nature.

WormsProteinCalciumPhosphorusCa: P ratioFatMoisture
Superworms19.7%177 mg/kg2,370 mg/kg1:1817.7%57.9%
Mealworms18.7%169 mg/kg2,850 mg/kg1:713.4%61.9%
Butterworms15.5%125 mg/kg2,250 mg/kg1:1829.4%60.2%
Waxworms14.1%243 mg/kg1,950 mg/kg1:724.9%58.5%
Silkworms9.3%177 mg/kg2,370 mg/kg1:2.41.1%82.7%
Hornworms9%464 mg/kg1,394 mg/kg1:33%85%

Hornworms are nutritious feeder caterpillars that contain 85% moisture, 9% protein, and 3% fat, making them a food of choice for lizards.

They are also excellent for sick Geckos or those that avoid drinking water until ending up dehydrated.

With 46 mg/100 g calcium and 139.4 mg/100 g phosphorus, these larvae of hawk moths are an excellent source of minerals for Leopard Geckos. Thanks to that, they have a particular value in metabolic bone disease prevention.

Can Leopard Geckos Eat Hornworm Pupa?

Here is a hornworm’s life cycle:

  • Eggs
  • Larvae
  • Pupae
  • Moths

Feeding Leopard Gecko with hornworms in the pupa stage is safe until they become too large and hard. Your lizard can eat 2.5 inches (63.5 mm) long pupa, but it can sometimes lead to suffocation.

Be particularly careful if you have a hatchling. The best and safest option is to avoid offering a pupa to juvenile leopard geckos.

Believe it or not, you can offer even adult moths to your leopard gecko as soon as they appear from pupae in a week or two.

The only problem is their speed, so some Geckos can find it hard to catch those flying insects. (More on feeding leopard geckos moths here)

Hornworm pupae are typically packed in a roll. Be gentle while unwrapping it and handling the pupae to prevent them from dying since they damage quickly.

Can Baby Leopard Geckos Eat Hornworms?

Even though adult Geckos eat only insects, hatchlings have entirely different nutritional needs. They require more frequent meals, digest only small insects, and have higher calcium requirements.

The best option is to offer your baby Gecko three meals a day, including small and easy-to-digest insects and worms. On the other hand, six months to one-year-old lizards require food only once to twice a day.

In most cases, hatchlings can safely consume hornworms, but you should offer them in moderate amounts.

The best option is to provide your baby pet with one to two tiny caterpillars a week. We explain more on that in this article: Can Hornworms Hurt Leopard Geckos?

Some experts believe that feeding a baby Gecko with even four hornworms is entirely safe and nutritious.

Leopard Gecko ageSmall hornwormsMedium hornwormsBig hornworms
Adults/One per meal, once a weekTwo to three per meal, once a week
Juveniles/One per meal, two times a weekOne to three per meal, two times a week
HatchlingsOne to two per meal, once a week//

You should be careful and pick out smaller caterpillars that are easily digestible for the baby Gecko. They are entirely harmless and can’t physically injure your tiny pet, but there is a danger of choking.

Baby Geckos are greedy eaters with a fast metabolism, and they rapidly grow in a short period. Therefore, you should never offer it a bigger meal than the one it can eat in ten minutes.

If the hatchling is too excited and gluttoned and the worm is too thick, such feeding can end up with difficulty swallowing and digestive issues.

To ensure the worm is safe for your baby pet, you need to follow the simple trick. Avoid feeding your tiny Gecko with something more sizable than its eye-spacing.

Keep in mind that worms, particularly hornworms, grow quickly, so you should avoid buying them in large quantities.

Otherwise, you will get stuck with the bulk of too big caterpillars your hatchling can’t swallow. Ideally, you should purchase smaller packing until your lizard turns one year old.

Do Leopard Geckos Like Hornworms?

Leopard Geckos can be weird when it comes to their food. They are insectivores and typically adore eating hornworms, but that doesn’t have to be the rule. Sometimes these lizards enjoy one caterpillar type and suddenly lose interest in that food.

If you notice something like this, you shouldn’t panic because it only means your pet has switched its preferences. It will be enough to offer it other worm types and try again with the first one after a while.

As for the hornworms, most Leopard Geckos consider them a treat and enjoy consuming them whenever possible. In extreme cases, they can want these caterpillars so much to become addicted and refuse other food.

The best way to prevent such a problem is to feed your leo with hornworms only three to four times a month. It is better to offer it live food, but it is also possible to teach it to enjoy dried worms.

In that case, you need to start with such a diet from an early age. Introducing freeze-dried worms to an adult is almost mission impossible. In most cases, your lizard will refuse such a meal.

Another problem is dried worms’ nutritional value. They typically lack moisture and vital nutrients, plus they are more complicated for Geckos to swallow and digest.

can baby leopard geckos eat hornworms?
Leopard geckos prefer hornworms over crickets but that doesn’t mean they should eat them more often.

Should Your Leopard Gecko Eat Only Hornworms?

Believe it or not, 1,200 hornworm species live worldwide, while you can find 120 to 130 species in North America besides numerous other worm types. Additionally, you can find many other worm types available on the market.

All of them come with various nutritional values, but you should be aware that none will fulfill all your Leopard Gecko’s needs.

As you know, proteins are crucial for your leo’s diet. Besides, it is necessary to offer low-fat content food since this species is prone to weight gain.

Therefore, it is practically impossible to provide all the ingredients for your pet by offering them only hornworms, no matter what combination you make. Most worms are insufficient in proteins and contain too much fat.

As you can guess, overfeeding the leo with such food inevitably leads to a lack of vital nutrients in its body. As a result, your Leopard Gecko will become malnourished and consequently hungry, stressed, and very destructive.

The best option is to provide adequate insects as a primary food and add worms for the diet diversity or as a snack or treat.

For instance, mealworms are a delicious and nutritious staple food for your lizard, particularly when you combine them with crickets. A healthy Gecko diet should also include:

Be aware that super worms, butter worms, and waxworms contain a high level of fat. Therefore, it is recommended to add only two or three of them a week to prevent your lizard from gaining weight.

On the other hand, you should never use hornworms as a primary food to avoid both addiction and malnourishment.

Finally, you should be careful with mealworms. They are nutritionally incomplete for Geckos, and their exoskeleton can be challenging to digest as we explain here.

As you know, Leopard Geckos enjoy hunting prey and prefer eating active insects. Since most worms are relatively inactive, your pet may ignore such boring food.

We list the best worms for leopard geckos here!

Conclusion

Thanks to high moisture levels, hornworms are a yummy meal for your Leopard Gecko, while the calcium they contain makes them highly nutritious.

On the other hand, these thick caterpillars can be too sizable for hatchlings and juveniles and may cause choking and digestive issues.

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