Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius) love to eat wax worms (Galleria mellonella). Unfortunately for them, wax worms are not recommended as part of their staple diet. But, is it possible that your Leopard Gecko will refuse to eat anything but wax worms?
While leopard geckos can’t develop a neuropsychiatric addiction, they can develop a food addiction if they are fed wax worms too often. Since wax worms are high in fat, they trigger a dopamine release in leopard gecko brains, which can lead to this addiction and refusal of other feeder insects.
Read on to find out why this preference for wax worms occurs. Discover how you can prevent or resolve picky eating in your Leopard Gecko.
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Leopard Geckos Could Develop An Addiction To Wax Worms
The word “addiction” is often used in common English to mean something that an individual enjoys a lot. But, the real meaning of addiction is quite different.
A neuropsychiatric addiction to a substance causes physiological changes in the brain and body. When the substance is taken away, the addict will suffer from withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms could include sweating, vomiting, and seizures, among others. Leopard Geckos cannot become addicted to wax worms in this sense.
Behavioral addiction is different. This includes pathological addiction to things other than substances. This covers compulsive gambling, spending, and eating.
It is characterized by habit-forming behavior. An individual suffering from behavioral addiction will choose to feed the addiction, no matter what the negative consequences are.
Food addiction is a behavioral addiction. The individual will continue to eat the food, despite becoming overweight, overfull, or ill. A Leopard Gecko could develop a behavioral addiction that leads to compulsive eating of wax worms.
Research in animals shows that foods that are high in fat, like wax worms, trigger the same pleasure centers in the brain as addictive drugs.
But, it is not a given that your Leopard Gecko is addicted to wax worms. It is likely that he simply has a strong preference for them.
Why Do Leopard Geckos Prefer Wax Worms Over Other Foods?
Leopard Geckos prefer wax worms over other foods because they are high in fat and calories. High-fat foods are also very palatable, meaning they taste great.
Waxworms are comparable to cookies. Have you ever put aside celery sticks in favor of cookies?
Animals Are Hard-Wired To Prefer High-Calorie Foods For Survival
There are scientific explanations for why animals, including humans, prefer high-fat and high-sugar foods. In the wild, obtaining enough calories to survive is a constant struggle; akin to finding enough water, securing shelter, and mating.
In short, animals have various methods of sensing high-calorie foods, through taste, smell, or texture. High-fat foods like wax worms are very desirable.
They are like a jackpot that helps the Leopard Gecko fulfill its caloric needs with minimal energy spent on hunting.
High-Fat Foods Trigger A Dopamine Reward In The Brain
Animals show a preference for high-fat foods that increases in relation to the fat concentration of the food. But, fat can be damaging if calories are exceeded. Obesity-related diseases do not help an animal’s survival.
So, why do animals continue to eat fatty foods well beyond their caloric needs? Research suggests that the brain releases “happy chemicals” like dopamine as a reward, in response to high-fat foods.
The brain also releases dopamine in response to substances like addictive drugs.
This would explain why animals continue to eat high-fat foods, even beyond the point where it is good for them. Leopard Geckos may seek wax worms to get the reward of a dopamine response in the brain.
This is the beginning of behavioral addiction.
Should You Be Worried If Your Leopard Gecko Is Addicted To Wax Worms?
Yes. If your Leopard Gecko refuses crickets and dubia roaches and instead eats wax worms, this is worrying. He will get too much fat and phosphorus, and not enough calcium and protein.
This could cause metabolic bone disease. MBD occurs when your Leopard Gecko gets too much phosphorus and not enough calcium.
As a result, his body will draw calcium from his bones. This causes his skeleton to become weakened and deformed.
Generally, Leopard Geckos are fairly good at stopping eating once they are full. Though, they can overstuff themselves, especially if the food is highly palatable like wax worms are.
Overeating fatty wax worms will result in your Leopard Gecko having too many calories. Over the long term, this will lead to obesity.
Obesity causes many serious health problems, such as hepatic lipidosis. This causes the liver to stop functioning correctly.
How To Prevent Your Leopard Gecko Becoming Addicted To Wax Worms
To prevent your Leopard Gecko from becoming addicted to wax worms, it is very important not to make them a routine part of his diet. If your Leopard Gecko comes to expect wax worms, he may refuse to eat other food unless he gets them.
This is especially important for young Leopard Geckos. When introducing them to an appropriate diet, it is not advisable to offer treats like wax worms, unless necessary.
The key to using a treat like wax worms is to offer them unexpectedly. Only give them as high-value rewards for training behaviors.
Alternate wax worms with other treats. This will allow you to take longer breaks from wax worms. Find out how often you should offer wax worms to your Leopard Gecko by reading our in-depth article.
What To Do If Your Leopard Gecko Is Addicted To Wax Worms
If your Leopard Gecko is already addicted to wax worms, it can be hard to break him of his habit.
As long as your Leopard Gecko is generally healthy, he can survive without food for up to a month. It is not right to withhold food for this long. But, it is reasonable to only offer appropriate foods, even if he won’t take them.
Offer your Leopard Gecko a staple feeder insect like a dubia roach, mealworm, or cricket. Anything he takes that isn’t a wax worm is a success.
If he won’t eat it, remove it and try again later or tomorrow. Do not wait three days until the next scheduled feeding, as he hasn’t eaten anything.
Keep trying until he takes healthy food. If this goes on longer than a week or two, consult your vet.
Once you have broken the addiction, change your use of wax worms until they are a sporadic treat, or even eliminated altogether. Find out whether Leopard Geckos should eat wax worms by reading our comprehensive guide.