How to Gut-Load Mealworms for Leopard Geckos (Complete Guide)

When planning a healthy diet for your pet, gut-loading mealworms for your Leopard Gecko needs to be on your list. Without it, your gecko will lack critical micro-nutrients in their diet, which is a serious health concern and will likely shorten your gecko’s life by years. In this article, we’ll show you exactly how to prepare your feeder insects, and what foods to feed them. Let’s jump right in!

Just like humans, wild geckos need to eat a wide variety of feeder insects, which helps them cover all their nutrient needs. The insects they feed on tend to also have a varied diet of various plants, vegetables, or fruit, which is necessary for the gecko, as they cannot eat vegetables for vitamins directly.

Since it is almost impossible to offer that much natural variety in captivity, we can instead pay attention to the most important detail: Offering all feeder insects healthy, quality food in variety.

It’s critical to gut-load mealworms with the right veggies – otherwise, your Leo will suffer from nutrient deficits like the fatal Metabolic Bone Disease. Read our guide here if you want to make sure you prevent other diseases like that as well!

Just like you should never feed Leopard Geckos with only mealworms, the worms themselves should also have a variety of food available, since no one vegetable provides all nutrients in sufficient amounts. If you want to find out more about them, click here to read our full guide here.

What to gut-load mealworms with

In general, mealworms eat almost all vegetables and “healthy foods” that we eat, and so can be given scraps of almost anything. However, there are a few details that are best followed for optimal nutrition for your Leopard Gecko, as well as some foods you should NOT use, as they can be harmful to your gecko.

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The term “gut-loading” specifically refers to feeding your mealworms about 24h-48h before they are fed to your gecko, since their gut will eventually have digested the food and be empty again. However, feeding them healthy foods even long before you use them to feed your leopard gecko is not bad, either. Here are some different approaches:

  • You can offer only “basic” food and scraps to your mealworm population, and place the worms you’ll feed to your gecko in a separate box to be gut loaded on veggies (around 1-2 days before feeding).
  • You can offer both “basic” food and gut-loading vegetables to your worms all the time
  • You can also use pre-made gut-loading mixes for ease of use, offered to your mealworms only in the 1-2 days before they are fed to your gecko. These mixes are designed to cover all the nutritional needs of your gecko. (excluding supplements like Calcium and Vitamin D – these are still necessary, as described in this guide)

Don’t forget to serve your gecko the mealworms in a quality feeding dish to prevent them from escaping!

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07/13/2023 11:15 pm GMT

Basic food for mealworms

The base of mealworm food is usually cheap, abundant, and doesn’t need to be replaced. (unlikely to rot or mold)

Simple food sources for your feeder insects include:

  • Oats (dry)
  • Oatmeal
  • Wheat bran
  • Potatoes / Sweet Potatoes (raw, in slices/pieces)
  • Squash/pumpkin
  • Cereal

Gut-loading food for mealworms

For the days before being fed, or for regular food throughout their life, here are some great options for healthy food choices:

  • Apples
  • Carrots / baby carrots
  • Leafy greens (except lettuce, as it barely has any nutrients)
  • Turnip or similar greens
  • Other vegetables you have lying around or left-overs

What NOT to use for gut-loading mealworms

There are two main reasons for not using certain foods: Some rot or mold easily, which can be dangerous to both the mealworms, and as a consequence, your gecko when it eats them. These foods can be fed, but only if you check-in daily and remove any fruits or veggies that are about to go bad. (like: cucumbers, tomatoes, berries)

These foods are mainly berries and sweet and/or watery vegetables and fruits – feed these freshly for gut-loading (1-2 days before gecko feeding) if you want, but don’t drop-and-forget them into your mealworm box!

The other list consists of food that is toxic to your Leopard Gecko, and should also NOT be fed to your mealworms. These foods are:

  • Citrus fruits (too high in citric acids)
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Avocado
  • Rhubarb
  • Broccoli & Kale (can interfere with Calcium absorption)

Why you should gut-load mealworms

Mealworms should be gut-loaded before feeding them to your gecko (or other pets) to increase their nutrients. “You are what you eat” fits well here – mealworms are only as healthy as their diet. Commercially bred mealworms tend to be fed the cheapest possible foods, which usually lack important micro-nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But that’s exactly what your Leopard Gecko needs from mealworms! Especially geckos that don’t eat fruit or vegetable need to get it indirectly from their prey. So when you gut-load your mealworms with healthy foods, you are indirectly feeding them to your pet.

Gut-loading specifically refers to the 24 hours before the mealworms are fed to your gecko, as the mealworm’s food will still be in their gut, half-digested. This is important, as Leopard Geckos don’t have the digestive system to digest the vegetables themselves – the worms have to digest it first, so that the nutrients are readily available for your gecko.

However, feeding your mealworms healthy foods for days and weeks before they are offered to your gecko is still a good choice. A healthy diet leads to healthy mealworms, which make a better food source for your gecko.

Don’t forget to also dust with the right supplements for your leopard gecko!

Do you have to gut load mealworms for Leopard Geckos?

While you don’t have to gut-load mealworms, providing healthy, nutrient-rich foods during their lifetime or at least before feeding your Leopard Gecko is important for your gecko’s health. If this seems like a lot of extra effort, just drop a few pieces of vegetables or vitamin-enriched cereal into your mealworm box, or give them store-bought mealworm grub or gut-loading mixes before offering them to your gecko.

Do you have to gut load all feeder insects?

Not all feeder insects have to be gut-loaded. Your gecko’s main diet – crickets, Dubia roaches, and mealworms – should be fed nutrient-rich food, though. Other insects, like silkworms, hornworms, or Black Soldier Fly Larvae each have their own specific diet, and should not receive the same food as your mealworms.

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