Mealworms are a common feeder insect for Leopard Geckos for many reasons: They are easy to buy and store, relatively cheap, and are liked by most Leopard Geckos. In this full guide, we’ll cover the benefits and dangers of mealworms for Leopard Geckos, and how to feed mealworms to your Leopard Gecko. If done incorrectly, mealworms CAN cause life-threatening impaction, or lead to malnourishment if fed exclusively, so read this article carefully to the end if you want to take good care of your little reptile.
Benefits of Mealworms for Leopard Geckos
Mealworms are often used as the bulk of a Leopard Gecko diet, as they excel as a simple, low-maintenance, and durable feeder insect. They can easily be bought in bulk, stored for weeks, don’t smell too bad or make much noise, and are easy to handle and feed.
Mealworms are low-maintenance. They can easily be kept in a simple box, need minimal space per worm, and don’t mind being part of a writhing mass of worms. Just add some food, and they have everything they need! (more on feeding mealworms later)
You can keep live mealworms for weeks. When kept in a refrigerator, they go inactive and need no food. You also won’t have to worry about them growing too much, if you have a baby or juvenile Leopard Gecko. This way, especially for adult geckos, you can easily buy mealworms in bulk once a month, or even less.
Mealworms are harmless to geckos. Unlike some other feeder insects, mealworms won’t bite and hurt your gecko. It’s still advisable to place them into a bowl they can’t escape from, or you might have burrowed worms in the gecko’s enclosure.
Mealworm nutrition facts
While mealworms have a good amount of protein, they also have a relatively high amount of fat. That’s why feeding your gecko exclusively mealworms can quickly lead to weight gain or even obesity. Additionally, they are not nutritionally complete and will malnourish your gecko without other food sources to complement them.
Here’s how mealworms stack up against other popular feeder insects for Leopard Geckos in terms of nutritients:
Downsides of Mealworms for Leopard Geckos
Downsides of nutrition, digestion, hunting, and whatever else.
While mealworms are practical, easy to feed to your gecko, and usually well-received by them, they have a few downsides you need to manage.
First, because of their high fat content, they can lead to obesity. Many healthy Leopard Geckos have a high appetite and can easily overeat – especially on delicious mealworms. That’s why you need to have a diet plan to stick to, so you don’t end up overfeeding your gecko. Mealworms are absolutely fine as long as they are fed in moderation, though. Think of them like burgers. If you eat them twice a week it’s fine, if you eat nothing but burgers every day, it’s a problem.
Also, especially if fed regularly or in larger quantities, and especially for young geckos, mealworms can cause digestive issues or life-threatening impaction. More on that in a moment.
One downside compared to roaches or crickets is their speed: While its practical for us that mealworms don’t move too much or too fast, and can easily be put in a smooth-walled bowl for feeding to prevent them from escaping, slow movements also means that your gecko won’t be challenged to a good hunt. While that can be a good thing, some excitement from time to time is also important, and mealworms don’t offer that.
Impaction from Mealworms
Like other worms, feeding your Leopard Gecko mealworms does have a risk of causing impaction. However, this can easily be avoided by following a few simple rules:
- Mealworms shed their shell every few days. After shedding, they are white to cream-colored and soft-shelled. This is the ideal time to feed them to your gecko. Over time, the shell hardens and becomes tan to brown. During this time, before the next shedding, the hard, indigestible shell poses a strain on the gecko’s digestive system. Over time, this can lead to impaction.
- Mealworms can be bought while they are still small and young, but soon grow and become bigger. Feeding your Leopard Gecko mealworms that are already too large can also cause constipation and impaction. Make sure to only feed small mealworms (about 0.25-0.5 inch / 0,6-1,2 cm) to baby or juvenile geckos, and only feed fully grown worms (up to about 1 inch / 2,5cm) to a fully grown gecko.
- Avoid overfeeding by sticking to a reasonable amount of worms per day. Your gecko might eat more than they need, leading to an overloaded digestive tract. The recommended amount of mealworms depends on your gecko’s age, and is described later in the article.
For more information on impaction, read our full guide on Mealworm Impaction in Leopard Geckos.
Dangers of Mealworms for Leopard Geckos
Can mealworms bite leopard geckos?
Short answer: Mealworms can bite, but their bite is harmless to both humans and geckos and is very unlikely to ever injure your gecko.
Mealworms can “bite” – after all, they bite into their own food sources. However, their bite is very weak and unlikely to be noticeable on your skin, much less on your geckos. In short, both you and your gecko are safe from their bite. However, some very large mealworms may be able to bite you hard enough to cling to your finger. If you’re ever worried about some mealworms (or other worms) biting your gecko, you can resort to crushing their head before putting them into your gecko’s enclosure.
Can Leopard Geckos choke on mealworms?
If you feed large mealworms to baby or juvenile geckos, it might cause constipation, but choking is highly unlikely, even in this case. If you feed your gecko the appropriate size of mealworms, they are in no danger.
Are mealworms too big for baby Leopard Geckos?
For baby Leopard Geckos, only very small (around 0.25 inches, or 0,5 cm) mealworms are recommended. You can absolutely feed baby Leopard Geckos with mealworms, but need to be careful to only offer the smallest worms, ideally soon after shedding while their shell is still soft.
How to feed a Leopard Gecko Mealworms
Feeding mealworms to a Leopard Gecko is quite simple, one of the reasons why worms are so popular. Still, there are a few important steps to consider:
- In terms of micronutrients (mainly vitamins & minerals), mealworms are only as good as what you feed them. Always gut-load mealworms with the right diet (at least 24h in advance), as explained in a bit.
- If you kept your mealworms in a refrigerator, let them warm up to room temperature before putting them in the enclosure to your gecko
- Dust your mealworms when necessary, as explained later (for calcium and vitamin D, mainly)
- Put the live, room-temperature, dusted mealworms into a smooth bowl in the enclosure. This makes it easy for the gecko to eat them, prevents them from escaping, and makes it easy to keep track of your gecko’s feeding habits. (if and how fast it eats the worms)
- Instead, you can hand feed the worms using your fingers or a soft-tipped tweezers. When feeding, don’t try to actively feed your gecko like a baby, though! Simply hold the worm near the gecko (in front of its head, a few inches away) and wait until it “locks on” the worm, then comes close and eats it.
How often and how many Mealworms should you feed your Leopard Gecko?
Both for adults and juveniles, full table (including size) + example meal plan
Unlike with humans, baby Leopard Geckos need the most food and need to be fed daily, while adult geckos only need food every three days. Here’s a table with the exact details:
|Age||Frequency||Mealworms to feed|
|Baby (0-6 months)||Daily||5-7 small (0.25-0.4 inch) mealworms|
|Juvenile (6-12 months)||Every other day||5-7* small (0.25-0.5 inch) mealworms|
|Adult||Every 3-4 days||6-8* medium to large mealworms|
* A good rule of thumb is: 2 worms for every 1 inch of your gecko’s length – a larger gecko needs more food, after all.
However, it’s not a good idea to only feed mealworms. Instead, replace some of the worms with other feeder insects, such as crickets, Dubia Roaches or Black soldier fly larvae. It’s also good to not have the exact same mix every time – again, variety is necessary for a healthy gecko!
Feeding a Leopard Gecko that is laying eggs
A gecko that is preparing for or already laying eggs needs more nutrients, especially Calcium, than normal. Make sure to add additional Calcium to the normal dusting (as described later) and provide a few extra feeder insects. It’s a good idea to not only provide more mealworms, but mix it up with other insects for variety.
Similarly, if your gecko becomes underweight for whatever reason, increasing the food offered until its weight normalizes is important.
How to gut-load Mealworms for Leopard Geckos
Gut-loading mealworms is simply feeding the mealworms the right food to load them up on vitamins and other micronutrients. This is critical, as geckos themselves cannot eat and digest veggies. They get their micronutrients indirectly, but only if you provide them to the feeder insects, first.
Don’t worry about timing, either: It’s generally enough to just drop a few pieces of food into your mealworm container and leave it there. The only concern should be mold: Food high in moisture and/or sugar (like berries) could go bad, which is why you should remove those after a few days at most and replace them. Other foods can be kept in the box until eaten.
Here’s what you can use for gut-loading your mealworms:
- Oats: A solid base that might come with a box of mealworms when you buy them. If not, it’s a good idea to provide oats as base nutrition.
- Root vegetables: Carrots, potatoes, parsnips, or whatever else you have at home. Simply cut into small slices and drop it into the box. (doesn’t need to be much)
- Leafy greens: Any lettuce, spinach or greens you have at home
- Small pieces of other vegetables
- Specific feeder insect gut-loading mixes
For more details, check our complete guide on gut-loading mealworms!
Do you have to gut load mealworms for Leopard Geckos?
Since Leopard Geckos do not eat fruits or vegetables, they need to get their micro-nutrients from the insects they eat – that’s why it’s important to gut-load feeder insects with healthy food.
What should I gut load mealworms with?
Don’t stress about about the specifics – try different vegetables, greens, or fruit. Carrots, potatoes or sweet potatoes, apples, and leafy greens are popular choices. Oats are also good as a base. Alternatively, you can find pre-made gut-loading mixes for geckos in many stores, often as a dry powder or small dried chunks of veggies.
How to supplement Mealworms for Leopard Geckos
Leopard Geckos need a ratio of about 2 Calcium for 1 Phosphorus, but most insects have a lot more Phosphorus than Calcium. Mealworms have a ratio of about 1:7 Calcium to Phosphorus. To provide extra Calcium, you need to dust the mealworms in Calcium powder right before feeding them to your gecko.
- Put the supplement powder in a small bag, like a zip-lock bag
- Add the mealworms and close the bag
- Gently shake for a few seconds until the mealworms are generously coated in powder
- Remove the mealworms and feed them to your gecko
What to supplement for Leopard Geckos
Leopard Geckos are usually deficient in three things: Calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin A. This is due to their diet in captivity. To counter this, you need to provide additional Calcium, Vitamin D, and possibly Vitamin A through supplementation or dusting.
How often should you supplement your Leopard Gecko’s food?
For adult Leopard Geckos, you should supplement Calcium with every meal, and Vitamin D + A at least once a week. There are also special mixes for geckos that provide any other micro-nutrients they may need, often a multi-vitamin mix. These mixes are often used once a week or every other week – read the label for instructions.
If you are using a Calcium powder with Vitamins already included, use a pure Calcium powder most meals and only use the mix once or twice a week. Both Calcium and Vitamin D can be supplemented to an excess, so provide enough, but not too much.
If you are unsure about your gecko’s specific deficiencies or health, speak to a vet and let them check your gecko! These are general recommendations for a healthy reptile, but might need to be adapted.
How to store Mealworms
Mealworms grow for about 2 to 3 months until they reach the pupal stage. Although bought mealworms come in a container, this container is often unsuitable for storing them for the entirety of their lifecycle.
Instead, pick a plastic container like an empty ice cream box or Tupperware big enough for all your mealworms plus more. However, make sure to create little air holes in the lid, or your mealworms will suffocate.
Here’s how to prepare your mealworms for long-term storage after buying them:
- Find a suitable box. Ideally, the inside is smooth and a few inches high. This makes it impossible for the worms to crawl out even if you take the lid off.
- If not present already, poke small holes into the lid so you can cover the box but still let some air in.
- Fill the box with a base of dry oats, oatmeal, or wheat bran – about 0.5 to 1 inch high. This depends on the number of mealworms – the result should be something like 1/3 oats and 2/3 mealworms in the box, as a rough guideline.
- Add a few small chunks of whatever vegetables you want to add for gut-loading the mealworms. Potatoes, carrots, and apples are classic options, with a few pieces of leafy greens for variety.
- Finally, pour the mealworms into the prepared box. If you place the box on a white sheet or white paper towels, you can easily spot any mealworms that didn’t make it into the box.
- The box should still have at least an inch between the mealworms and the lid. Ideal is two to three inches – this prevents them from crawling out of the box as soon as you take the lid of (which can get quite annoying).
- Finally, close the lid and put the box somewhere dark and cool – below 80° F / 26° F. Mealworms like it warm and humid, so a dry and cool environment slows down their development, making them last longer before pupating.
Optionally, you can also put them in the refrigerator. This slows their development even more. However, make sure to check their food from time to time – if it starts to rot, it can not only be dangerous to the mealworms, but in consequence to your gecko when you feed them!
Never place mealworms in a freezer, though, as this will kill them.
How often do I feed mealworms?
Mealworms don’t need specific feeding times or cycles. If you provide oats or a similar base in their box and add some micro-nutrient rich foods in adequate amounts, they will eat whenever they need to. Just make sure to replace the chunks of food every week or so to prevent rotting.
What to feed mealworms?
Feed your mealworms healthy vegetables and leafy greens to provide them healthy nutrients, which they pass on to your gecko when they get eaten. Your gecko only gets vitamins and minerals from their prey, so it’s important to feed those worms with the right food for your gecko.
Apart from the oat base, carrots, potatoes, and apples are common food because they are usually readily available, easy to cut into chunks, and provide food for quite a while.
Do mealworms need water?
Mealworms are very efficient and don’t need any water IF they get food sources that have moisture – like the mentioned apples, carrots, or even potatoes. Leafy greens are also a good choice for this.
Do mealworms need to be refrigerated?
Mealworms don’t need to be refrigerated, but can be to prolong their lifecycle before turning into pupae. However, mealworms cannot be put in a freezer, or they will die.
Can Leopard Geckos Eat Dried Mealworms?
Leopard Geckos can eat dried mealworms, but don’t prefer them. Leopard Geckos naturally hunt live insects, and tend to ignore any food that doesn’t move. Additionally, dried mealworms can have an increased risk of causing impaction and provide less moisture.