Feeding Pet Lizards: 5 Nutritious Alternatives to Crickets

Crickets are the most common staple-food among lizard owners. While they do have a considerable amount of nutritional benefits, they’re not fun to keep around the house. They smell, make noise, and escape easily, turning off many lizard keepers. Here are five nutritious alternatives to crickets.

Find an alternative to crickets when feeding your lizards

During my collared lizard breeding days, I kept crickets in large numbers for over two years. It became tiresome. Crickets smell, make noise and get loose easily. Once they’re loose, they may squeeze into an area that makes them impossible for you to get them. They then proceed to chirp throughout the entire night while you’re trying to sleep. 

Crickets also amazed me in some ways. Even though I kept them on the other side of the house, one or two loose ones would somehow manage to meet me in my bed. No joke, it was like they were haunting me.

Keeping crickets is stressful

The stress of keeping crickets alive, well-fed, clean, and chasing down the delivery truck on a hot summer day to avoid as many dead-on-arrivals as possible led me to abandon my project. After some time passed, I decided I still wanted to keep insectivorous lizards but had to find an alternative to the terror of keeping crickets.

Some lizards may take freeze-dried or canned crickets. Anything besides sustaining crickets for long periods of time. Luckily, I found very healthy and nutritious alternatives that are much easier to work with.

Feeding crickets to lizards

While it seems as though I speak in a negative context about using crickets as lizard food, they make a good staple when properly gut-loaded. I hope you’re gut-loading your crickets and not transferring them directly from the pet shop to your lizard’s enclosure.

The processed food pet shops feed their crickets makes them high in phosphorus, a calcium blocker and prelude to metabolic bone disease. It’s best to gut-load your crickets for at least twenty-four hours before offering them to your lizards to eat. This also becomes a chore after a while.

How to maximize the nutritional benefits of crickets

I used to order a couple of thousand crickets every month and break them up into plastic tubs, here’s how I set them up.

Using dry oatmeal as a layer of substrate, I’d stack three or four empty cardboard egg cartons placing them in the cricket enclosure. I also used the commercially available cricket keeper when I kept smaller populations. It has two plastic tubes for the crickets to hide in. Not a bad product but the tubes need thorough cleaning every few days.

Feeding crickets

Aside from oatmeal as a substrate, I offer cheap tropical fish food flakes daily for the crickets to eat. They love it! Finally, as both a water source and an excellent way to gut-load crickets, I added some sort of quality greens daily.

These include collard, turnip, or mustard greens while avoiding kale, spinach, and cabbage. Do this and dust the crickets with vitamin D3 powder and you have a nutritional powerhouse for your lizards.

Nutritious alternatives to crickets

1. Soldier fly larvae (aka repti-worms, calcium worms, phoenix worms)

Soldier fly larvae are maggots to put it simply. They’re not as nasty as the maggots found in animal carcasses which are often the common housefly. These are very nutritious and make great lizard food.

Soldier fly larvae (aka repti-worms, calcium worms, phoenix worms)
Soldier fly larvae (aka repti-worms, calcium worms, phoenix worms)

The wonderful thing about them is that they are the only feeder insect that doesn’t need vitamin D3 powder. They also keep for weeks in a small cup with soil and a piece of carrot or sweet potato for moisture. The only drawback is that it may take some time before your lizard takes to them.

I recently conditioned an awesome little red-headed agama hatchling to soldier fly larvae. It took a few days but once he started eating them, he seemed to prefer them. They must not taste as good as mealworms or wax worms, but animals know a good protein source when they find it. Definitely a great alternative to keeping crickets as feeders for your lizard.

Storage: Store them in the refrigerator. They’ll go dormant and last longer.

Various nutritious feeding worms for lizards
Butter worms, hornworms, and silk worms.

2. Roaches

Dubia and discoid roaches are actually pretty cool as far as roaches go. While certain cockroach species are mostly considered a pest to humankind, both the dubia and discoid roach are actually a pleasure to keep. They don’t fly or climb smooth surfaces so escapees are rare if not nonexistent.

These roaches also don’t smell like crickets. Personally, I like the mottled pattern on the discoid roach. They look more like certain kinds of beetles than roaches. As you probably already guessed, they breed easily so one colony can suit your needs for a long time to come depending on the size of your collection.

The main drawback

The main drawback is the dubia roach cannot be shipped over state lines in places like Florida. They’re not completely illegal in Florida, you can still buy and keep them within the state. You just can’t have them shipped over from another state like Georgia for example.

I do suggest dusting them with vitamin D3 powder before offering them to your lizard, but like crickets, they make a nutritious staple food. In fact, some keepers consider them the best. Such roaches are definitely a perfect alternative to crickets.

Storage: Store them at room temperature.

3. Butter worms

These worms offer a decent amount of calcium but aren’t as good as soldier fly larvae. They still make a nutritious meal for your lizard and are kept for weeks at a time in your refrigerator. They go into hibernation in such cool temperatures. This is very convenient since there’s nothing else you have to do to keep them alive. Most lizards readily take them.

Even though I highly recommend roaches over crickets, roaches still take some maintenance, but its nothing like keeping crickets alive. Butter worms are also legal to ship all over the United States as far as I know. Some use them for fishing too. I always have a cup of fifty in my refrigerator. The worms are always imported from Chile.

Storage: Store them in the refrigerator. They’ll go dormant and last longer.

4. Silkworms

Silkworms are also a highly nutritious alternative to crickets that have good amounts of calcium in them. Again, allow me to stress that only soldier fly larvae have enough calcium in them to not need vitamin D3 dusting. Still, silkworms are a quality food for lizards provided the lizards in question eats them. I’ve found most lizards to take them but like soldier fly larvae, it seems to be an acquired taste.

These worms are extremely easy to keep. They come in a plastic pod with their favorite food (mulberry) already present. A pod can last up to several weeks depending on the size of the worms and when they’re first bought. They do grow fast though, so keep that in mind. The next alternative to crickets I’m going to recommend grows at an even faster rate.

Storage: Store them at room temperature.

5. Hornworms

Our last cricket alternative recommendation is the hornworm. Hornworms have somewhat of a menacing appearance mainly due to their single horn. Not to worry, their horn is harmless to both you and your lizard. Hornworms are kept in a plastic pod similar to that of silkworms. Their food also comes with the pod. The one problem with hornworms is that they grow fast. I mean, really fast, acquiring adult size within a week.

Actually, I shouldn’t refer to their final larval stage as being “adult” since they eventually reach adulthood by ultimately changing into a moth. My lizards go crazy for these worms, as long as they’re small enough for them to swallow. These worms get big and fat. They make a great alternative to keeping crickets around the house. The main drawback with these guys is that they grow at such a fast rate.

Storage: Store them at room temperature. Storing them in the refrigerator will kill them.

Discoid roaches.
Discoid roaches.
Silk and hornworm pods
Silk and hornworm pods.

Offer your lizard a variety of food

Remember, variety is a very important part of your lizard’s diet. Offering a variety of the alternatives I just mentioned and not just one or two promises both a happier and healthier pet lizard. In the wild, some bugs are seasonal. For example, hornworms may only be available for animal consumption for one month of the year. They then move on to whatever else is available.

Super worms (aka king worms)

Super worms are certainly a step up from mealworms but I consider them a middle-of-the-road feeder for lizards. They do have more nutritional value than mealworms and wax worms and are not as high in chitin. Easily keep them in dry oatmeal in a plastic shoebox. Feed them tropical fish food flakes and quality greens for water. Lizards seem to like super worms as much as mealworms.

Super worms biting a hole in a lizards stomach

There has been some debate on whether these large worms can bite a hole in the stomach of a lizard after they’ve been eaten. First, most lizards usually chew them up before swallowing them. While I wouldn’t completely write this off as a myth, I’ve never seen it after many years of using them.

If this concerns you, simply cut off their head before offering them to your lizard. Then you know they’re completely harmless and safe for your lizards to eat. Another drawback with super worms is that vitamin D3 powder doesn’t stick well to their bodies. Still, any old port in a storm.

Storage: Store them at room temperature. Storing them in the refrigerator will kill them.

Use the following feeders sparingly

Mealworms

Mealworms offer little nutritional benefit for lizards. Have you ever visited an online classified that states a certain lizard for sale are solely eating mealworms?  That’s one you might want to avoid. Either the person offering the lizard for sale doesn’t understand the lack of nutritional value mealworms offer, or the lizard in question is hooked on mealworms and takes nothing else.

Both are major red flags. Buy a lizard that’s healthy, not one that’s a problem. Lizards love mealworms but that doesn’t mean they’re good for them. We love candy bars and we know they’re not good for us. Lizards hooked on eating only mealworms end up sick before long. They’re also full of chitin. I avoid them altogether.

Storage: Store them in the refrigerator. They’ll go dormant and last longer.

Waxworms

Waxworms are right up there with mealworms when it comes to being junk food for lizards but at least they’re easier to digest. The main problem with waxworms is their high-fat content. I’ve read where hobbyists recommend them when a lizard needs some fattening up. While that sounds logical, the problem I have is that sometimes lizards get hooked on them and refuse other feeder insects.

This has happened to me over the years and why I don’t bother feeding them to my lizards. To raise their nutritional value, dust them will vitamin D3 powder and/or a quality vitamin supplement before offering them to your lizards. At least then they’ll help prevent metabolic bone disease. Still, it’s best not to offer them as food, to begin with. They’re much healthier alternatives like the five listed in this article.

Storage: Store them in the refrigerator. They’ll go dormant and last longer.

Conclusion

As you can see, crickets aren’t the only game in town when it comes to feeding your lizards. While roaches are often associated with pest control related issues, the feeder roaches discussed in this article smell far less offensively than crickets. They’re also easier to keep.

Worms such as silkworms and hornworms are kept in a pod loaded with their food that lasts a couple of weeks. Butter worms are safely placed in the refrigerator for weeks at a time while going dormant due to the cool temperatures. Soldier fly larvae are kept in a small cup with soil as a substrate while using a small piece of carrot or sweet potato as a water source. These are all healthy alternatives to crickets that need far less maintenance.

What is your feeding recommendation for insectivorous lizards? Add your thoughts to the comments section below.

Soldier Fly Larvae Nutrition

  • Protein: 18 %
  • Calcium: 349mg
  • Fat: 15.0%

Dubia Roach Nutrition

  • Protein: 36 %
  • Calcium: 20mg
  • Fat: 7 %

Butterworm Nutrition

  • Protein: 16 %
  • Calcium: 29mg
  • Fat: 25%

Silkworm Nutrition

  • Protein: 64 %
  • Calcium: 34mg
  • Fat: 11%

Hornworm Nutrition

  • Protein: 9 %
  • Calcium: 5mg
  • Fat: 3%

Super Worm Nutrition

  • Protein: 20 %
  • Calcium: 11mg
  • Fat: 18 %

Waxworm Nutrition

  • Protein: 16 %
  • Calcium: 13mg
  • Fat: 30 %

Conclusion

We all want what’s best for our pet lizards. A varied diet is truly the way to achieve proper nutrition and healthier lizards. Crickets and roaches are the staples of any insectivorous lizard’s diet, but adding other bugs like the ones covered in this article not only add more nutrients but also variation.

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