Have you ever seen a hornworm? They are huge, but are hornworms good for chameleons to eat?
What are some pros and cons you should know before you get hornworms for your reptile companion?
In this article, we’ll explain everything we can about hornworms and you can make the ultimate decision whether or not to include them in your chameleon’s diet.
Are Hornworms Good for Chameleons?
Hornworms are exceptional treats in size and satiability. They are only supposed to be given to your chameleon as a treat. Hornworms are not a part of a chameleon’s staple diet.
The protein value in hornworms is less than that compared to mealworms. They can bite in rare cases, but the horn on the worm itself is actually quite harmless.
Your chameleon will enjoy the juiciness and taste in most cases, but since the protein value is too low, we refrain from offering them more often than 1-2 times a month.
Where Do Hornworms Come From?
What is a hornworm? Hornworms come from the moth caterpillar family. They get their name from the horn protruding from the end of their abdomen. Adult hornworms become flying insects known as a hawk moth or sphinx.
The horn detects and alerts predators to stay away. Some are deterred by the horns while others, like your chameleon perhaps, are not afraid and will munch on it with great delight.
Hornworms can be a nuisance in the agricultural industry as they feast and destroy crops. These insects are huge compared to many other species at 4 inches in length or 10 centimeters.
A single hornworm can expand in size to ten thousand times its own weight in about 12-16 days. The full life cycle of a hornworm is complete in about a month. Tomato hornworms are very common in the US and Southern Canada.
Nutritional Information of Hornworms
- Moisture – 85%
- Protein – 9%
- Calcium – 4.6%
- Fat – 3%
We love how much our chameleons can absorb moisture from eating a live hornworm. This is why we do not feed dried hornworms or freeze-dried hornworms.
They may also be untrusted in their dried form with the possibility of pesticides, parasites and pathogens present before freezing them.
Since our chameleon’ s diet includes only a little water, he is able to absorb moisture from hornworms as a treat.
Pros and Cons of Hornworms For Chameleons
Chameleons will enjoy the challenge of devouring an entire hornworm which can grow up to 4 inches or more. Some may not like the difficulty of consuming prey that is too large for their mouths.
You can reduce their size by cutting them just before feeding them to your reptile companion, but I wouldn’t do that.
Here are some more pros and cons for hornworms as a meal for your chameleon:
- Juicy and full of moisture
- Chameleons enjoy the taste and come back for more
- Effective treat for bonding (hand feeding)
- Squishy texture makes it easy to pass through the gut
- Moisture reduces choking hazard
- They grow quickly
- Hornworms can bite or bruise your chameleon
- They are low in protein (therefore not a staple food)
- Increased risk of diarrhea due to high moisture
- If they only eat tomatoes, they can be toxic due to their diet and exposure to pesticides
Tomato plants are toxic for most chameleons. Above that, receiving wild caught hornworms increases the risk that they might be exposed to chemicals, parasites or pathogens.
Can Hornworms Hurt my Chameleon?
When a hornworm grows out of control before your very eyes, you are left to wonder if they can hurt a chameleon. At 4-5 inches or up to 13 centimeters in length, it becomes quite challenging for a chameleon to handle eating a fully grown hornworm.
The horn on the hornworm is relatively harmless and although it acts as a deterrent to ward off predators, it’s actually soft and mostly squishy. They can’t bite either the way a chameleon bites humans sometimes.
This is a soft insect overall and should not harm your chameleon, but there are two factors to consider:
- Hornworms that eat primarily tomato plants or tobacco can hold toxins that chameleons should not be eating.
- Hornworms can bite your chameleon.
Try to feed your chameleon hornworms only as a treat once in a while because of the protein content and never bring home wild caught hornworms. They should be intended for reptiles to consume and purchased for this sole purpose.
Ways To Feed Hornworms To Chameleons
Chameleons may need a little wake up or nudge to get excited to eat. You can place a hornworm on a leaf and place it in the field of vision of your pet reptile. You can also hand feed a hornworm as part of your bonding process.
If your pet chameleon is accepting food directly from you, there is trust being built. Otherwise, you can use tweezers or tongs to slowly bring the hornworms close enough to your chameleon for them to finish the job.
If the hornworm remains in the enclosure for longer than 15-20 minutes, your pet is refusing it and may not eat it all. This means it must be removed.
Can Baby Chameleons Eat Hornworms?
I received helpful advice about hornworms for juveniles and baby chameleons. I was told to wait six months before offering them as a treat.
The size and low protein content were the two major reasons why I was told to wait. The moisture rich hornworm is enjoyed by juveniles after they are six months of age or older.
A hornworm can grow 10,000 times its own bodyweight in 2 weeks time. They will complete their life cycle in a month before they become a hawk moth or sphinx.
I gave hornworms to my juvenile chameleons once a week instead of two crickets. I reduced the hornworm frequency to once a month when I learned how much better crickets are in relation to hornworms when it comes to protein and the personal interest in my reptile companion.
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