The Best Mealworms for Your Reptiles, Fish, and Birds

mealworm
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Written by Shaunice Lewis

Updated: August 1, 2022

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Mealworms may seem like creepy, crawly bugs to us, but to your reptiles, fish, or birds they’re a delicious treat. In fact, mealworms can be extremely beneficial to incorporate as a supplement to your pet’s diet. Read on to learn more about mealworms and which ones are the best for your reptiles, fish, or birds.

What Are Mealworms?

You may think that mealworms are obviously worms, but the truth is that they actually aren’t. Mealworms are larvae that eventually grow into darkling, or mealworm beetles. Mealworms make a great dietary supplement for pets like reptiles and fish, as well as wild birds and chickens. Insectivorous birds love to feed on mealworms and will frequently visit gardens or areas that will regularly supply them.

Mealworms are known as holometabolic insects. In other words, they’re insects that develop in four distinct stages. These four stages include egg, larvae, pupae, and imago (adult). Each separate stage is very different from one another, making the mealworm’s transformation from egg to adult a more like a complete metamorphosis. Some other insects that are also considered to be holometabolic include moths, butterflies, bees, and wasps. Mealworms are the larval form of the adult darkling, or mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor.

The first phase of a mealworm’s life cycle would be the egg stage. This stage lasts anywhere from 1-2 weeks before the eggs hatch into larvae. The initial larval stage isn’t the stage you would want to use for feeding to your animals and birds however. You would want to wait until the larvae are at least 1 inch long before feeding them to your pets. Then, the larval stage will last from around 6 weeks all the way up to 9 months. During this time new larvae further develop into multiple stages known as instars before they are 3 cm long.

The larvae may grow through up to 25 instars before it transitions into the pupae stage. You can think of this stage like the cocoon stage for a butterfly. This is when the pupae will remain immobile as it develops its features to become an adult beetle. It will then have wings, legs, and eyes. In the final stage of its life cycle, the mealworm becomes an adult beetle and can live for around 2-3 months. During this final life stage, female beetles can lay up to 300 eggs which would then start the cycle all over again.

Why Would a Pet Owner Want to Use Mealworms?

There are many reasons why a pet owner would want to use mealworms as a supplement to their pet’s diet. For starters, mealworms are an incredibly nutritious food source for animals and birds, and believe it or not, even some people have begun supplementing their diet with them.

Mealworms are full of protein and also provide animals with extra fat and other nutrients they need. Feeding mealworms to wild outdoor birds may help them to develop muscle and increases their likelihood of surviving through the breeding season, as well as the harsh, cold winters. They are particularly helpful for parent birds that are looking for a quick meal without having to leave their nests and young birds unattended for too long.

While these little critters are great for supplementing the diets of both pets and wild animals alike, it’s important to keep in mind that they are just that—supplements. Mealworms are low in calcium and although nutritious, are not nutritious enough to make up the entirety of a bird’s diet. So if you plan on feeding them to your pets and other animals, just be sure that they have another main source of food that can satisfy all of their nutritional requirements. Mealworms can make great treats to go along with an animal’s balanced diet—especially for fish, reptiles, and amphibians, since they offer a higher caloric value than crickets—which are another common reptile feeder.

  1. Hatortempt Non-GMO Dried Mealworms-High-Protein
    • Dried mealworms
    • Excellent protein source for your pet
    • High-quality product control includes what they feed the mealworms, how they're processed, and how they're transported
    • 100% non-GMO, natural, preservative-free, and additive-free
    Check Amazon
  2. TradeKing Dried Mealworms - High Protein Treat
    • Available in 1, 2, and 5-pound bags
    • Freeze-dried
    • High-protein
    • No refrigeration required
    • Veterinarian-certified to be safe
    • 100% money-back guarantee
    Check Amazon
  3. WORMSKING Dried Mealworms 100% Non-GMO, High-Protein Mealworms
    • Available in 2, 5, and 10-pound bags
    • High protein
    • Freshly microwave-dried
    • 100% non-GMO
    • Dust-free
    • Veterinarian-certified to be safe and healthy
    Check Amazon

Best Mealworms Overall

The overall best mealworms you can get for your pets and animals would be the Hatortempt brand of mealworms. These mealworms are best for a wide range of pets and animals including wild birds, chickens, duck, fish, reptiles, tortoises, amphibians, lizards, hamsters, hedgehogs, and more. They are 100% natural, Non-GMO, and contain no preservatives or additives. This brand offers their mealworms in a five-pound bag, making it a great mid-sized option for animals both large and small. The bag features a zip top that makes it easy to keep the mealworms fresh for longer periods of time and prevents them from spoiling without needing refrigeration.

Best Overall
Hatortempt Non-GMO Dried Mealworms-High-Protein
  • Dried mealworms
  • Excellent protein source for your pet
  • High-quality product control includes what they feed the mealworms, how they're processed, and how they're transported
  • 100% non-GMO, natural, preservative-free, and additive-free
Check Amazon

Best Mealworms for Small Pets

If you are looking for the best mealworms for small pets, you may want to consider these mealworms by TradeKing. Their dried mealworms are high in protein and make great treats for wild birds, chickens, reptiles, and fish. These mealworms are kept in a resealable bag that doesn’t require refrigeration and has a long shelf life, which is great since it may take your small pet longer to go through the entire bag. If you have a small reptile, for example, this one-pound bag would last for quite some time when used as a treat and supplement to your small pet’s diet.

Best for Small Pets
TradeKing Dried Mealworms - High Protein Treat
  • Available in 1, 2, and 5-pound bags
  • Freeze-dried
  • High-protein
  • No refrigeration required
  • Veterinarian-certified to be safe
  • 100% money-back guarantee
Check Amazon

Best Mealworms for Large Pets

If you have large pets or multiple pets and animals that you want to purchase mealworms for, WormsKing offers a large ten pound bag that is perfect for feeding wild birds, hedgehogs, hamsters, reptiles, and chickens. These mealworms are fresh dried and make a great feed for chickens, ducks, and wild birds like bluebirds. All of their mealworms are 100% Non-GMO and are of premium quality. The mealworms are fed with carrots and wheat bran, ensuring they are nutritious for your animals. The mealworms come in a box, making it easy to store away and safe for daily use.

Best for Large Pets
WORMSKING Dried Mealworms 100% Non-GMO, High-Protein Mealworms
  • Available in 2, 5, and 10-pound bags
  • High protein
  • Freshly microwave-dried
  • 100% non-GMO
  • Dust-free
  • Veterinarian-certified to be safe and healthy
Check Amazon

Best Mealworms for Chickens

We also named this brand our overall best mealworm brand for pets and animals. This brand offers a five pound bag of mealworms that is perfect for feeding chickens. Their mealworms are 100% natural, non-GMO, and contain no preservatives or additives, making them a great healthy choice for your chickens. Their mealworms are raised on high-quality feed and are kept in good conditions. They are quick-dried in order to ensure they are crisp and fragrant and contain maximum flavor when they get to you. These mealworms are great for bluebirds, chickens, geese, ducks, and more. The bag that it comes in is a resealable zip-top, ensuring that the mealworms don’t spoil. These do not require refrigeration.

Best Overall
Hatortempt Non-GMO Dried Mealworms-High-Protein
  • Dried mealworms
  • Excellent protein source for your pet
  • High-quality product control includes what they feed the mealworms, how they're processed, and how they're transported
  • 100% non-GMO, natural, preservative-free, and additive-free
Check Amazon

Choosing the Best Mealworms: What to Look For

When choosing the best mealworms you want to consider a few things. First, you want to make sure that the mealworms are of good quality. This means making sure there are no unnecessary ingredients added to them. Next, be sure to look for mealworms that are sealed in some sort of container that will keep them fresh for at least as long as you think you will need them to last. This could be in a resealable zip-top bag, a container with a lid, etc. You also want to make sure that they are veterinarian approved if you want to be sure of the safety of the mealworms. That way you know that you are giving your pets and animals the best quality they can get.

The Different Types of Mealworms: Pros and Cons Compared

There are two different main types of mealworms that you can purchase for your pets and animals. They are fresh mealworms and dried mealworms. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of both:

Fresh Mealworms

Pros:

  • Live mealworms move and wiggle which triggers interest in animals immediately.
  • You can gut-load mealworms by feeding them a custom diet that works best for your animals.
  • Live mealworms provide enhanced nutrition compared to dried mealworms with empty stomachs

Cons:

  • They will grow into adult beetles if left for too long
  • Require more effort to take care of
  • Cannot be stored away like dry options

Dried Mealworms

Pros:

  • Easy to purchase online
  • Can be stored long-term and last for months
  • Still offers nutrients although not as many as live mealworms

Cons:

  • Less nutritional value than live mealworms
  • They may not be as interesting to animals since they do not move

Verified Reviews: User Experience

Here are some great reviews from users of the products we’ve mentioned here in this article:

TradeKing Dried Mealworms

“I purchased these dried mealworms for a collection of wild birds and yard lizards that visit my property daily. I simply toss a handful out along with the birdseed I distribute every morning, and that seems to do the trick. Also, I place some mealworms in a reptile dish away from the wild bird’s primary eating area; Doves, Bluejays, Cardinals. So far all of my little critters are quite happy to now be in receipt of the quality dried mealworms. I enjoy watching them buzz around with excitement at this new addition to meal times. The 1 pound bag is certainly generous for the price, and the bag actually does reseal as stated. Overall, I am very happy with my purchase!”

“Beardie loves them. I’ve ordered from this brand before. Love that they’re freeze dry. Packaged well unlike others that come in a container filled with mostly broken pieces at the bottom.”

WormsKing Fresh-Dried Mealworms

“My chickens love these worms and would do just about anything for this special treat. I love to shake some in a cup and watch my chickens come running with excitement. I will definitely order again once I run out.”

“Our chickens and chicks loved these mealworms. First time buying this brand. Have bought many different ones. Sealed in plastic and in a box. I would buy again. Good price and no “rubbish” or rocks mixed in.”

Hatortempt Non-GMO Dried Mealworms

“We have been treating our chickens with mealworms for almost two years. This is the first time I purchased this brand. They are much higher quality than the “fancy” brand we used to get. They are larger and whole, rather than broken up. The chickens didn’t care if the mealworms were broken. But being large and whole makes them much easier to feed. AND NO MYSTERY BUGS in the bag.”

“I bought a small bag of mealworms before and my chickens really weren’t interested. But a couple of months later I tried this big 5lb pound and I’m happy I did. I can get my chickens to go anywhere or do anything with these. All I have to do is shake the bag and they know it’s snack time then come running!”


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About the Author

Freelance writer specializing in natural health and wellness.

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