As a chameleon pet owner, you want to provide your pet with the best nutrition, ensuring it grows strong and healthy. In addition to a comfortable and well thought out habitat, you need to provide your pet with the right diet.
One of the questions you may have is whether hornworms are safe to feed to your pet. Continue reading to find out all you need to know about hornworms.
What Are Hornworms?
Hornworms are from the family of moth caterpillars, which have a horn at the end of the abdomen. It waves the horn when it is disturbed to deter any predators.
They destroy agricultural crops and can be found throughout the world, mostly in tropical regions.
They are one of the biggest immature insects, some growing in excess of 4 inches (10cm).
More than half their body comprises of a digestive system.
They are very fast growers and can grow ten thousand times their weight in two weeks. Larvae are usually around five or six days old when you receive them, but they can complete their entire lifecycle in one month.
The most common hornworms you get as feeder insects are the tomato and the tobacco hornworms.
- Moisture – 85%
- Protein – 9%
- Calcium – 4.6%
- Fat – 3%
Are Hornworms Good For Chameleons?
When it comes to knowing whether to feed hornworms to your chameleon, you need to be able to weigh up the pros and cons to make an informed decision.
There are benefits and disadvantages to feeding these insects, these include:
- Excellent source of hydration
- Juicy and tasty
- Great treat for your pet
- Low risk of impaction due to the soft exoskeleton and squishy texture
- Reduced risk of your pet choking if the hornworm is slightly too big
- They grow exceptionally fast
- They can bite
- Low in protein
- Can increase risk of diarrhea due to their high moisture content
- Can be toxic to your pet if they are wild-caught and have been eating on tomato plants
Please Note: Never feed your chameleon wild-caught hornworms. Tomato hornworms will eat from the tomato plant, which can be toxic to your pet.
Where Can I Get Hornworms?
Hornworms can be purchased from your pet supply store or online.
They usually come in a variety of sizes, though most pet supply stores will provide small, medium, and large. The smaller the size you can purchase, the better, due to their exceptional growth rate.
When you purchase hornworms, you will usually get a tub with between 12 to 24 hornworms, or larger tubs with up to 30 worms. They come with a cup and hornworm food or with enough food to grow to a certain size.
Always start with the smallest size and the smallest tub as hornworms grow extremely fast. Small sizes give you more time to feed them to your chameleon.
Hornworm size For Chameleons
The size of the hornworm should not be a problem for your pet, thanks to its very soft body and shell.
Most pet owners don't worry about the rule that says you shouldn't feed anything that is larger than the space between your chameleon’s eyes, due to their soft bodies, which are mostly made up of moisture.
How many hornworms should I feed?
Starting off with smaller hornworms is always recommended, though an adult female panther chameleon should be able to eat a full-sized hornworm without any issues.
Baby chameleons eat a lot as they grow. It's recommended that until the age of six months, you feed them as much as they can eat.
At this age, your pet should be eating well, twice daily. They need as much protein as possible to grow strong and healthy, which is one of the reasons you don't want to feed hornworms yet.
Hornworms are not full of rich proteins, but mostly moisture. The hornworm also grows at such a rapid rate, it can quickly become way too big to fit into your baby pet’s mouth.
Juvenile chameleons are those aged six months to one year.
During their time, their appetite will start to slow, enabling you to change their feeding to once daily and making small hornworms a great treat now and then. Even at this age, your pet is growing and needs protein.
Hornworms are a great treat which can be substituted for one or two crickets/roaches every couple of days.
Adults eat every two to three days, which ensures they eat consistently. You can introduce some hornworms (any size) as treats for your chameleon.
You should be sticking to a strict feeding schedule, ensuring your pet gets the protein rich and healthy diet it needs.
Baby chameleons are hearty eaters and should be fed a minimum of fifteen insects each feeding.
At this age, you can drop the insects down to around 8 to 10 insects once a day.
This may sound like a drastic drop, but your pet will slow their growth by the time they reach one year.
You can also increase the insect size and introduced some hornworms at this age.
Adults need half the amount of food you fed when your pet was a juvenile. You can feed up to 6 full-sized insects every two days.
You can introduce more hornworms at this age, though remember to always feed after they have eaten their nutritious crickets.
You can remove one or two crickets and replace with one to two small to large hornworms.
How to feed Hormworms To Chameleons
Because of their large size and squishy texture, hornworms are easy to pick up one by one. Remember that it is going to thrash and whip about to try and escape.
If you are uncomfortable handling them, you can use feeding tongs.
The good news is that you don't have to worry about the horn, as it is simply a piece of skin that will not cause any damage to your pet.
Place on a Leaf
One of the more effective ways to feed hornworms to your chameleon is to place the hornworm on a leaf that is within your pet’s field of vision.
If your chameleon is comfortable with being hand fed, then this is an excellent opportunity to feed the worms to your pet, offering a great and juicy treat. Alternatively, you can feed the hornworms one by one using tongs.
Don't leave the hornworm in your chameleon’s enclosure for more than 10 to 15 minutes. If it hasn't eaten it by then, chances are it is not going to.
Always remove any uneaten hornworm from the enclosure.
Tips When Feeding Hornworms
There are a few tips you can make use of when feeding hornworms to your chameleon, these include:
You will receive up to 30 hornworms, depending on the order you have placed.
Always store in the cup upside down, so the lid is on the ground. This ensures any poop runs into the lid, making it easier to clean, while reducing the risk of the hornworms escaping.
If the hornworms are growing too fast, you can remove them from the cup, place them in their own container without food to keep them at the size they are for a short period of time, until you are able to feed them.
Controling The Growth
If you want to slow the growth of the hornworms, giving you a longer period in which to feed them to your chameleon, then you will want to store them at 50ºF.
For a normal growth rate, you can store them at 72ºF and if your adult chameleon prefers larger hornworms, speed up the growth, by storing them at 80ºF.
Hornworm Too Big?
If you have introduced hornworms to your pet’s diet, you may have some that are growing too big to feed to your juvenile or adult chameleon.
A good option is to cut the hornworm in half and feed both halves to your pet. This will reduce the risk of your pet eating something that is too big.
Feed The Head First
As mentioned above, hornworms are great fighters and will thrash about and bite to try and escape, which is why when feeding the hornworm to your chameleon, always feed the head first to reduce the risk of your pet being bitten.
Overall, the hornworm is an excellent treat for chameleons, but should not be used as a staple food.
Remember to wait until your chameleon is at least six months before you start introducing hornworms as treats, due to their low protein values and their fast growth rates.
Hold off on feeding hornworms for a few days if you notice your pet’s poop becoming watery.
Weighing the pros and cons against each other, it is obvious that hornworms are a great treat for your chameleon pet.