Live food plays a prevalent role throughout a bearded dragons life, but even especially so during their juvenile and adolescent years. Many bearded dragon owners will typically choose the kind of insects their bearded dragon chows down on based on cost, personal preference, and/or convenience.
However, the best way to choose what kind of live food your beardie consumes is to first consider the kind of nutrients that are in various live insects and how it will affect your bearded dragon; not based on how you feel.
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Although there are many nutrients that affect the overall health of your bearded dragon, the two main and most important components of a healthy diet are both protein and calcium intake.
Generally, feeder insects are very low in calcium. Some live insects contain more Calcium than others, like an Earthworm compared to a Super worm for instance, but overall they are generally quite low. Calcium is vital to support healthy bone structure so you're going to have to supplement it.
Calcium supplements often contain vitamin D3 which helps to absorb calcium from food, moderate neuromuscular functions, and aid in the growth of new cells. Vitamin D3 can also help maintain adequate levels of Calcium in your beardie's blood.
Bearded dragons can get protein from animals (like live insects) or plants (such as veggies, grass, fruits, etc.). Consider how each protein is different by reading the following...
A common myth among reptile owners is believing all protein is created equal, when in fact there are two types of protein you need to be mindful of when it comes to feeding your bearded dragon.
These include all feeder insects such as crickets, mealworms, and hornworms. Animal protein is “complete protein”, meaning that your beardie is getting all 20 essential amino acids. These kind of proteins can’t be produced naturally by your bearded dragon and therefore need to be supplemented.
In contrast, plant protein is “incomplete” meaning that it is missing 1 or more of the essential amino acids. Plant proteins come from veggies, grass, and fruits. Both animal and plant protein are essential for the overall well being of your dragon.
These are the kinds of live insects that you will most likely always have on hand and will became a large part of your bearded dragon’s diet. Some of the most popular and common staple insects are…
These kinds of roaches make great live food for several reasons. For starters, one Dubia roach is the equivalent to 5 crickets which can really speed up feeding time. Also, Dubia roaches don’t have an odor, cannot climb or fly, and therefore are much easier to contain.
As a result of their slow moving, these types of insects are also more capable of holding calcium powder compared to their jumping cricket counterpart. Further, Dubia roaches contain almost double the amount of protein compared to crickets and are less likely to be carrying any dangerous parasites.
Another solid option for staple insects are Phoenix worms. These come in various sizes and are packed with calcium. They also have a soft shell which makes them perfect to feed baby dragons.
Phoenix worms are high in calcium, low in fat, and can be free fed to baby bearded dragons. Phoenix worms are heaps better in terms of quality and safety when compared to mealworms. You can find these online or at your local reptile store.
Bearded dragons love this kind of live food because of how vibrant their colors are. These worms are high in both calcium and fat, and therefore should only be used occasionally as more of a treat for your bearded dragon.
With similar appearance to the mealworm, super worms are both high in protein and in fat. They do have a hard shell and therefore aren’t recommended to young bearded dragons.
Horns worms are some of the most nutritious live food to feed your bearded dragon and make a fantastic treat. They are also high in fat and moisture so avoid feeding them to your beardie regularly.
Mealworms are high in chitin and subsequently have a hard exoskeleton that your beardie may have a difficult time digesting. It is best to only feed your dragon this type of live food on special occasions.
High in protein and low in fat, silkworms are enticing insects that most dragons love. Adequately sized silkworms make a great treat or even a staple feeder.
Wax worms are a little bit squishier compared to most and therefore don’t have a hard shell. Most bearded dragons love them and as such, they are sometimes considered bearded dragon candy. Wax worms are high in fat and can be addictive so only feed them as a treat.
Avoid feeding your bearded dragon any wild or strange insects from the outdoors. They could possibly contain pesticides or chemicals and are best to avoid. Instead, only feed your bearded dragon insects that are specifically bred as reptile food from credible vendors.
Feeding your beardie by hand is a great way to build trust with your reptile since they will come to associate your hand with being their source of food!
Just as the method suggests, this involves using tongs such as these to grab the live insects. Tongs are great if you’re not exactly comfortable touching the live insects.
Just as the title implies, dump them all in there and let them have it! You’ll want to make sure when it comes to your juvenile bearded dragon, that their enclosure isn’t so large they have a hard time catching their meal, should you go the dumping method.
Ensure that you're using an enclosure size that makes sense based on their age and respective length.
If you’re unfamiliar with gut loading, it is essentially the act of filling your live food with added nutrients before feeding it to you bearded dragon. Gut loading is extremely important because whatever nutrients are in the insects will also be going into your bearded dragon. Remember that gut loading is a very integral part for ensuring your beardie is healthy.
Whichever kind of insects you choose should be no longer than the width of the bearded dragons two eyes. This is because your beardie may have trouble digesting them which could ultimately lead to fatal impaction issues or constipation. When determining the size of the insect, be sure to use the length of the insect in question and not the width.
Instead of continuously feeding your beardie the same live insects, cycle through different insects to create a more balanced diet. By doing so, you will improve the overall health and nutrient intake of your bearded dragon.
Some bearded dragons will be more selective or choosy about the kind of insects they consume when compared to others.
I recommend buying live feeder insects for your bearded dragon on Amazon.com. This is where I personally buy my beardies food since they have a vast array of insects to choose from. Alternatively, you can buy feeder insects locally at your favorite reptile or pet store.
I’m Stacey, the owner of this website and lifelong reptile lover, caretaker, and educator. Here you will find everything from information on how to care for reptiles, to even how to give your reptiles the best fighting chances against a range of common reptile diseases and illnesses, and everything in between!