Can Turtles Eat Mealworms? Raise Mealworms At Home

Dec 9, 2021

Can Turtles Eat Mealworms

Turtles consume all sorts of insects. They are rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, making them an excellent reinforcement to a turtle’s diet. 

But, what about mealworms? Do turtles find them tasty? Are mealworms beneficial for their health?

After hours of literature review, consultation with vets, and noting down fellow turtle owners’ and my own experience, I have finally concluded whether mealworms are an appropriate diet for turtles. 

Without further ado, let’s begin.

Can Turtles Eat Mealworms?

Turtles find mealworms tasty. In fact, they can get addicted, too. Mealworms are rich in protein which is essential for growing turtles. They are also rich in potassium, iron, and zinc. 

However, you should give mealworms moderately because excess protein can cause pyramiding in turtles, leading to further health complications. 

Before we delve into why mealworms are an excellent food choice to feed your turtles, let me brief you on what mealworms actually are. 

Mealworms are the larval form of mealworm beetle (Tenebrio Molitor). The lifecycle of a mealworm beetle goes through four stages. 

Sanja565658, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Egg
  • Larva
  • Pupa
  • Adult

The mealworms we use as feeder insects are in the second stage of their lives. These larvae can grow up to 2.5 cm long and remain in the second stage for about 4 to 6 weeks. 

Commercial mealworm producers use Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) to elongate the juvenile period. This way, they can prevent a mealworm from turning into a beetle – thus, increasing their shelf life. 

You might also like to know if turtles can eat all kinds of worms.

Do Turtles Eat Worms? List Of Worms You Can Feed Your Turtle

What Makes Up A Mealworm’s Body?

Two types of mealworms are fed to turtles. They are raw mealworms and dried mealworms. So, here’s the list of contents that make up both kinds:

Live Mealworm

  • Protein: 20%
  • Fat: 10%
  • Fiber: 2%
  • Moisture: 62%
  • Dried Mealworm 
  • Protein: 53%
  • Fat: 28%
  • Fiber: 6%
  • Moisture: 5%

Mineral Content In Mealworms (Mg/Kg)

  • Calcium: 156
  • Phosphorus: 2640
  • Magnesium: 620
  • Sodium: 225
  • Potassium: 3350
  • Iron: 20.7
  • Zinc: 49.5
  • Copper: 8.3
  • Manganese: 3.2

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4739691/

Benefits Of Feeding Mealworms To Turtles

  • Great source of protein
  • Turtles love it
  • Has micronutrients 

Great Source Of Protein 

100 grams of mealworms contain about 206 calories and 14 to 25 grams of protein. That makes mealworms a super-rich protein source. 

Protein is necessary for the growth and development of muscles in turtles. This is why feeding mealworms are a great addition to your turtle’s diet.

Turtles Love It

Perhaps it is the texture or taste; turtles love eating mealworms. In fact, some of my turtles have become addicted to it. I am solely responsible for that (sorry).

If you have a turtle that has lost its appetite, try treating it with mealworms. Serving mealworms works great in coaxing such turtles to resume their feeding. 

Has Micronutrients

Although calcium is relatively low in mealworms compared to other worms, it is rich in iron, fat, energy, and amino acid.

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Which Mealworm To Feed Your Turtles? Dried Or Live?

Although there’s no harm in feeding live mealworms to your turtles, I recommend feeding dried ones. Dried mealworms have more protein content than live ones. The protein content is 33% more in dried mealworms.

Also, the chances of getting stale or infested by bacteria are high in live mealworms.

The shelf life of a dried mealworm is longer, so your turtles will be safe feeding on these.

Is There Any Danger Of Feeding Mealworms To Your Turtle?

Though mealworms are super rich in protein and fats necessary for turtles, you should still feed them in moderate amounts. 

Here’s why:

Turtles Can Get Addicted To Mealworms

I know this sounds crazy, but turtles can get addicted to mealworms. When you feed them a mealworm-only diet for a prolonged period, they will get used to it and refuse to eat anything except it. 

So, you should serve mealworms along with other food to provide balanced nutrition to your turtles. 

Mealworms Lack Some Essential Nutrients

Much emphasis is given to protein, but calcium is equally essential for turtles. 

Though mealworms are rich in protein, they lack calcium. And when you feed a mealworm-only diet to your turtle, it can suffer from Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). 

Turtle suffering from MBD experiences tremors, stunted growth, and low life quality. It will have a weakened skeletal structure, bone fractures, and a lethargic body. 

Excess Amount Of Protein Can Cause Pyramiding

Turtles feeding excessively on a protein-rich diet can develop pyramiding, rapid growth in a turtle’s shell.

Though pyramiding doesn’t directly impact a turtle’s health, it definitely is an abnormal growth, affecting the turtle’s standard of life. 

High Amount Of Fat

Mealworms are high in fats, too. Fat accounts for about 28% of 100 grams of dried mealworms. This much fat can drastically increase a turtle’s weight – thus, making it obese.

An obese turtle is an unhealthy turtle.

So, be careful not to overfeed these tasty delicacies to your turtles. 

How To Raise Mealworms At Your Home?

If you don’t want to feed your turtles store-bought mealworms, you always have the option to raise them at home. 

Mealworms are prolific breeders and are resistant to even the harshest conditions. So, it will be easy to raise them with minimum effort. 

Here’s how you can raise mealworms:

Setting Up A Container

Choose a container that is at least 5 inches in depth. You can choose any kind of container – you can use a plastic or a glass one. 

Ensure you have a screened lid to use as a cover for the container while still ventilating the container.

It’s not wise to poke holes in a plastic lid as other insects can enter through the same hole and wreak havoc by eating the larvae inside the container.

Choosing Substrate

You can use any kind of food as a substrate. The ones that make the best substrates are:

  • Wheat bran
  • Oatmeal
  • Cornmeal
  • Wheat flour

Lay the substrate about 2 inches deep in the container. Put the worm colony inside and put a cover over the container. 

You need to check the level of substrate frequently. Mealworms feed fast, so you have to replenish the substrate repeatedly.

For hydration, do not pour water directly onto the container. You can use other methods to keep the colony hydrated. Put potatoes, apples, carrots, cucumbers, etc., which are good water sources. 

Maintaining The Colony

The container’s temperature can be set anywhere from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Lighting isn’t necessary for these worms to grow, so do not bother putting on lights.

If you want your mealworms to breed prolifically, keep the container in a humid environment. But a moist environment also invites fungus and mold – so, you need to check the container time and again. 

If there are any deaths inside the container, remove them immediately because this can trigger worms to become cannibalistic. 

Final Words: Can Turtles Eat Mealworms

Insects have always been a part of a turtle’s diet in the wild. Mealworms are no exception. These protein-rich worms are loved by turtles, and as I said, they can get addicted, too. 

If you have time, grow your own colony of mealworms. They are easy to raise and do not carry the risk of additives found in commercial ones. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.