How To Gutload Mealworms: The Right Way
Gut loading is a process in which you feed your mealworms or bugs highly nutritious foods in hopes of passing it on to your pets. Simply put, when you give a prey item something high in calcium, the animal which eats that prey will absorb the CA.
Since they are high in fat and lacking in certain minerals, they often need to be supplemented.
Yellow larvae should be given organic and vitamin fortified foods such as collard greens, carrots, and squashes 12 to 24 hours prior to being fed off. This will ensure that beneficial and essential nutrients will be passed on to your reptiles eating those insects. This is known as “gut loading”.
Follow this guide to ensure success and boost the overall health of your animals.
Reptiles in captivity are technically restricted in diet due to only consuming a handful of critters. In the wild however, they are able to eat freely and absorb the proper levels of calcium and vitamins from their environment. Many keepers believe that you can just offer mealies as is since all feeders will naturally contain certain levels of nutrients beneficial to your reptile.
They simply drop them in a bowl or enclosure until they’re picked off. Doing so however creates missed opportunities to maximize vitamin values. The old adage holds true in that you are what you eat and this applies to your lizards as well. Mealworms contain about 20% protein and 12% fat. They do however lack in other vitamins and minerals thus needing to be balanced. The best option to make your bugs nutritionally complete is through the process of gut feeding or loading.
This allows your critters to fill their stomachs with hearty nutrients that will be transferred if fed in a timely manner (within a 12 to 24 hours usually).
How To Gut Load Using a Container
The recommended way to do this would be to utilize a separate container and place a set amount in it for feeding. I like to use the dollar store containers which classified as 6 qt tubs.
These are perfect in size and depth for gut loading. They are also smooth sided and have enough depth for containment. Simply place inside the desired amount of larvae along with your food items. Be sure to keep the container in a dark space as most mealies prefer a dim or low light habitat. This also encourages consumption as they will be more active at night and less disturbed. In my experience, they do not eat very well when light is visible.
I either cover them with a towel or store them in a dark closet for at least 12 hours. Lastly, make sure to keep temperatures around 78F. If you are storing them in the refrigerator, allow them to warm up at this temp for a few hours before executing the steps mentioned. Next I will talk about what choices are good for gutloading.
Types Of Foods Good For Mealies
So you may be asking what items are good for gutloading mealworms. I recommend using foods that are organic, high in calcium, low in sugar, and overall accepted as “good”. Also, try to avoid high phosphorus choices as too much can inhibit the absorption of CA.
Too little calcium and your pets can suffer from osteoporosis or metabolic bone disease. You don’t necessarily have to go all organic but I choose to do so in order to avoid pesticides and chemicals. Whatever you choose, please remember to provide consistently for maximum benefits. Gutloading once a year is not as beneficial as once a week.
You can also use any of the choices below for dubia roaches, red runners, crickets, and superworms.
- Carrots (great for hydrating as well)
- Bell peppers
- Mustard greens
- Prickly Pear
- Most squashes (acorn, yellow, butternut)
Foods to avoid when Gutloading (can be fed in normal diet):
- Whole wheat
These foods contain certain chemical compounds that block the absorption of Calcium. Some are listed simply because mealies won’t touch or go near it so I listed it to save you the hassle.
Time Frame (How Long To Gut Feed)
Most larvae will digest anything eaten within 24 hours so be sure to give them to you reptiles before then. One advantage that dubia and other roaches have is that their digestion rate is around 72 hours. Due to this, they do not have to be fed off as quickly and still be able to provide optimum nourishment.
I usually allow my insects to consume as much as they can within 12 hours followed by immediately feeding them off. You can experiment with different times and see what works for you so long as you’re within those hours.
Amount Of Bugs To Gut Load In One Setting
This depends on how many reptiles you own. In my scenario, I have around 60 leopard geckos and so I usually gut load enough to feed that many. The average keeper will have only a few mouths to feed. This takes a little bit of experimentation on your end but is important if you want to save money. The worst that can happen is you place too many in which case a little bit of food gets wasted.
Simply throw the remaining mealies back into your colony and they’ll be ready to refeed in 24 hours. You really don’t need much to gut load as a couple baby carrots will sustain about 500 mealworms. One cabbage leaf will do the same. Just make sure everything is spaced out so all critters have a chance to eat. Otherwise they’ll just be crawling over each other essentially waiting in line to eat.
Not All Insects Created Equal
As mentioned earlier, not all insects have the same chemical composition. The popular blaptica dubia for example has very high protein levels but has a poor to mediocre CA:P ratio. Crickets have more protein compared to mealies but still less than dubia. Remember, high levels of phosphorus hinders the absorption of calcium. The advantage that they have versus mealies is the longer intestinal tract which translates to longer retention of food items. The cockroaches can eat more because of this which correlates with providing more macros as well.
Red racers or turks are voracious eaters even more so than their cousins. They too can provide the same benefits. I’ve noticed a much better feeding response and overall acceptance of items with these red roaches. They seldom reject anything I offer and are a personal favorite. Most insects will have the appropriate amounts of protein and fat.
I have simplified everything in the list above so be sure to follow that and you should be ok.
How To Dust Mealworms
Lastly I want to talk about dusting. Dusting is the process of coating your worms in a multivitamin or calcium based powder. Doing so provides added nutrition for your reptiles as it gives an outer coating packed full of nutrients. You reptiles will unknowingly ingest the powder along with the bugs.
- The process is fairly simple and you can use either a plastic sandwich bag or container with a lid.
- You separate out a few larvae and add about ¼ of a teaspoon, seal the lid and lightly shake until all insects are evenly coated.
There is a lot of debate on which brands to use for dusting. I recommend using a brand by Allen repashy called “Repashy Calcium Plus” it’s an all-in-one type of powder containing many ingredients beneficial to the health of your herp.