What Do Leopard Geckos Eat: Feeder Insect Alternatives

What feeder insects can leopard geckos eat is a question I get asked often. Whether you’re feeding just one gecko or an entire colony, it can be difficult to know what the best alternatives are nutritionally and which ones should be avoided for these insectivores.

Dubia roaches, Turkistan red runner roaches, mealworms, and crickets can all be used as a staple diet for your leopard gecko. Wax worms and butterworms on the other hand should be offered sparingly as treats. They are high in fat and are known to be highly addictive to your reptiles. I recommend gutloading or “dusting” your bugs 24 hours prior to feeding your reptiles.

This article will take you in-depth on all the different and beneficial choices available for your beloved herps.

What Do Leopard Geckos Eat - Recommended List:

Below I have listed my favorite choices for feeders. I recommend and encourage variety in your pet’s diet for maximum nutrition however you can feed any of these solely as a stable. Don’t forget to check out my tips on dusting and gutloading here.

Dubia Roach

Highly regarded as one of the most nutritionally complete and admired bugs in the industry, these cockroaches are loved by most reptiles. Their protein content aids in growth of your leopard geckos. These critters stand out among others due to their hardiness, ease of care, and wide array of sizes to feed your hatchlings and adults.

  • Cannot fly or climb smooth surfaces which means they are easily contained in a food bowl
  • Have little to no smell
  • Are easy to gutload
  • Hardy and have a great shelf life (1-2 Years)
  • Great meat to shell ratio meaning they are easier to digest for your leo geckos
  • Fairly inexpensive at $34.95 per 1,000 Smalls shipping included
  • Don’t make any noise like crickets
  • High in protein and low in fat content which is best for promoting growth
  • Cannot bite, attack, or harm your beloved leos

I usually get emails from customers asking how often and what size to feed my reptiles. As a guide I recommend you only feed roaches that are no longer than the width between their eyes.

This is especially important for baby geckos which can suffer from impaction if fed too many roaches in one setting.

Dubia Roach Size Chart for your Leos:

Geckos up to 1 month old (babies) should be fed ¼” sized nymphs every day

One – Three month olds (Juvies) should be fed 3/8” in length every day

Four – Eight month olds should be fed ½” in length every other day

For Sub-adult to Adult Leopard geckos (over 10 months), weights are usually different and so I recommend anything from ¾” to 1” in size every three to four days

Mealworms

Commonly used for feeders, these worms provide a good amount of protein for your herps. Also one of the easiest to breed. Larvae are usually odorless and easy to maintain. Pop these in the refrigerator and they will keep for at least 2 months. I recommend dusting mealies to add to their nutritional value. Larvae can be contained in a food bowl as they also cannot climb smooth surfaces. Lots of big name breeders like Ron Tremper have been feeding these solely to their colonies for years with no ill effects. Yellow mealworms are one of the most inexpensive feeders on the market. You can get 1000 Mediums for $14.50 shipped!

Quantity and Size to Feed:

Hatchlings – babies get mini to small sized worms that are ¼” every day.

Juveniles can eat small to medium sized mealworms that are ¼” to ½” every day to every other day.

Sub adults – adults can take medium to large sized mealies around ¾” to 1” every 3-4 days.

As with all prey items, I advise dusting with either calcium or multivitamin powder designed for reptiles once a week.

Feed as many mealworms as your gecko will eat in 5-10 minutes.

In my experience, hatchling geckos usually eat around 8-12 appropriately sized worms per sitting and I usually feed once a day.

Juvenile leos will eat around 12-16 mealworms fed once a day or every other day and adults will eat around 20-30 mealies every three days.

Turkestan Red Runner Roaches (Blatta Lateralis or Shelfordella Tartara)

In my opinion one of the most underrated food choices out there. These rusty reds get about as big in size as adult crickets but are so much better and hardier!

  • Move extremely fast which acts as a great stimulant for your reptiles
  • Can live 1-2 Years
  • Do not bite or attack your lizards
  • Also high in protein
  • Lower chitin content which makes them easier to digest and helps with digestion
  • Inexpensive at $26 per 1k shipped!
  • Do not chirp or make noise like crickets
  • Unlike dubia, these will not burrow or hide from your herps

Offer these in a food bowl as they can be hard for some leos to catch especially enigmas.

Dusting also helps slow these guys down quite a bit. They’re constantly moving and never play dead which is why I feel they are the ultimate prey item. I truly feel that you get all of the benefits of a cricket without the annoying noise, smell, and jumping/escaping. You can store lateralis in a small critter keeper and they will do keep for months.

Crickets

Crickets were one of the earliest feeders available on the market. Most hobbyists and keepers purchase them due to their ease of access. You can literally go down to any pet store and 9 times out of 10 they will have live crickets for sale. Like most of the bugs on this list, they contain acceptable levels of protein and fat.

These critters are also great due to their ability to jump and attract the attention of even the laziest herps.

Size and Quantity fed:

Hatchlings – 2 week old crickets daily

Juveniles – 3 week old crickets daily

Adults – 4 week old or large crickets every 3-4 days

Wax worms (Sparingly, As Treats)

A very popular treat that Eublepharis absolutely love. They are high in fat and are great for giving an energy boost to your breeding females. I rarely feed wax worms due to their addictive nature and lower nutritional value.

If you do decide to feed these, I recommend feeding only once every two to three weeks. This way, your animals will still eat other healthier options but still be able to enjoy these as treats.

Butterworms (As Treats)

Butters have more calcium and protein than waxies however they contain about the same levels of fat. They are also more expensive due to them being imported and all butters will be sterile meaning you cannot breed these. Trevo worms can help boost the calcium content in rehabilitating geckos however there are definitely better options available.

Can You Feed Insects Found In The Wild or Around Your House Or Backyard?

A lot of times I get asked this question from my customers. The answer is an astounding no due knowing the fact that most insects in the wild carry diseases and parasites which are harmful to your herps. All insects on the market are raised in captivity meaning they are raised in a controlled environment and from a healthy stock that is usually parasite and disease free.

I know a customer who was ill-advised by a pet store employee and told that you can feed wild crickets with no harmful effects. Two months down the road his leopard gecko was infested with worms and needed to pay for visits to his exotic vet. It’s really not worth the hassle with so many available choices out there. Better safe than sorry especially in this situation. Also, certain bugs are toxic to your lizards such as fireflies which carry toxins to ward off potential predators.

Overeating: A Word of Caution

Overeating can cause obesity and be detrimental to the health of your animal. Moderation is key especially when it comes to nutrition. Leo geckos through evolution have developed a unique skill which allows them to store excess fat in their tails.

This aids them in the wild during winter and times where prey items are scarce. Being that most leopard geckos are captive bred where they have unlimited access to food, this can cause a problem of overeating. As recommended above, feed your leos what they can consume within 5-10 minutes and only feed items the size of the width between their eyes. Overeating can cause your pet to regurgitate or throw up which can lead to dehydration. Impaction is also a risk as they have tiny stomachs and eating too much will cause their intestines to get blocked which can lead to death in younger geckos

Water & Hydration

Not only do our geckos need insects but also water to properly digest all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Always have water available in their enclosures and make sure it’s the correct size as drowning can occur. Being well hydrated also helps with shedding cycles. Some breeders use faucet/tap water but I like to use purified drinking water.

Conclusion

I hope this article/post was helpful in your journey to choosing the right feeders for your pets. It really can be confusing with all the food alternatives available and I hope I answered at least some of your questions.

I firmly believe that offering a varied diet is more beneficial to your reptile. The best we can do for our leos is to offer them a healthy diet so they can live a long and happy life in captivity. If you find this post helpful, please feel free to share this post with your friends. I’m always here to help and if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email us or comment in the section below if related to this blog post. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you back here soon!

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