After doing your fair share of research on how to properly house your gecko, I bet one of the other things you will look into next is what to feed your gecko. With all the choices you have out there for feeder insects, you’ll no doubt come across waxworms. So, is it safe to give your gecko waxworms?
Geckos can eat waxworms as they are calorie-dense bee moth larvae good for weight gain. However, healthy adult geckos should only be fed up to 2 waxworms twice a week. This is because waxworms are 1) high in fat but low in other nutrients and 2) could trigger addictive behaviors or make geckos picky eaters.
Come join me as I go further into the topics of waxworms and the gecko diet.
Waxworms: Gecko Feeder Insects
When you search online for a list of live feeder insects for geckos and other reptiles, you’ll for sure see that waxworms are almost always a part of it. If you stumble upon any forum or group on gecko keeping, I’d say that there is still a mix of opinions on whether we should be giving it to our precious pets. So, I want to share with you what the actual deal is with waxworms – with the help of science!
What is a Waxworm?
Waxworms, along with other incredibly fatty feeders, have quite the notorious reputation within the herp community. But what even are they, to begin with?
Basically, a waxworm is a bumblebee wax moth’s larvae. Its body is usually yellow-white in color with numerous pairs of tiny black feet and a brown-black head. Their common name is attributable to where they live in the wild (beehives) and what they live off of (beeswax).
Aside from wreaking havoc on both the hive itself and the honeycombs inside it, these little critters are also known for eating pollen, cocoons, and bees’ shed skin for months at a time. It goes without saying that such destruction would definitely contaminate the honey and possibly kill the bee larvae inside the hive. For these reasons, they are usually considered and treated as pests by beekeepers.
However, other people have found good uses for these minuscule menaces. There are two species of waxworms bred for commercial availability: Achroia grisella, the lesser bee wax moth, and Galleria mellonella, the greater bee wax moth . Waxworms are usually sold as live feeders for insect-eating plants, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles or as fish bait. Heck, some are even sold exclusively for human consumption.
So yes, your geckos can eat waxworms. But there are many factors you need to consider before feeding your insectivorous pets this type of live feeder insect.
Like many other things in life, they also have pros and cons. They are relatively low-maintenance as they don’t need to be fed constantly once bought and they are easier to handle when feeding your soft-skinned babies as they don’t jump around. But they aren’t exactly the most nutritious insects out there. I will discuss this more in-depth later.
Where to Get and How to Keep Waxworms
You can easily find and buy tons of waxworms from pet stores within your area and from online shops like this on Amazon. They are usually packaged in a plastic container with holes on the lid to keep the humidity low and the bedding dry. The beddings they are kept in will vary from shop to shop but it’s usually made of wood, like fine wood shavings or sawdust, with or without some bran.
To have them in stock for as long as possible, make sure to keep them in a place that never goes under 55°F (13°C) or over 60°F (15.5°C) so they stay dormant for up to 8 weeks and don’t develop into moths in just a couple of weeks. You could store them in a cool room, your basement, or by the fridge door where it isn’t too cold. Better yet, if you have a wine cooler you could leave it there. Use a temp gun (here on Amazon) to be sure.
Then again, bee moth larvae shouldn’t be kept for too long because once they are in their dormant state, they will start feeding on their nutrient reserves much like what some geckos do during the winter when brumating. In effect, they become less and less nutritious the longer they are kept.
Once you spot dead waxies that have turned black and shriveled up, remove them from the tub. Also, make sure that your container is getting enough ventilation to prevent your bedding from rotting due to moisture.
If you are far from any reptile pet shops or have had negative experiences with having them delivered directly to your doorstep. You could also start your own colony. But I will only recommend that you do this if you’ve got tons of gecko – and any other herp for that matter – to feed. It’s quite easy to do. Just watch this video if you don’t believe me:
Nutritional Value of Waxworms
Talk to any new or experienced gecko keeper about diets and they will usually l waxworms to all sorts of junk food – French fries, chips, fried chicken, you name it. What do all of them have in common? Well, they are all quite high in fat and low in a lot of other good nutrients.
To be more specific I’ve created a table to summarize their nutritional value to easily determine whether they meet the nutritional requirements of insectivorous and frugivorous geckos [2, 3].
|Dry Matter |
|Crude Protein %||34||30 – 50||20 – 25|
|Crude Fat %||60||20||3 – 6|
|Crude Fiber %||13||10||20 – 35|
|Calcium %||0.059||0.8 – 1.1||1 – 1.5|
|Phosphorus %||0.47||0.5 – 0.9||0.6 – 0.9|
|Potassium %||0.533||0.4 – 0.6||0.4 – 0.6|
|Iron (ppm)||50.36||60 – 80||200|
|Copper (ppm)||9.16||5 – 8||15|
|Iodine (ppm)||0||0.3 – 0.6||0.4|
|Choline (ppm)||3,954||1,250 – 2,400||3,500|
|Vitamin A (IU/kg)||0||5,000 – 10,000||15,000|
|Vitamin B1 (ppm)||5.54||1 – 5||5|
|Vitamin B2 (ppm)||17.59||2 – 4||8|
|Vitamin B3 (ppm)||90.36||10 – 40||100|
|Vitamin B5 (ppm)||48.67||10||60|
|Vitamin B6 (ppm)||3.13||1 – 4||10|
|Vitamin B7 (ppm)||0.7||0.07 – 0.1||0.4|
|Vitamin B9 (ppm)||1.06||0.2 – 0.8||6|
|Vitamin B12 (ppm)||0.01||0.02||0.025|
|Vitamin D3 (IU/kg)||0||500 – 1,000||500 – 1,000|
Waxworms are incredibly high in fat and have good protein, fiber, and phosphorus, but are insufficient for many key nutrients that geckos need to live long and healthy lives such as calcium, iodine, vitamin A, and vitamin D3.
You can see from the table that waxworms are definitely calorie-dense live feeder insects. Meaning, these bee moth larvae contain high levels of metabolized energy and as a result, are great for helping geckos bulk up. Nevertheless, waxworms should never be given to geckos as their sole food source because their fattiness pretty much offsets all the other nutrients they may have.
Think of it like you would with humans eating only junk food. Sure, a good deal of fat does make food extremely flavorful and delicious, however, eating foods that are rich in fat and nothing else can be really unhealthy when it makes up most of our diets. The same is true for geckos and waxworms.
2 Methods to Make Waxworms More Healthy
I know I didn’t necessarily hype up waxworms as great feeder insects for your geckos and that is mostly because they aren’t exactly the healthiest when offered as-is. No worries though! This doesn’t mean they can’t be made healthier at all. Like a juicy and fatty beef burger with a bunch of fresh and healthy vegetables, waxworms can also be made more nutritious for our adorable gecko buddies.
Similar to many other insects common to reptile diets, waxworms are naturally deficient in calcium. The first way you can make up for such nutrient deficiency is by dusting your waxworm.
If you’re the squeamish type who can’t handle crawlies like waxies, pop them in the fridge for 5 minutes to immobilize them. Then take them back out and pick them up using a rubber-tipped feeding tong (here on Amazon) and place them in a ziplock bag and add calcium powder (here on Amazon). Shake it around to properly coat the waxworms and you’re all set for feeding.
Another way you can make them more healthy is to gut load them with a nutrient-rich diet for 1 to 2 days before feeding [4, 5]. In the beginning, I’ve already mentioned what these parasitic bee moth larvae consume.
Experts say that the best way to gut load them waxworms is by giving them food items that are similar to what they would normally eat in their natural habitats: bedding made from a mixture of bran and honey that has been dried then crumbled. If you don’t have bran, you could go for oats or any other cereal you have at home.
Veterinarians well-versed in insectivorous reptile diets  in particular went on to say that waxworms must be supplemented to contain the following:
- Calcium – 90 g/kg
- Iron – 51 mg/kg
- Manganese – 31mg/kg
- Vitamin A – 13.31 mg retinol/kg
- Vitamin B12 – 0.65mg/kg
- Vitamin D – 0.46 mg cholecalciferol/kg
- Vitamin E – 660mg R-alpha-tocopherol/kg
- Methionine – 29 g/kg
Unfortunately, they didn’t go into much detail about which food items contain these nutrients to make for a rich gut loading diet for waxworms.
Some keepers have also brought up the idea of offering waxworms some fruits and vegetables for gut loading. Hobbyists seem split on the idea. Though I do see how this could be good theoretically speaking, I think it would still be better to wait for more research before offering them food that they may consume but not be able to digest.
We’ve previously published an article on what food items you could offer your geckos other than insects and commercial diet mixes, so check that out first if you’re planning on doing your own mini experiments on gut loading waxies to know which ones are relatively safe and which ones aren’t.
3 Factors to Consider in Offering Waxworms to Geckos
Now that we know what waxworms are and we’re also familiar with their nutritional value before and after dusting or gut loading, I’ll tell all about the 3 important things you should first take into consideration before offering them up in a dish or with a tong for your small reptile babies.
#1 – Health
Having taken care of a gecko for years now, I know that some people still strongly advise against feeding sick, malnourished, and gravid geckos. I definitely get why they’d think so, in fact, I used to share the same belief. Think about it: if you know someone that’s been feeling under the weather, lost a lot of weight, or pregnant, you probably won’t let them eat junk foods alone because you know those virtually have zero nutrients whatsoever.
But many long-time keepers and breeders will probably tell you that waxworms are great feeders. That is, of course, if it has been sufficiently supplemented. It is especially great for geckos that need to increase their calorie intake to gain weight to reach a healthy body mass or to prepare for the breeding season.
What’s more, is that bee moth larvae are much easier to catch and digest for geckos suffering from any illness or injury according to experts . They wouldn’t need to exert that much energy in foraging and maintain a relatively healthy weight which would make way for better recovery.
They are also great treats for our cute geckos. As a matter of fact, they’d be the best option for training them to follow the feeder and getting them to come to your hand or arm during feeding at the skinship phase of gecko handling. Be mindful of the frequency and amount though because feeding them such fatty feeders too often and too much may result in complications.
In short, waxworms are great feeders you could add to your gecko’s staple diet when the main goal is weight gain or maintenance. They also make for a good choice of positive reinforcement when training geckos.
#2 – Frequency
The second thing you need to consider if you’re planning to give your geckos tasty but fatty treats is the frequency of feeding. So, should you give geckos waxies every time? Well, there’s no single answer for that different people will probably give you contrasting answers.
Basically, it will depend primarily on your gecko’s health and situation. If your gecko really needs to put on some more weight, you could mix some waxworm into their staple diet more regularly. By that I mean you could offer waxies as often as every feeding or as seldom as every other feeding. Meanwhile, if your gecko is already in tip-top shape, only offer them waxies occasionally – as often as every other feeding or as seldom as twice a month.
Geckos that are sick, underweight, gravid, and recently lost their tail can be fed waxworms regularly. On the other hand, geckos that are otherwise healthy and in no need of gaining extra weight should only be fed such fatty insects sparingly as treats.
I know that the frequency I told you may sound like too much, however, remember that they aren’t meant to be offered as the only live feeder insect. Although you can let your geckos eat wax moth larvae quite often, they should never make up the totality of their diets.
#3 – Amount
You know, too much of anything is never a good thing. This is especially true in the case of feeding geckos super fatty live feeder insects like waxworms. You should also keep in mind that the number of insects you give to your geckos will depend on what life stage they are in.
Bear in mind that geckos are fed according to their age. Generally, they should be given up to 10 insects as hatchlings, up to 16 insects as juvenile, and up to 20 insects as adults.
However, like I’ve said before, they should never be offered on their own. Instead, they should only be mixed into your gecko’s regular diet, replacing a few insects. A good rule of thumb would be to only give fit geckos waxworms equal to a tenth of their normal insect intake and sick, skinny geckos could be offered waxworms equal to a fourth of their normal insect intake.
An adult gecko that is relatively healthy and active should only be fed 1 to 2 waxworms once or twice a week. While an adult gecko that is sick, underweight, gravid, or has recently dropped its tail can be fed up to 5 waxworms regularly.
More importantly, make a habit of monitoring and recording your gecko’s weight especially when you are making significant changes in their diet so you can adjust the frequency and amount accordingly.
Please always bear in mind that overfeeding your geckos, especially ones that aren’t fond of moving around and exploring their enclosures, fatty foods may induce the development of numerous debilitating conditions which may include:
- Fatty liver disease
- Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism
The Love-Hate Relationship between Geckos and Waxworms
Contrary to popular belief, not all geckos go gaga over waxworms. In fact, some even seem to disdain it. So, to end the article, I will briefly discuss these two situations.
Addiction – Geckos Loving Waxworms?
Letting geckos feast on large servings of waxies regularly could definitely make them incredibly picky eaters – regardless if they’re underweight or already on a healthy weight.
As a matter of fact, I’ve heard many horror stories from friends and acquaintances alike about waxworms which they like to call “gecko crack.”
Now, waxworms are in no way addicting like drugs, but they certainly cause issues with feeding. Geckos could start holding off on eating unless offered waxies.
Close your eyes and try to recall when you had french fries for the first time. You probably always had a craving for them after that. Some people would even willingly skip their regular meals for some of that crisp, salty, and fatty fries. Our soft reptile babies are similar to us in that way – they pass up on healthy foods to go for unhealthy ones instead.
So how do you get them off eating only waxworms?
Waxworms could be gradually replaced with healthier insects or you could just go cold turkey and completely remove waxies from their diets. If the gecko stops eating, there’s no need to worry as long as they have stored enough reserves in their body.
Remember that they could last a good while without food in the wild so don’t give in too quickly. You’re just doing what’s best for them so don’t feel guilty if they seem to be sulking. Once they’re hungry enough, they will gobble up any feeder you give them so be patient.
Avoidance – Geckos Hating Waxworms?
Though most geckos seem to love indulging in this fatty live feeder insect, it’s not always the case. Some keepers even share stories about their lovely little pets avoiding waxworms like the plague or ignoring their existence completely.
Some geckos simply do not eat waxworms. It may be due to individual preference, aging, or colder weather.
Again, it’s kind of like us humans and junk foods like fries. Though many of us like eating such foods, it doesn’t mean that all of us do. For example, frugivorous geckos are known to prefer fruits as they grow older.
Other geckos may also just stop eating waxworms as a reaction to the colder days and nights of winter – more specifically if you live in a place where it snows a lot. Turn up the heat, they may resume their normal eating habits, but if you let them brumate, they will naturally eat and move less.
Waxworms are the larvae wax moths that infest beehives and consume beeswax. They are high in calories and are great for bulking up but should be dusted or gut-loaded to improve their nutritional value.
The 3 main factors you should take into consideration when feeding geckos waxworms include: your gecko’s health, feeding frequency, and amount of insects offered.
Geckos can either love or hate waxworms.