During the spring and summer, when tomato plants start to grow, you will notice a type of caterpillar munching on its leaves. This caterpillar is known as the hornworm. Since it seems edible and plentiful in your garden, you may wonder if you can let your chameleons eat hornworms.
So, can chameleons eat hornworms? Yes, chameleons can eat hornworms. These worms are soft and contain nutrients that the chameleons can benefit from. However, hornworms eating the tomato plant can be poisonous for the chameleons. This is due to the toxin known as solanine which is in the tomato plant. Solanine is toxic to the chameleons and can make them very ill. For that reason, feed your chameleons hornworms that are raised for the purpose of feeders.
What Are Hornworms?
Hornworms are the caterpillar of a hawkmoth. They are usually found during the warmer months of the year when tomato plants are growing.
There are two species of caterpillars that you can feed your chameleons:
- Tobacco hornworm, “Goliath worm” or Manduca sexta
- Tomato hornworm, or Manduca quinquemaculata
The most common one you probably see in your garden and yard is the tobacco hornworm. They are considered a pest by most gardeners due to their large appetites.
These caterpillars appear in green color with seven diagonal markings along their sides. At the end of their body, they will have a red, spiked tail. The spike or ‘horn’ is how the caterpillar got their name.
In the wild, hornworms will feed mainly on tomato and tobacco plants.
Tomato hornworms are a little different from tobacco hornworms. Instead of a diagonal marking, tomato hornworms have a V-shaped marking on their back. At the end of their body, they will have a black spike on their tail.
These hornworms will feed on tobacco and tomato plants.
Is It Healthy For Chameleons To Eat Hornworms?
Hornworms make great feeder insects for chameleons and most other reptiles. It’s a good source of calcium and protein. Both of these nutrients are essential for the chameleon’s health.
- Moisture: 85%
- Protein: 9%
- Fat: 3%
- Calcium: 46.4 mg (per 100g)
One of the nutrients that hornworms are high in is calcium. It has enough calcium that you don’t need to dust with calcium supplements.
This mineral is essential for the chameleons. Calcium helps build and maintain the bone throughout their body. It is also important for the organs to function properly.
Another nutrient that the hornworm has is protein. This nutrient is important as it’s required for the structure, function, and regulation of other body’s tissues and organs.
Hornworms are also high in water content. This makes them an excellent food to keep the chameleon hydrated, especially during the summer.
Are Hornworms Poisonous?
A hornworm itself isn’t poisonous and poses no threats to the chameleons.
However, hornworm’s main food source is the tomato plant. The leaves that the worm eats contain solanine. This is a toxin that is toxic and very harmful to the chameleon.
For that reason, it’s not recommended to feed hornworm that is in the wild.
How To Feed Hornworms To Chameleons
When it comes to feeding hornworms to your chameleon, it’s really simple. Since these worms are used to clinging to stems of the tomato plant, you can place them onto a branch or stem in their enclosure.
The chameleon will notice the hornworm and will move slowly toward it. As they get close enough, they will steady themselves and flick out their tongue to grab the hornworm.
How Many Hornworms To Feed Chameleons
Since hornworms aren’t one of the chameleon staple food, they should not be fed to them too much.
For a chameleon, one hornworm is enough for them to enjoy.
How Often To Feed Hornworms To Chameleons?
It’s recommended to feed hornworms to your chameleon in moderation. Eating too much of this worm can cause them to have digestive issues.
Hornworms contain a lot of water in their body. Chameleons that ingest too much water will have diarrhea, bloating, and an upset stomach.
To prevent any issues, hornworms should be fed to your chameleon, once or twice per week.
The Benefits of Gut Loading Hornworms
Hornworms don’t have enough nutrition to meet the chameleon’s dietary needs. This is when it’s best to gut load the hornworms before feeding them.
By gut loading the hornworm first, you will give them an added nutrition other than what the worm has.
It’s a good idea to gut load the hornworm for a couple of days first before feeding them to your chameleon.
You can let the hornworm feed on the leaves of fruits.
Other Worms That Chameleons Can Eat
Mealworms are packed with protein, which makes them an excellent food for chameleon. These reptiles need protein in their body for muscle development and proper organ function.
Superworms are loaded with vitamins and minerals, especially protein. It is bigger than mealworms, so the nutrition is much more. Due to the cost of superworms, it doesn’t make one of the popular treats for feeding chameleons.
Silkworms are naturally one of the healthiest insects to feed your chameleons. It’s nutrient-dense, yet low in fat. Silkworms are a high source of calcium, protein, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, and B3. Since its exoskeleton is soft, it’s safe for the chameleon to eat.
Hornworms are safe and make a great nutritious snack for your chameleons. However, it’s not safe to pick them from your tomato plant and feed them to your chameleon. The tomato plant contains a toxin known as solanine, which is toxic. By feeding the hornworm to your chameleon, they will get the toxin into their body as well. Solanine is toxic to the chameleon, and it could make them ill.
Therefore, if you’re planning to feed them hornworms, buy them from a reputable seller or raise them yourself and let them eat other plants besides tomato plants.
Donovan got his first pet chameleon at the age of 7. Ever since then, he cared and raised over 10 different species of chameleons. Beside raising chameleons, he enjoys gardening and the outdoors.