Crickets Vs Superworms
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Crickets or superworms? It's a difficult question for many reptile parents. On one hand, crickets are rapid breeders. This means they are more cost effective for many pet parents. This also means they are easier to find. Superworms are the opposite; breeding them is a longer task, which requires a multi-cycle metamorphosis that can take about 1 month to complete. This means it is not as easy to build up a superworm population, which means that many superworms growers sell out quickly.
Aside from the supply and demand side of the insect industry, superworms and crickets are also different nutritionally. One feeder is more preferred. But the other is a viable snack.
In this article, we will take a look at all of the most important aspects when trying to decide which of these feeders to use! We will consider
- nutrient profiles
- mineral content
And we even consider how much fun your reptile or amphibian will have hunting and catching these insects!
The nutritional profile of an insectivorous lizard (like a leopard gecko) should be balanced in the range below:
Typical Carnivorous Reptile Diet
- High in Protein (30-60%)
- High in Fat (40-70%)
- Low carbohydrates and Indigestible Fiber
Other, omnivorous species, have slightly different dietary requirements. However, the insects they eat should be close to this composition for maximum benefits! The high protein allows your pet to build new cells, repair injuries, and create new proteins. The fat serves as a major energy source - eventually being turned into energy for each cell in your pet’s body!
So, let’s see how crickets and Superworms stack up to this “ideal” standard, based on information compiled in this large study of insect nutritional composition:
Crickets Protein and Fat Content
- Protein - 66%
- Fat - 22%
Superworms (Adults) Protein and Fat Content
- Protein - 47%
- Fat - 42%
In the case of Superworms vs crickets, the nutritional profile is pretty different. You'll notice right away that crickets are a leaner food source. They have a high amount of protein, which technically exceeds the amount required by reptiles. Too much protein can cause kidney problems for your pet. However, juvenile pets need more protein because they are still growing more rapidly than mature adults.
Because adults need less protein, superworms become a great option. Their protein content falls right in the center for what reptiles typically need, which means they could be a permanent food source. Superworms also have the perfect amount of fat, which means superworms are a great option if only looking fat and protein.
However, fat and protein are not the only nutrients to consider.
Insectivorous pets and many omnivorous pets require a diet with calcium and phosphorous minerals. These key nutrients are part of many different physiological processes and can lead to very serious conditions if the dietary requirements are not met.
While levels of these nutrients vary among different insects, the most important measurement of these minerals in a feeder insect is their ratio to each other.
Phosphorus and Calcium Ratio
Phosphorous is needed to properly process and utilize calcium, so there must be a balanced ratio for each mineral to be absorbed and utilized properly. Unbalanced feeder insects - while they might contain enough calcium - may not contain enough phosphorous to properly utilize that calcium and your pet will develop a mineral deficiency. And as implied earlier, mineral deficiencies can cause terminal problems for your beloved pet.
Experts recommend that the calcium-to-phosphorous ratio fall somewhere around 2:1. Here are the actual mineral contents of crickets and Superworms:
Crickets (g/kg) Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio
- Calcium - 2.1
- Phosphorous - 7.8
- Ratio - 1 : 3.7
Superworms (g/kg) Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio
- Calcium - 1.2
- Phosphorous - 8.3
- Ratio - 1 : 6.9
As you can see, Superworms are clearly much further from this optimal ratio. But crickets aren't close either. What this means is that you'll have to dust your crickets or superworm with calcium powder before feeding them to your pet. Dusting is easy, and there are plenty of calcium powders available at local pet stores. Simply put a spoon full of calcium powder in a cup. Then introduce either the crickets or superworms into the cup. And then gently swirl the cup around. The powder will adhere to the crickets or superworms, which will then get ingested when your leopard gecko consumes them.
Superworms show a ratio of nearly 1:7. This means you would have to add nearly 13 grams of calcium per kilogram of Superworms in order to balance out the ratio. While insect calcium dust may help balance this ratio a bit - each insect will need a huge amount of dust to become sufficient nutritionally, which isn't always a viable option.
In order to properly digest their food, carnivorous reptiles and amphibians need food that is not too fibrous. While fiber is an important part of the human, omnivore, and herbivore diets, it generally hinders most carnivorous organisms from obtaining all of the nutrients present in a feeder insect.
Insects contain chitin - a fibrous substance that is hard to digest and binds many of the important minerals your pet needs. So, in general, insects with less chitinous exoskeletons are easier to digest and will give your pet a higher level of minerals. Less chitin usually translates to a softer, squishier exoskeleton - much like you see on maggots and other soft grubs
- Fiber - 12%
- Fiber - 8%
Although superworms may appear to have a hard exoskeleton, they actually have a lower fiber content than crickets. This low fiber content means that reptiles and amphibians will have an easier time absorbing the nutrients they need from superworms. But because superworms have a lower calcium to phosphorus ratio, they need more calcium powder and time to gut load.
On the contrary, crickets have a higher fiber content. But this is generally with the larger crickets. As crickets grow older than 3 weeks, their exoskeleton starts to calcify, and becomes more rich with fiber. So if you're reptile is small enough to only need 1/2" size crickets, it's likely they will not exceed the fiber content.
Other Factors to Consider
Superworms and crickets are both adaptable to captivity and can be reared in a captive environment quite easily. Crickets will literally eat anything. Which means pet owners need to limit their cricket feed to healthy products. And never feed your pet crickets found in the wild. Superworms require a more specialized diet of oats or wheat bran supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables.
In terms of cleanliness, Superworms have a slight advantage. Superworm colonies often smell like the substrate they are housed in (oats or wheat bran, typically). Crickets, on the other hand stink. We recommend keeping them outside if the temps afford that. Or, you can use vermiculite as their bedding material. The vermiculite is very absorbent, and will help decrease the odor.
Crickets are also very skittish. This makes Superworms slightly easier to rear as feeder insects.
Which Insect Will My Pet Prefer?
Natural behaviors are one of the most interesting things your pet will do. In the case of a hungry lizard, watching them seek, hunt, and capture prey is super fun for the owner. At the same time, displaying these natural behaviors actually stimulates your pet’s brain and increases their health and vigor!
For this, crickets provide your pet with a much-needed challenge. Crickets are pretty fast, and will not be caught easily. This will give you pet exercise, engagement, and a variety of opportunities to express behaviors like chasing, waiting, and observing insects.
On the other hand, Superworms wiggle like crazy and will certainly attract your pet. For pets that are old, sickly, or need to gain fat reserves, a handful of superworms is a great way to supplement their diet. The worms are easy to catch, abundant in fat and protein, and are very appetizing. Superworms are often good for juvenile animals that need to gain weight - given that they are properly dusted with calcium first!
Don’t Forget Variety!
As you can see - neither crickets nor Superworms fully satisfy the entire set of requirements for insectivorous reptiles and amphibians.
Crickets have a high protein and low fat content, which means they are great for juvenile pets. And those juvenile pets typically need smaller feeders, which means their crickets will have less fiber because of their under developed exoskeleton.
By contrast, Superworms are wildly imbalanced minerally, but they do provide plenty of fat content and are also very digestible.
Crickets will serve well for most insectivores as a primary feeder, but Superworms can occasionally be given to support the fat requirement and help your pet build up their fat stores. For juvenile pets and pets owners are planning to breed, this fat content is very important! These groups should receive more Superworms than older, breeding-retire individuals because the fat content will help them create the stores they need to grow new tissue (whether that is a larger body or eggs for the next generation)!
Plus, there are a wide variety of other insects out there that can add variety to your lizard’s diet! While crickets can make a great base - variety is the spice of life! Feeding variety will not only engage your pet more, but it will ensure that the nutrient deficiencies in crickets (or your main feeder) are properly countered with nutrients from another species.