Dubia Roaches vs. Hornworms - Which is the Better Feeder Insect?

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Dubia Roaches Vs Hornworms

dubia roaches vs hornworms

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Hornworms have recently been added to many online insect-markets, while Dubia roaches have been a reliable feeder for much longer. If you are trying to compare these two insects as feeders, there are many important questions to ask.

In this article, we compare Dubia Roaches and Hornworms directly. We will explore their protein, fat, and fiber content, as well as additional aspects that are important - including how well they will stimulate your leopard gecko, bearded dragon, or other insect-eating reptile or amphibian.

Nutritional Profile

Experts suggest that the following nutritional profile is optimal for most insectivorous and carnivorous reptiles and amphibians:


Typical Carnivorous Reptile Diet

  • High in Protein (30-60%)
  • High in Fat (40-70%)
  • Low carbohydrates and Indigestible Fiber

Insectivores and carnivores, unlike herbivores or omnivores, have not evolved the ability to digest large amounts of fiber. While insects can supplement the diet of an omnivore, true insectivores and carnivores must have very low levels of carbohydrates and fiber in their diets.


Carnivores derive most of their energy from the protein and fat within their prey. Therefore, most insectivores need diets that have high levels of protein and fat - traits that are not found in all feeder insect species.


We can compare Dubia Roaches and Hornworms directly, using data from a large study of insect nutritional composition:


Dubia Roaches Protein and Fat Content

  • Protein - 46%
  • Fat - 24%

Hornworms Protein and Fat Content

  • Protein - 58%
  • Fat - 20%

Hornworms have plenty of protein but are quite low on fat content. Therefore, hornworms can be good for juvenile pets or breeders needing an extra boost protein. However, hornworms have too little fat to be used as a regular feeder. Though the worms can look very “plump” - hornworms actually have less fat than Dubia Roaches. 

Dubia roaches also have a relatively high protein content, with slightly more fat. However, neither Dubia Roaches nor Hornworms alone can provide enough fat for most insectivorous species. While either can be a great treat for most pets, both fall slightly short of the “perfect feeder” ideal. 

Mineral Content

One of the most important aspects of nutrition for most reptiles and amphibians is calcium. Though omnivores can get calcium from many different edible plants, insectivores and carnivores are limited to the calcium present in the prey they eat. 

Calcium is important for many different aspects of your reptile’s health, though it does not operate on its own. Just as important as calcium is phosphorus - the mineral needed to properly extract and utilize calcium in the diet. 

Unfortunately, hornworms have not been tested in the scientific literature for their mineral content. So, while many pet owners have safely fed their pets hornworms, they are not recommended as the main feeder until their mineral composition has been determined.

Experts recommend a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in feeder insects that is somewhere around 2:1. Here are the actual mineral contents of dubia cockroaches and hornworms:


Dubia Roaches (g/kg) Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio

  • Calcium - 5.8
  • Phosphorus - 5.9
  • Ratio - 1 : 1.01

Hornworms (g/kg) Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio

  • Unmeasured

With a ratio of 1:1, Dubia Roaches are much more balanced than many feeder insects. While they should still be dusted with calcium or gut-loaded with a high-calcium diet, dubias provide nearly 5 times more calcium than mealworms!  But if dusting doesn't fit into your schedule, you can switch to black soldier fly larvae, who naturally offer the preferred calcium to phosphorus ratio.

Until hornworms are tested more thoroughly, we have to assume that they are on-par with other caterpillars, such as the silkworm or butterworm. Each of these species has a very unbalanced calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. So, hornworms are likely to be similarly unbalanced.

Digestibility

Most insectivores prefer insects with thinner exoskeletons - making the nutrients inside easier to access. When we measure the nutritional profile of insects, digestibility is directly related to the fiber content in insects.

Most insects produce only one type of fiber: chitin. This is the material that makes the exoskeleton rigid. Therefore, insects with very tough exoskeletons have very high fiber content and are less digestible.

Here is the fiber content of dubias and hornworms:

Dubia Roach Fiber Content

  • Fiber - 8%

Hornworms Fiber Content

  • Fiber - 9.4%

While Dubia Roaches look “tougher” to eat compared to a big, juicy hornworm, this is actually misleading. Hornworms have almost 2 percent more fiber per total body weight. This actually makes hornworms harder to digest.

Again, this makes hornworms an easy species to perceive as healthy - when in fact it doesn’t meet many feeder insect standards. It “looks” fatty, though this is mostly water. It “looks” easy to digest, though it has more chitin than a cockroach. 

Dubia roaches have very balanced mineral content, and they are still fairly low in fiber content - especially compared to other roaches. For most pets, especially Bearded Dragons, turtles, and others that like to crunch and chomp their food, dubia roaches make a great feeder. Hornworms, on the other hand, are best used infrequently as an engaging treat.

Other Factors to Consider

Compared to other roach species, Dubias tend to be the favorite among hobbyists. They are easy to rear, mostly stay contained in a lidded plastic bin, and can eat almost any leftover fruits or vegetables that you have. They have high levels of calcium and phosphorus and can be fed to many different types of pets.

By contrast, hornworms typically require a specific substrate that must be “in-season” or grown indoors. The most common feeder, the Tobacco hornworm, is a fan of tobacco leaves. The Tomato hornworm prefers tomato leaves and many sites suggest that they are edible, though the effects of feeding tomato hornworms to your pets have not been studied scientifically.

While hornworms are hard to rear because of their specific requirements, you can pick any that you find off your tomatoes and offer them to your pets. If a single hornworm does not affect them negatively after 24 hours, you should be safe to offer hornworms as treats occasionally. 

Which Insect Will My Pet Prefer?

The most important aspect of a feeder to your pet is movement. Reptiles and amphibians rely on movement to start their “hunting” and “chasing” behaviors. Expressing these natural behaviors not only gives your pet some exercise, but they can actually keep your pet’s mind engaged.

Dubia roaches are not going to just sit there and be caught. They have legs and wings, and will actively try to escape. This can be a good challenge for your pet, as they may have to hunt the insect for hours before they capture it. For many overweight, adult pets, this is exactly what they need. 

Hornworms can be a beneficial snack for juvenile or “uninterested” pets. The hornworm, though slow, will move in a completely different way and may incite your animal’s predatory instincts. 

Don’t Forget Variety!

No insect, on its own, forms a perfect diet for an insectivore. Almost all insectivores are insect generalists - they eat all kinds of insects wherever they can find them. Very few reptiles and amphibians are insect specialists. That means most reptiles and amphibians have evolved to have a highly diverse diet.

Dubia roaches can provide a strong basis for this diet. They contain high levels of accessible calcium, and they will give your pet plenty of exercise to catch. However, dubias can be harder to digest and do not provide all of the fat that growing lizards need. Other insects, such as fatty superworms, can help make up for these deficiencies.

Hornworms, while low in fat, are very high in protein. Pets getting ready to reproduce often need high levels of protein, and hornworms would be a welcome supplement. 

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