Table of Contents
Superworms Vs Hornworms
Table of Contents
Hornworms have recently been added to many online insect-markets, while superworms have been more popular 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 superworms 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, chickens, or other insect-eating reptile or amphibian.
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 crickets and Hornworms directly, using data from a large study of insect nutritional composition:
Superworm Protein and Fat Content
- Protein - 47%
- Fat - 42%
Hornworms Protein and Fat Content
- Protein - 58%
- Fat - 20%
The first thing that you can see is that superworms have the appropriate amount of fat and protein for an insectivore. Their protein falls in that sweet spot for protein needs, and so does their fat content. These 2 nutrients are very important for growing bearded dragons and leopard geckos. This makes superworms an excellent feeder option for your pet.
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 half the amount of fat as superworms.
Hornworms definitely dominate superworms in protein. So don't be afraid to offer your reptile hornworms. But do be mindful that their fat content won't fulfill all their nutritional needs. Which is why it's good to use hornworms as a supplemental feeder.
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 crickets and hornworms:
Superworms (g/kg) Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio
- Calcium - 1.2
- Phosphorous - 8.3
- Ratio - 1 : 6.9
Hornworms (g/kg) Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio
With a ratio of 1 : 6.9, superworms have a very poor balance of calcium and phosphorus. This means that it is important that owners dust their superworms with with calcium or gut-loaded with a high-calcium diet. 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. And if their have a poo calcium to phosphorus ratio, it's important to either gut load your hornworms, or dust them with calcium so to balance out the ratio.
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:
Superworm Fiber Content
Fiber - 8%
Hornworms Fiber Content
- Fiber - 9.4%
Both superworms and hornworms have a high fiber content compared to what your reptile vet recommends. It's important to know that too much fiber can cause impaction, which can be a terminal problem for your bearded dragon.
While superworms look “tougher” to eat compared to a big, juicy hornworm, this is actually misleading. Superworms have almost 2 percent less fiber per total body weight. This actually makes superworms easier to digest than a hornworm.
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.
The protein and fat in superworms sits in that sweet spot for your pet. So if you're raising younger pets, superworms are going to be a great feeder choice due to their high protein and fat content. But they do have a have a poor mineral balance, which means they should be supplemented with other feeders. For most pets, especially Bearded Dragons, turtles, and others that like to crunch and chomp their food, superworms 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, superworms 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 also breed very quickly. So if you're trying to create your own supply of feeders, crickets are a great insect to breed.
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.
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. And superworms are the same. They will stay in a feeder dish, and let their predator chomp down without putting up much of a fight. For these reasons, crickets and roaches are a great alternative. They will help stimulate your pet's prey drive, which can help create a happy habitat for your pet.
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.
Superworms can provide a strong basis for this diet. They contain high levels of accessible protein, and they will give your pet plenty of exercise to catch. However, superwosm still need to be dusted and gut loaded to nuetralize that poor calcium to phosophorus ratio.
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.