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Superworms Vs Mealworms
When it comes to your regular feeder insect, it is very important to ensure that the species you choose will be fulfilling the needs of your leopard gecko, bearded dragon, or other insect-eating pet!
In this article, we directly compare Superworms and Mealworms by looking at their protein, fat, mineral, and fiber content. Plus, we look at which insect your pet will prefer and how you can incorporate different insects into a more-balanced and engaging diet!
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
Keep in mind that this particular nutritional optimum is for reptiles and amphibians that eat only insects. Omnivores, while they will get a similar nutritional benefit from a small and variable selection of insects, often have different dietary profiles. For example, while Bearded Dragons like many kinds of insects, their overall diet includes high levels of fiber found in fruits, vegetables, and greens.
Ideally, insects should be high in fat and protein, while being very low in fiber. Low fiber increases how accessible the nutrients are, discussed in the section below on digestibility.
We can compare Sand Mealworms directly to this ideal insect by looking at the findings of a large study of insect nutritional composition:
Mealworms Protein and Fat Content
- Protein - 50%
- Fat - 31%
Superworms (Adults) Protein and Fat Content
- Protein - 47%
- Fat - 42%
As far as appearances go, both superworms and mealworms look very similar. And that's for good reason. They are both species within the same darkling beetle family. However, looking at their nutritional profile, it's clear that they only look the same.
Superworms offer the perfect balance of fat and protein for many reptile pets. Mealworms on the other hand, offer a nice amount of protein, but their fat content is rather light.
Likely the most common supplement used by reptile hobbyists is calcium. Calcium is extremely important to your pet, and many insect species simply do not contain enough calcium. Interestingly, reptiles and amphibians need another mineral - phosphorus - in order to process calcium. So, both nutrients are very important.
While many insects have a very similar fat and protein content, insects can vary wildly in their calcium and phosphorous content. Mealworms and superworms are an excellent example of how two very similar insects can contain very different mineral content.
Recommended Calcium and Phosphorus Ratio
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 mealworms:
Superworms (g/kg) Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio
- Calcium - 1.2
- Phosphorous - 8.3
- Ratio - 1 : 6.9
Mealworms (g/kg) Calcium Ratio
- Calcium - 1.2
- Phosphorus - 14.2
- Ratio - 1 : 11.8
Mealworms do not have a balanced mineral content for most insectivores. Most pet leopard geckos and other insectivores would need a calcium supplement of 20+ grams of calcium per kilogram of mealworms to make the ratio balanced - that’s a lot compared to Dubia Roaches.
As you can see, Superworms are clearly much closer to this optimal ratio. But they are still lagging behind what reptiles prefer. So, in order to get the ratio up to 2:1, all you need to do is use a calcium supplement - generally available as a dust or as a gut-load for your feeder insects. With this supplementation, superworms would then have the perfect balance of calcium and phosphorous.
As a rule, carnivorous animals have very short digestive tracks. This is true of ferrets and cats, as well as geckos, chameleons, and other insectivores. Simply put, protein needs to be broken down fast or it will begin to massive bacterial growth that will steal the nutrients. On the other hand, herbivores often need a very long digestive tract because they need a healthy microbiome to help break down complex fiber molecules.
Long story short: insectivores cannot process fiber as well as omnivores. Insects contain fiber mostly in the form of chitin - a material that makes exoskeletons rigid. Less fiber makes an insect easier to digest because the protein and fats inside can be easily accessed.
Here is the fiber content of superworms and mealworms:
- Fiber - 8%
Mealworms Fiber Content
- Fiber - 5.7%
Mealworms, while they have worse mineral content, have a less complex, thinner exoskeleton and are likely much easier to digest. If you have a sick pet or one that does not crunch it’s food a few times before swallowing (chameleons, some leopard geckos) - mealworms may be easier to digest.
That being said, superworms have a better mineral content and are still fairly low in fiber content. For most pets, especially Bearded Dragons, turtles, and others that like to crunch and chomp their food, superworms make a great feeder.
Other Factors to Consider
When it comes to rearing insects in your home (or garage), almost nothing is easier than mealworms and superworms. They both have a peculiar smell that is not necessarily unpleasant, but certainly musky. Essentially, mealworms and superworms can be successfully reared on a substrate of oats or cornmeal, supplemented with wedges of fresh vegetables to provide moisture.
The adult beetles can be separated out and will lay eggs in a new container. Ideally, you feed off the oldest larvae and only let a few pupate into beetles - minimizing the chances any will escape.
One noticeable difference between superworms and mealworms is that superworms cannot tolerate cold temps like mealworms. Superworms cannot be refrigerated, or they will perish. But mealworms can be refrigerated.
Which Insect Will My Pet Prefer?
When it comes to picking the perfect feeder insect, one of the most important questions is how engaging that insect will be to your pet. When it comes to helping your lizard display behaviors like stalking, chasing, catching, and handling prey, superworms are going to make them much more active.
This means superworms are a better choice for most active, adult pets that need as much engagement and entertainment as they can get. Superworms even like to dig under bedding, and some pets will stay active for hours looking for hidden roaches.
Mealworms can provide an easy prey item for juveniles, elderly pets, and pets that will not take other forms of insects. While their mineral content is not perfectly balanced, it can be supplemented with calcium powder. Mineral worms are also easy for you to handle, which can be useful if you are trying to train your Bearded Dragon or Leopard Gecko.
Don’t Forget Variety!
Superworms are more balanced as a regular feeder insect. They contain high levels of accessible calcium and are harder for your pet to catch - keeping pets engaged for longer and helping burn calories. But, superworms are not perfect.
If the superworms you have are too large or your pet does not process them properly, your pet may not be getting all of the nutrients they need. In the wild, this basic problem is overcome with variety - many different kinds of insects are targeted.
Mealworms can help supplement any insectivore diet, as they are easy to handle, keep for a long time, and most pets love any insects that resemble grubs. They have high levels of protein and fat, both of which are easily accessible.