Notes on Feeder Insects

Wendell Morrill, Ph. D.

Chameleon food can be supplemented with wild caught insects during the summer.  Most species of chameleons readily feed on night-flying moths, especially noctuids which are the adult stage of army and cutworms.  They are attracted to lights, and can be captured in large numbers in light traps.  Some female moths contain eggs and are a good source of protein.  It is interesting to note that some moths fly up into the mountains during the summer, and are a prime source of food for grizzly bears in the Rockies.  One disadvantage of using moths is that they are inactive during the day.  However, chameleons will eat eat the moths when they become active at twighlight.  Moths feed on nectar from alfalfa and other blossoming plants.

Not all moths are acceptable to chameleons.  For example, salt marsh caterpillar moths have a strong odor (and probably taste), and are rejected.   These moths usually are brightly colored with red or black, and others have white wings and black/orange abdomens.  Some chameleons hold prey in their mouth briefly before swallowing it, so they can  determine if it is distasteful.  
 
Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths.  In general, caterpillars that have sharp spines or fuzzy hair are not acceptable.  Several kinds of caterpillars build tents in trees, and include hairy and hairless species.  Caterpillars that feed on cherry leaves may contain toxins that might be harmful to chameleons.  Probably the common cutworms that are found in gardens may be good, also.   

Some flies are likely to carry bacteria from dead animals, feces, rotten fruit, etc.  Some chameleons are susceptible to bacteria that cause mouth infections.  Maybe flies carry these bacteria.  However, some kinds of flies probably are fine.

My chameleons have eaten honeybees and wasps, and seem to be able to handle them without being stung.   
 
Mealworms and superworms are commercially available, and are commonly fed to chameleons.  However, a couple of my big veiled breeders died after eating them.  One chameleon was bleeding from the throat/mouth/stomach suggesting that she had been damaged by the worm.  This does not prove that the mealworm killed the chameleon, but I don't risk it any more.

Grasshopper hatchlings are great for newborn chameleons, especially for pfefferi, weidershemi, and other small species.  Collect grasshopper egg pods in the fall, and keep them in the refrigerator for several months, then they will hatch when moved to room temperature.  Grasshopper nymphs are about 10X larger than cricket nymphs and they are active during the daytime.  They can be fed lettuce and wheat bran for a few days before offering them to the chameleons.
 
Crickets are probably one of the best foods.  There are websites that describe rearing methods.  Opinions vary on cricket feeding, and the value of gut loading
.

Aquatic insects, such as mayflies, stoneflies, etc. can be captured during brief periods during the spring.  They appear to be acceptable for chameleon food. 

Waxworms are available from commercial outlets. They are excellent food.  Rearing information is available on the internet.

 

Wendell Morrill, Ph. D.

Big Sky Chameleon Breeders
 

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