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Can Turtles Eat Mealworms? Facts & Safety Guide

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

By Kerry-Ann Kerr

Western Painted Turtle eating a mealworm

Pet turtles consume a variety of turtle pellets, vegetables, and live food. They can even enjoy the occasional piece of fruit for a treat. But you might be wondering if turtles can specifically eat mealworms, and the answer is yes. Turtles can enjoy mealworms live and dried. We’ll discuss what mealworms are and how you would serve this larva to your turtle.

What Are Mealworms?

A mealworm is the larval form of a mealworm beetle, which is part of the Darkling beetle species. The beetles go through four life phases: egg, larva, pupa, and eventually adult.

Mealworms can be served to reptiles, fish, and birds and are generally valued for being high in protein.

You can get mealworms live or dried for your turtle, and both have different protein, fat, and fiber values, meaning if you add mealworms to your turtle’s diet, you will have to account for that so you don’t overfeed them. Overfeeding your turtle can lead to dangerous conditions like obesity and fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis).1 Before feeding your turtle mealworms, you must gut-load them to ensure they are nutritionally sound.

mealworms in wooden bowl
Image Credit: Elena Schweitzer, Shutterstock

What Is Gut Loading?

When you buy insects from pet stores, they’re sourced from breeders who produce large quantities as quickly as possible, so they generally lack the proper nutrition your turtle needs to thrive. To increase their nutritional value, you can feed them nutritious food for about 24–48 hours before feeding them to your turtle. This is called gut loading.

If you are under a time constraint and need to feed your turtle sooner, you can always dust the mealworms with the minerals and vitamins they lack. Generally, store-bought insects are missing calcium, which is incredibly important for reptiles kept as pets.

Ways Your Turtle Can Enjoy Mealworms

While turtles will enjoy live or dried mealworms, live worms are easy to feed and add moisture to your turtle’s diet. It’s also more entertaining for your turtle to go after live mealworms than dried ones.

You will have to keep the mealworms in a tub that has good ventilation, and it’s recommended that you always gut load them before feeding them to your turtle. On the other hand, dried mealworms have more protein, fat, and fiber, and are rich in amino acids.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle
Image Credit: Erika Varga, Pixabay

What Else Do Turtles Eat?

As we mentioned, live insects only make up a fraction of what your turtle will be eating. But if this is your first time owning a pet turtle, you might be thinking about where to start regarding mealtimes.

How Often Do You Feed a Turtle?

If you are unsure how to work out how much your turtle should be getting and how to factor extra servings like live insects into their recommended pellet intake, ask your vet for advice. The answer will depend on a few factors, like their species, size, and age; smaller or younger turtles will eat more frequently than adults that only eat every 2 to 3 days.

hermann turtle eating
Image Credit: Studio Empreinte,Shutterstock

Carnivores and Omnivores

Pond turtles, Painted turtles, and Red Sliders are omnivores, while species like the Spiny Soft-Shell turtle are considered carnivores. Age can also factor into how much animal protein they need; juvenile aquatic turtles need more animal protein and will eat more vegetables when they mature. This requires you to adapt to these changes in eating habits.

If your turtle is carnivorous, they will enjoy a diet of pellets and live animal protein, and if they are omnivorous, their food ratio will typically look something like this for an adult:

  • Over 50% plant material
  • Approximately 25% pellets
  • Approximately 25% live animal protein

Turtles also enjoy a treat occasionally, but it should never make up more than 5% of their diet. You can feed these treats to your turtle:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Melons
  • Turtle treats
  • Insects (live or freeze-dried)

Final Thoughts

Your turtle can eat mealworms since they are considered a healthy, protein-rich source of energy that they will also really like the taste of. However, it’s easy to overfeed any pet if you aren’t paying attention, so make sure you work out how much your turtle should be eating, and your vet can help.

Mealworms and other insects should only comprise 25% of most adult turtles’ diets, but your species may differ. Care must be taken when feeding mealworms since they’re high in fat, and they will also need to be gut loaded to ensure they contain the proper nutrition for your turtle.

Related Read:

Featured Image Credit: Cat Hammon, Shutterstock


Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

Authored by

Kerry-Ann lives in Scotland and wishes her garden was bigger so she could have her very own Highland cow but thinks her dogs probably wouldn’t like that idea very much. She has a La Chon called Harry who was poorly with a liver shunt when he was a puppy. It wasn't likely he would make it into adulthood, which was difficult to comprehend, but he beat the odds and is a healthy old man now. She also has a Pug called Maddie...Read more

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