Waxworms, like mealworms and king mealworms, are not actually worms at all but rather the larvae of another creature, in this case a moth. In appearance they look like tubbly little yellow caterpillars with brown-tipped heads. They are a useful addition to a keeper's pantry provided you are aware that they should only be fed sparingly. In some ways waxworms are to herps what sticky puddings are to humans: yummy but fattening. Offer a wriggling waxworm to your pet and note how quickly it seizes it and gulps it down, whether your pet is a salamander, a gecko or a larger lizard.

Waxworms are sold in pet shops in plastic containers that usually contain a deep layer of wood shavings. You should see several of them wriggling around on the bottom if you hold the tub up and look at the underneath. Some places also sell them in brown tubs that look a bit like the ones that bait shops used to sell maggots in.

Nutritional Value

Unlike the other kinds of live food mentioned so far, waxworms do not really need gut loading, nor would they probably take any of the conventional gut-loading food offered. The biggest value in waxworms is their fat plus any calcium you can dust onto them before offering them.

Keeping your waxworms

If you do not have many pets and wish to keep the waxworms as long as possible, I have found the best solution is to simply stick the container in the fridge (not the freezer!). This slows down their system and thus delays metamorphosis by some weeks. When you take them out to feed them you should find they start wriggling again at room temperature after ten minutes or so, which invariably makes them more attractive to their predators.

If you do not want to keep them in the fridge (or someone objects), you can keep them at room temperature, but you should be aware that metamorphosis into the pupae stage will usually happen within a week or so, when the waxworm will appear to harden into a sort of cylinder with just a wriggling tip at one end (the wriggling tip is often useful for telling if the pupae is in fact alive). Within a week or so of this stage, a small silver-grey moth will then emerge from the shell of the cocoon. It is worth noting that these moths are not very good fliers and so are easily caught should they escape. Often you will realise the full metamorphosis has taken place when you hear the beating of wings against the plastic container lid. The good news is that most reptiles and amphibians relish the pupae and the adult moth as well as the waxworm, and in fact putting a few of the adult moths into a cage can make good exercise for some creatures. I have certainly noticed that some of my smaller lizards go mad chasing a fluttering moth around their terraria.

Feeding your waxworms

To be honest you hardly need worry about feeding waxworms. If you buy them from the shop in a tub and keep them at room temperature, those that are not eaten will metamorphose after a few days into the pupae stage, and then a week or so later into the small silver-grey moth adult. At this point it is a good idea to eliminate the adults by feeding them to your pets, as moths running loose in a house can be a nuisance in the long term.

Who can benefit from waxworms?

While waxworms should only be fed sparingly owing to their fat content, most reptiles and amphibians do benefit from them as a treat if nothing else. They are more useful in feeding to creatures which lay eggs frequently, for example my female leopard geckos who after a bout of laying are rather thin around the tail, having drawn on their reserves during this period. Another exception I would reluctantly make is for creatures which just will not eat, even if you try force-feeding them. While this is an undesirable situation, offering them waxworms may be the lesser of two evils. Certainly my own male Fat-Tail Gecko has lived largely off a mixture of waxworms and whatever crickets I could coerce him into eating from my fingers, which hasn't always been much. Despite this rather strange diet he still managed to successfully mate with his female, and viable eggs have been produced. Finally, offering waxworms as a treat or a reward for good behaviour (if such training methods can be considered for reptiles and amphibians) is a good way of hand-taming those pets for whom it is suitable, such as lizards like Bearded Dragons or the more responsive Fire- and Tiger Salamanders.

Offering your waxworms

Either offer a waxworm from your fingers or drop one or two onto the substrate near the intended predator. The wriggling of a waxworm will quickly attract your pet, but I have noticed they are very quick to find even the most static waxworm pupae. In any case the food is usually devoured avidly. If anything you have to be careful with hand-feeding waxworms in case your friend's jaws take too eager a lunge and trap your finger(s) instead!

A Note on Sizes

Waxworms come in one size, about an inch or less long. They are fairly tubby and I would not consider them suitable for small lizards such as anoles or anything smaller than that (eg Fire-Bellied Toads, for example). Anything upwards of this can probably safely take them, but the smaller the animal, the fewer the waxworm should be fed, even if the creature shows a distinct liking for them. A good rule to remember is that most if not all reptiles and amphibians should not be offered a prey item that is longer than their own head. Waxworms are also not the easiest food to digest, their cuticle being rather thick. Fortunately most reptiles at least will eagerly chomp on them as they force them down their throats, thus chewing them up to a degree. Owners of frogs and toads, which as I understand them do not chew but tend to swallow food immediately, should probably be cautious as well.

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