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
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
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