Can Chameleons Eat Beetles? (which ones are safe?)

Having a chameleon takes lots of care and detailed observation, especially where their diet comes into the picture. They can eat a host of insects such as crickets, cockroaches, ants, grasshoppers and many others. But, the beetle is one of their favorite menu items, with their larvae being a particular delicacy.

In general, chameleons can eat beetles. But, not all varieties of chameleons can eat every kind of beetle. There are some differences between what the panther and veiled chameleons should consume, for instance. But the safest beetles are ones that come from the darkling family.

Generally, it is important that new chameleon owners source their pet’s food from a reputable reptile supplier. This way, you don’t need to worry about what types of food are dangerous to their chameleon or not. They will all be safe – but the nutritional quality and price will vary.   

For the more advanced lizard owner, the best way is to breed a feed cage specifically to give their chameleons fresh offerings. It guarantees they’re pesticide-free and will be the appropriate size for their chameleon to eat.

Can chameleons eat darkling beetles?

Generally speaking, darkling beetles are the beetles that spend the beginning of their lives as worms e.g. those that we call mealworms or superworms.

Both beetles belong to the Tenebrionidae family which contains more than 2000 species.

SuperwormsMealworms
Latin nameZophobas morioTenebrio molitor
Size2-2.27 inches (3.5 – 6.5) cm long0.75 inches (1.2 to 1.9 cm)
Nutrient contentHigh in nutrients. 20% protein, 15% fat and high in calcium.20% protein, 13% fat
low calcium (one third of Superworms).
Worm to beetle time15-50 days.Max 1 year
Beetle lifespan2-12 years.2-3 months.
Pupae incubation time5-20 daysAround 20 days
Features of two of the most popular worms/beetles for chameleons.

In this post, I will sometimes use beetle and worm interchangeably because they are just different growth stages of the same organisms (the difference between babies and adults). 

Almost any larvae from the darkling beetle family of insects are appropriate for chameleons to eat. But some have less nutritional value than others. The most common and readily available of these are mealworms and superworms.

And whereas the larvae are easiest for the chameleon to deal with, it is also perfectly fine for a grown chameleon to eat the darkling beetles that superworms and mealworms eventually turn into.

However, when it comes to young and baby chameleons, the sharp legs and hard shells of beetles may be too much for them to swallow, but will not be directly harmful to them if they manage to ingest the beetles.

Other Dietary Components

It’s important to note that in the wild chameleons don’t have certain things available to them compared to when they’re in captivity. This is why it’s important to obtain a bred chameleon and not one you find from subtropical areas.

Therefore, the insects given to pet chameleons usually don’t have all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that they would normally get in their native habitat. Since chameleons are technically omnivores, they must have both vegetables/fruit and protein.

This means chameleons are best off when they also have things like hibiscus flowers, apples, bananas, lettuce, kale and other leafy greens. Plus, they shouldn’t simply dine on beetles as a sole source of protein. They need a variety of insects.

Mealworm Beetles

Mealworm beetles are a healthy source of nutrients like vitamin B complex, omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fiber. These make for a great supplement to a diet of other insects such as crickets and grasshoppers grown for lizard feed. They can eat them dried, freeze-dried or fresh.

All of these nutrients help with bone and joint health along with keeping their eyes, skin and circulatory system healthy. Because chameleons will eat almost any insect, choosing the right insects such as mealworm beetles will ensure they’re getting a well-rounded diet.

The mealworm itself is also an excellent food for when you first bring home your baby chameleon. As a matter of fact, it should be a staple of a young chameleon’s diet when they become a pet. However, baby chameleons should ideally only eat freshly fed (gut-loaded) mealworms because starved, dried or freeze-dried ones have fewer minerals and nutrients in general.

Superworm Beetles

Superworms are another tasty treat that chameleons love to chow down on. While they are similar to mealworms, they are much larger and remain in their larval stage for no more than five months. This means superworms are five times bigger than mealworms, last for a shorter time and this also makes them more expensive!

However, these delicious worms are high in good fats and wonderful sources of calcium and fiber. Calcium is excellent for chameleons, but too much fat may create obesity issues. Therefore, while they can be a common menu offering, superworms should be more like treats than regular meals.

Beware that chameleons having tried Superworms for the first time often have a hard time accepting ordinary, less tasty, food (such as mealworms) again.   

Because Superworms get so large, it’s best to feed them to adult (or larger species of) chameleons than smaller or babies chameleons.

The superworm looks like a bigger and fatter mealworm, but they are in fact two different species. They both turn into similar types of beetles, but at different speeds.

Many reptile experts recommend the owners breed Superworms and mealworms on their own. This will ensure the chameleon eats the appropriate size according to its age and maturity. And also ensures the quality and age of the worms (and eventually the beetles).

Can chameleons eat Japanese beetles?

Japanese beetles are not toxic to chameleons and are in principle safe for them to eat, however the exterior is very hard due to its chitin exoskeleton and it has strong mandibles that may hurt your chameleon when ingested.

Even in the grub stage, they pose a serious risk to the delicate organs and digestive system of a chameleon. This is because this particular beetle has incredibly strong mandibles that can tear them up from the inside if not chewed properly by the chameleon.

If you hunt around through online chameleon forums, there are several heartbreaking stories of chameleons dying mere days after consuming a Japanese beetle. Therefore, if you keep your chameleon outside with you, you have to watch it and stop your pet from eating potentially harmful foods.

Can chameleons eat ladybugs?

Generally speaking, no.

Do not feed your chameleon ladybugs as they are often toxic. They will also taste bitter and your chameleon is unlikely to swallow ladybugs once it attempts to eat them.

However, ladybugs are a bit tricky because some are toxic while others can be fine for your chameleon to eat.

What about blister beetles?

Blister beetles are toxic and should therefore not be fed to chameleons or other lizards.

Adult Blister beetles are brightly colored insects with little camouflage ability. They range in size from 3 to 20 mm, with most being between 10 and 15 mm in length. They have slender leathery bodies and metallic green, blue or striped yellow wing covers. These insects feed on leaves and flowers and are often found on plants in bloom.

Blister beetles are, as their name implies, implicated in the formation of blisters should they come in contact with exposed skin.

This is due to a toxin, called cantharidin, which they produce to ward off predators. Therefore they are also very dangerous to chameleons and other lizards to eat.

Can chameleons eat fruit beetles?

Fruit beetles are one of those iffy insects for chameleons. They’re best for larger varieties of chameleons but they will harm smaller types. Also, they have to be in their grub stage to be nutritious and safe enough for them to eat. However, they are high in protein and other beneficial nutrients that chameleons need.

Fruit beetle worms are a popular food choice for bearded dragon or chameleon owners as they have a high nutritional value and resemble superworm beetles but can be used for variation.

What beetles do panther chameleons eat?

Panther chameleons are fairly large chameleons. Therefore, they can eat bigger beetles than other chameleons. Remember, they should more often eat the larvae or grub stages rather than full-grown with the hard outer shell. However, they can stomach the shell better with a fair amount of safety.

Unlike other chameleons, panthers don’t require as many fruits, vegetables, and foliage. Therefore, they should have a diet that’s high in protein, filled with a variety of large bugs like crickets, grasshoppers, and cockroaches. The list below indicates which kinds of beetles are best for panther chameleons to have as part of their daily menu:

  • Fruit Beetles (grub stage only)
  • Mealworms (regular and lesser)
  • Superworms (for adults, the larger and juicier the better)
  • Flour Beetles (best for when owners breed these beetles themselves)
  • Bean Weevils (these are small, so panthers require more than smaller varieties)
  • Silkworm beetles
  • Smaller cockroaches

What beetles does the veiled chameleon eat?

Veiled chameleons are a smaller species and, therefore, must eat smaller foods so that they digest easily. Also, they require more foliage, fruits and vegetables than their panther counterparts. While they should have a wide variety of foods, there are limits to the kinds of proteins they can ingest.

Almost all beetles should come in grub and larval forms so they get all the nutrients without risking problems to their health. Almost any kind of small bug or insect will suit their diet (see list above), but in regards to beetles, the ones listed below are especially suitable:

  • Mealworms (lesser and regular)
  • Flower Beetles (small)
  • Bean Weevils (most ideal)
  • Silkworm beetles
  • Sow bugs (technically not beetles, but also suitable!)

Coclusion

To sum up, don’t worry about feeding your chameleon beetles. They are versatile insect eaters that will tolerate most insects but do keep an eye out for toxic beetles such as the ladybug or blister beetle mentioned here. Also, the size and “sharpness” of the beetle you wish to feed your chameleon should always be considered.

Just as there are certain things to consider when you want to make soil from the outside safe and sterilize rocks for your reptile enclosure, it is always important to consider the quality of beetles you collect in the wild, e.g. if you pick up Japanese beetles or sow bugs as they may be contaminated.

Therefore, fresh home farmed worms and beetles are always preferable as they are freshly fed and will be of the quality and size you want them to be for your chameleon.