Axolotls are becoming more popular outside of their home territory in Mexico City, Mexico. Thanks primarily to the enthusiasm of keepers and breeders, more and more people are discovering these adorable and engaging aquatic pets.
Axolotls are large salamanders with a very unique history. They are so rare in the wild today that they are considered to be nearly functionally extinct.
But this means that your choice to keep a pet axolotl is even more important to the survival of the species. Of course, this also means you have a steep learning curve when it comes to learning to feed your new pet!
In this article, we tackle the complex topic of whether axolotls can eat mealworms. We will talk about the axolotl digestive system and the types of foods that these animals most easily eat and digest. Can axolotls eat mealworms? If so, how many? Let’s find out!
Watch a Full Grown Axolotl Eat a Large Mealworm
In this short video made by an axolotl keeper, you can watch a fully grown adult axolotl eat a large mealworm.
But just because keepers feed mealworms to axolotls, does this mean mealworms are always the right food choice? Not necessarily, as we will discuss next.
Can Axolotls Eat Mealworms: No and Yes
Axolotls are a particularly unusual type of salamander for several reasons.
1. Axolotls are only found in one place in the whole world – in a lake near Mexico City, Mexico.
2. Axolotls do grow arms and legs but almost never lose their juvenile characteristics and come out to live life on land as most adult salamanders do.
3. Axolotls do not have a specific type of protein required to digest chitin, the component that makes the hard exoskeleton (outer skeleton) found on bugs, worms, and crustaceans.
This last fact is the most important when you are deciding whether to feed your axolotl mealworms of any size.
What Is the Mealworm Life Cycle Like and Why Does This Matter for Axolotls?
Mealworms have a hard exoskeleton. As Mealworm Care explains, the mealworm is actually the larval stage of a beetle called the darkling beetle.
In stage one of the mealworm life cycle, they are inside an egg. Then in stage two, the mealworm comes out of the egg and begins to grow. This part of the life cycle lasts about 10 weeks.
While the mealworm is growing, it will grow and shed its hard exoskeleton several times. This can happen as many as 20 times while the mealworm is growing!
This is critical to know if you want to feed your axolotl mealworms. Remember in the previous section here when we said axolotls cannot digest the chitin that makes the hard outer skeleton of the mealworm?
Well, right after a fresh molt, the mealworm doesn’t have a fully-formed exoskeleton and is quite soft. You an tell when a mealworm has just molted because it will have a white body that makes it look almost albino next to the other mealworms.
This is the only time it is safe to feed mealworms to your axolotl because the chitinous outer skeleton is actually missing. But don’t wait! Feed them immediately because mealworms grow a new exoskeleton very quickly.
Understanding the Axolotl Life Cycle and How It Relates to Diet
This is a great question to ask because axolotls start out their life cycle very tiny!
As Axolotl Biology highlights, the axolotl inside the egg is only about 0.07 inches long.
Axolotls have five life stages. Stage one is the egg stage.
Stage two is when the axolotl embryo begins to grow and grow. The axolotl embryo literally doubles in size right before hatching.
(For a very in-depth biological explanation of all the many important events that must happen in this stage, check out this article!)
Stage three is when the axolotl hatches and becomes a larva. At this stage, axolotls are still so tiny they measure less than one-half inch at hatching time.
Stage four is when the axolotl larva will start to grow first the front legs and then the hind legs. Stage four concludes when the hind legs are fully formed.
In stage five, the axolotl is about half the size it will be when it reaches full adulthood. So in most cases, this means your axolotl may measure five of six inches in length.
As stage five continues for the next 18 to 24 months, your axolotl will continue to grow rapidly provided you are feeding the proper foods in the proper proportions. Fully grown adult axolotls will measure anywhere from nine to 17 inches on average.
When Can Axolotls Start to Eat Mealworms?
Now that you have a better understanding of how much your axolotl has to grow to reach adulthood, you can better understand the challenges of feeding mealworms to axolotls.
If this is the very first time you are caring for an axolotl, you have likely discovered already that axolotls in the larval stage can only eat very tiny prey like bloodworms and black worms.
As axolotls grow up, they develop very primitive “teeth” that are more like stumps to be used for grasping prey. Axolotls can’t really chew anything with these teeth, but they are useful to be sure wriggling live prey can’t get away.
The average size of an adult mealworm ranges from one-half to one inch long. So you definitely can’t feed a mealworm to your larval axolotl, who measures at most one-half inch.
The issue is further compounded because axolotls can only handle soft worms and other prey that don’t have a hard outer skeleton or shell.
As the popular axolotl keeper forum thread on Caudata explains, there is a real danger that the exoskeleton will get caught in your axolotl’s gills or throat and they will choke.
It is never safe to feed mealworms to axolotls until they reach stage five of their life cycle and become a full adult. At this point in time, they have some ability to cope with mealworms as food or treat the source, although this still isn’t ideal.
How to Feed Mealworms to Axolotls
There may be times throughout your axolotl’s life that you can’t get nightcrawlers or red wrigglers (earthworms), which are the axolotl adult’s best food source.
Sinking soft pellets are another option, but not all axolotls will eat them willingly.
So it is nice to know how to feed mealworms to your axolotl safely if you run into trouble finding other foods.
As you have probably guessed by now, the only time it is truly safe to feed your axolotl mealworms is immediately after molting. This is when the mealworms will have soft bodies.
Consequently, your axolotl won’t have to cope with the hard exoskeleton that may cause choking or intestinal impaction.
However, never feed mealworms to your axolotl without supervision. Mealworms are also known to bite their predators and will sometimes even chew their way back out of an animal with a soft body.
For this reason, it is very dangerous to feed mealworms to your axolotl without first making sure they are unable to bite. While your axolotl will no doubt prefer hunting a wriggling mealworm, you do need to remove the mouth part before feeding for safety.
Now that you know how to safely feed mealworms to an adult axolotl, you can have this backup food source handy if you need it.