Axolotls are a very rare, beautiful, and unique type of salamander found in Mexico City, Mexico. These endangered salamanders look a lot like tiny colorful dragons, which is just one of the many reasons they are becoming so popular in the pet trade today.
Axolotls are a great aquatic pet if you have the time and patience to keep up with their changing dietary needs throughout life.
Axolotls can live for a surprisingly long time – up to 17 years by some reports – so it is important to stay informed about what they need in each life stage.
One of the biggest questions new axolotl keepers and breeders often have is about the axolotl’s dietary needs. Can axolotls eat superworms is a common question as well because superworms are readily available in most commercial pet stores.
We will take a look at this question in-depth in this article. Superworms are not the ideal food source for axolotls in any life stage. But if you know how to feed them safely, they can be a good emergency food source if you need one.
Watch An Adult Axolotl Eating a Superworm
In this short YouTube video made by an axolotl keeper, you can watch the keeper feeding the superworm to their axolotl using a pair of stainless steel feeding tongs.
Tongs can be a good way to maintain some control over the superworm, because these worms have a strong bite and can potentially hurt an axolotl even after the axolotl has swallowed them.
Understanding Superworms Versus Mealworms for Axolotls
Superworms are not the same insect as mealworms, even though they are frequently confused because their names are so similar.
Mealworms are usually smaller than superworms, although not always. Sometimes mealworms are fed extra hormones to make them grow larger. These are called “giant mealworms” and are usually labeled accordingly in pet shops.
As Exotic Nutrition explains, superworms are the larva of the Zophobas Morio darkling beetle. In contrast, mealworms are the larva of the Tenebrio Molitor darkling beetle.
So superworms and mealworms are relatives but they are not the same and they do not have the same nutritional benefits, as Fluker Farms highlights.
Superworm nutritional benefits
Superworms have the following nutritional makeup:
- More chitin (hard exoskeleton).
- More calcium.
- More fiber.
- More fat.
- Less protein.
Mealworm nutritional benefits
Mealworms have the following nutritional makeup:
- Less chitin (hard exoskeleton).
- Less calcium.
- Less fiber.
- Less fat.
- More protein.
From this overview, you can see that mealworms are a better choice if your axolotl needs more animal protein. If your axolotl needs more calcium, fiber, or fat, superworms are a better choice.
However, neither superworms or mealworms are an optimal diet choice for axolotls and we will explain why in the next section here.
Live Cycles: Superworms Versus Axolotls
To understand why it can be unsafe to feed superworms to axolotls, it is first important to learn a little bit more about the axolotl life cycle versus the superworms life cycle.
Superworms life cycle
Sciencing gives a great overview of the superworms life cycle.
These worms pass through four life stages – and they are only worms in one of these stages.
– Stage 1: the superworm is inside the egg. Each egg is an only one-tenth inch long. This is a very short life stage lasting only a handful of days.
– Stage 2: the superworm exits the egg and becomes a larva. This stage requires the larva to molt and shed their hard exoskeleton several times. Right after a molt is the only time the superworm will not have the hard outer skeleton.
– Stage 3: the superworm becomes a pupa. When a superworm is kept in isolation, it will enter the pupae stage much more rapidly.
– Stage 4: the superworm turns into the darkling beetle. At the end of the life cycle, the superworm becomes the darkling beetle.
Axolotls life cycle
The axolotl’s life cycle is surprisingly similar to the superworm life cycle, even though they are quite different species. These tiger salamander descendants go through five distinct life stages, as this whitepaper from Oxford University outlines.
- Stage 1: the axolotl is inside the egg. This stage lasts just a few days.
- Stage 2: the axolotl embryo begins to grow rapidly. This stage will see the embryo grow to reach about one-half inch.
- Stage 3: the axolotl exits the egg and continues to grow rapidly. This stage lasts about a week and a half.
- Stage 4: the axolotl begins to develop front legs and then rear legs. This stage will last at least a few weeks.
- Stage 5: the axolotl is functionally an adult, although the animal will continue to grow for up to 24 months until it reaches a full adult size of nine to 17 inches.
So now you can see how the superworm versus axolotl life cycle stacks up side by side. You may also be starting to see why it can be less safe to feed superworms to axolotls at least until they reach stage five.
What Are the Dangers of Feeding Superworms to Axolotls?
There are two main safety considerations to keep in mind if you decide to feed superworms to your axolotl.
1. Superworms have a particularly hard, thick outer skeleton (exo-skeleton) which is composed of chitin, material axolotls cannot digest.
Superworms have a harder, thicker exo-skeleton than do mealworms, which can be problematic for the same exact reasons we share here.
Not only do axolotls have no protein for digesting chitin, but the chitin can also get stuck in your axolotl’s gills or throat, causing choking. The chitin can also cause an obstruction or impaction in the stomach and intestines which can lead to death.
2. Superworms can bite! They have very well-formed mouth parts and also have legs that they will use to defend themselves.
Superworms are well-known for biting their predators even while they are being eaten and may even try to eat their way back out of a soft predator animal’s stomach.
Since axolotls are soft-bodied and remain that way throughout life, you risk your axolotl’s life when you feed intact superworms to your axolotl. The best approach is to remove the mouth segment and then offer the superworm.
Should You Ever Feed Superworms to Axolotls?
As this well-known axolotl keepers forum on Caudata explains, superworms are not considered to be an ideal food source for axolotls under any circumstances.
Superworms can be dangerous to feed to axolotls both because of their bite strength and because of their difficult and thick outer exoskeleton.
Superworms also do not have the right nutritional content to be ideal for axolotls. They have less animal protein which is what axolotls need the most. They also have more fat and can cause nutritional imbalances if feed too frequently.
However, when you know how to feed superworms safely by removing the mouth segment and waiting until they have just molted and do not have their harder outer exoskeleton, you can offer superworms to an adult axolotl as a treat food only.
Superworms are good to know about as an emergency backup food source just in case you ever need one. But as long as other food sources are available, you probably should not feed superworms even to your adult axolotl for safety reasons.