Can Tarantulas Eat Mealworms?

Mealworms are an incredibly popular feeder insect for many pets, so understandably many people wonder if tarantulas can eat mealworms. 

Tarantulas can eat mealworms without problem. 

Mealworms are also easy to work with for most tarantula enthusiasts; for example they don’t jump about like crickets or try to fly away like fruit flies. 

However before we give mealworms a “seal of approval” for tarantulas there are a few elements we need to consider in more depth…

Can Mealworms Hurt Tarantulas?

Most uneaten feeder insects can cause distress to your tarantula if left in their cage too long.

This applies to mealworms just as it does other livefood.

The reality is that while mealworms are herbivores, they still have tough mandibles (mouthparts) and are capable of giving your tarantula a nasty nip.

A mealworm that is instantly grabbed and eaten by your tarantula is very unlikely to do any harm. However a mealworm left to roam your tarantula cage may cause annoyance at worst, or serious damage if it nips your tarantula while it is attempting to molt. 

For this reason, while mealworms can certainly be fed to tarantulas, any uneaten mealworms should be swiftly removed from the cage.

Can Tarantulas Eat Mealworms?

Will Tarantulas Eat Dead Mealworms?

Some tarantulas have been reported to eat dead mealworms, especially if they are recently killed.

Indeed, some tarantula keepers rearing smaller tarantulas (slings and juveniles) chop up mealworms into smaller pieces, giving the smaller chunks to their tinier tarantulas. 

Not all tarantulas will accept a dead mealworm, but some will. Therefore it is always worth trying if this is something of interest to you. Just don’t be too disappointed if your tarantula turns out to be one of the specimens that turns its nose up at anything other than live prey.

Do Spiders Eat Dried Mealworms?

Tarantulas generally won’t eat dried mealworms.

While dried mealworms are obviously handy from the perspective of the tarantula keeper – thanks to their long “shelf life” – it seems that most tarantulas won’t try eating them.

Fortunately there are alternatives, like buying live mealworms and either slowing down their growth rates by keeping them in a refrigerator or freezing some of the mealworms for later use. 

Can Tarantulas Eat Darkling Beetles?

Mealworms aren’t “worms” at all. They’re the larvae of small black beetles, sometimes known either as flour beetles or darkling beetles. 

If you’ve bought a tub of mealworms but are finding that the worms are metamorphosing into adult beetles it’s an obvious question as to whether they can be fed to tarantulas.

Generally speaking tarantulas don’t eat darkling beetles. The tough exoskeleton and unpleasant taste renders them unappealing to tarantulas as food.

Probably a better option than trying to feed darkling beetles to your tarantula is using these adult beetles to start your own mealworm colony. Mealworms are incredibly easy to breed in the home, and you’ll quickly be producing a never-ending supply of the worms to feed to your tarantula collection.

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How to Extend the Life of Mealworms

The one frustrating thing about mealworms as a feeder insect is how quickly they pupate. If you only have a handful of tarantulas then you may well find that most of the mealworms turn into adult beetles long before they’re introduced to your spiders.

However there are a few options available to you. 

First, and possibly easiest, is to put the mealworms somewhere cool. This slows down their growth rate, extending the time it takes for them to turn into adult beetles. A household refrigerator tends to work well. 

When it comes to feeding time for your tarantula simply remove a few of the mealworms, allow them time to warm up (and so become more active) and then offer them to your arachnids. 

A second option used by some keepers is actually to freeze uneaten mealworms. These are then thawed out and fed to their spiders dead. While I have not personally tried this I know some keepers swear by this simple strategy to make a single tub of mealworms last for months.

Reasons Not to Feed Mealworms to a Tarantula

So even though we’ve discovered that tarantulas can eat mealworms, it’s a rather different question as to whether you should feed them. In the interest of balance, therefore, let’s discuss some of the downsides of feeding mealworms to tarantulas…

Mealworms Burrow Quickly 

Possibly the most annoying thing about feeding mealworms to tarantulas is just how quickly mealworms will burrow down into the substrate of your tarantula cage. Once they’re buried they’re incredibly difficult to find again. 

This has two knock-on effects of course. Firstly, if your tarantula doesn’t grab the mealworm very quickly then it may never even notice the meal you’ve offered. 

This is particularly problematic for shyer tarantulas which may not come tearing out to catch their dinner every time you toss a feeder insect in. 

Secondly, of course, a hidden mealworm can potentially represent danger the next time your tarantula molts. If the mealworm comes to the surface when your tarantula is molting and gives it a nasty nip then this can create a serious situation. 

This means that mealworms are really only a suitable food for tarantulas with a very strong feeding response, and any mealworms that aren’t instantly snapped up should be removed before they have a chance to burrow out of view. 

Mealworms Don’t Climb

Just as mealworms tend to burrow into the substrate, so they also don’t climb. That might not sound like much an issue, but it can make them unsuitable for arboreal tarantulas.

Most arboreal tarantulas hide away in burrows during the day; most typically a vertical piece of cork bark in captivity. Other insects that climb – such as locusts or cockroaches – will often climb up the bark, where the tarantula inside can sense them. They’re often picked off quickly.

However as mealworms don’t climb – and indeed will bury themselves within minutes of being put into your tarantula cage – your arboreal tarantula may not even be aware of their existence. In this way your tarantula may go hungry even when food has been offered. 

Mealworms Have High Chitin Levels

Mealworms are not considered to be the highest quality feeder insect around. They have thick shells and lack many of the nutrients seen in cockroaches or crickets. 

As a result, while tarantulas will definitely eat mealworms, and so they can be a regular part of the diet, they shouldn’t be the only insect you feed. Variety is key. By all means give your spider a few mealworms one week, but the next week try to offer cockroaches, crickets or locusts to ensure a wide range of nutrients are being consumed. 

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How to Feed Your Tarantula Mealworms

If you’ve decided to try feeding mealworms to your tarantula then there are a few practical tips worth mentioning before we round off this article.

Gut Load the Mealworm

In order to provide as much nutrition as possible to your tarantula it can be wise to gut load mealworms. This essentially means feeding the mealworms a rich and varied diet for a day or two before they’re given to your spider. 

While there are special gut loading formulas offered for reptile keepers, it can be just as effective to offer a range of fruits and vegetables to your mealworms. They’ll eat almost anything you’ll eat from raw carrot to apple. 

Use Forceps to Pick up Mealworms

Mealworms have a tough, waxy exoskeleton that many people find quite unpleasant to the touch. In addition, when you grab hold of a mealworm they tend to writhe around in an attempt to escape. This, too, is quite an unpleasant experience for some people if using your fingers.

To avoid this experience it can be wise to use forceps to pick up the mealworms. Of course, there is nothing wrong with using your fingers, if you so desire.

Drop the Mealworm In Front of the Tarantula

As mealworms quickly bury themselves in a tarantula cage it is worth dropping the mealworm right in front of your tarantula. In this way your tarantula has the best possible chance to spot the prey item and grab it before it disappears from view.

At the same time, it is worth giving your tarantula just one mealworm at a time, rather than scattering a handful far and wide around their cage. 

Drop a mealworm and wait for it to be grabbed by the spider. Then if you want to feed a second mealworm, drop this nearby once the first has been captured. This minimizes the chances of unobserved mealworms burying themselves in the substrate. 

Quickly Remove Any Uneaten Mealworms

To reiterate a point made repeatedly throughout this guide, any mealworms that begin to burrow and remain uneaten should be swiftly removed from the tarantula cage. The only mealworms left in the cage should be those that your tarantula is actively eating. 

Richard Adams
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