The best proteins for bearded dragons are insects and worms. Good options include crickets, dubia roaches, mealworms, and black soldier fly larvae. Lean meats like chicken, turkey and eggs can supplement the diet in moderation. Avoid proteins that are high in phosphorus like fish and yogurt.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Need Protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient for bearded dragons. They are carnivorous lizards that thrive on a diet high in animal protein. Protein provides amino acids that are the building blocks for strong muscles, bones, scales and internal organs. Bearded dragons at different life stages have different protein requirements:
- Baby dragons need up to 70% of their diet from protein to support rapid growth.
- Juveniles and subadults should get 30-50% of calories from protein.
- Adult dragons need about 20-30% of calories from protein.
Without adequate protein, bearded dragons can develop:
- Slow growth
- Muscle wasting
- Weak bones
- Difficulty shedding
- Increased risk of illness and infection
Getting the right amount of protein from appropriate sources is key to keeping bearded dragons healthy and thriving at every life stage.
The Best Insect Protein Sources
Feeder insects like crickets, dubia roaches, mealworms and black soldier fly larvae make excellent protein sources for bearded dragons. Here are some of the top insect options:
Crickets are a staple feeder insect for bearded dragons. They are soft-bodied insects that are easy for dragons of all ages to catch and chew. Nutritionally, crickets contain:
- 55-65% protein
- 15-20% fat
- High in vitamin B12, riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus and zinc
Crickets should be gut loaded with nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables before feeding to enhance their vitamin and mineral content. They can make up a significant portion of a juvenile or adult bearded dragon’s protein intake.
Dubia roaches are a staple feeder with many benefits:
- High protein – over 50%
- Higher fat than crickets to promote growth and breeding
- Can’t climb smooth surfaces or fly
- Don’t make noise
- Easier to digest exoskeleton
Dubias also contain important vitamins and minerals. They are one of the most nutritious feeders and a tasty treat for dragons. Dubias work well for juveniles and adult bearded dragons.
Mealworms are high in protein and fat:
- 18-25% protein
- 15-30% fat
However, they have thick exoskeletons and harder bodies. Mealworms should only be fed to adult dragons in moderation to avoid impaction. But they make a good supplemental feeder a few times a week.
Black Soldier Fly Larvae
Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) are a small soft-bodied worm that is an excellent source of protein and calcium for bearded dragons. BSFL have:
- 40-44% protein
- 34-35% fat
- Higher calcium than most feeders
The biggest drawback to BSFL is they lack some vitamins like B12 and K. Pairing them with gut loaded crickets or roaches balances out their nutrition. BSFL are a nutritious feeder insect to use for adult and juvenile dragons.
Best Worm Protein Sources
In addition to insect feeders, certain worms can provide beneficial protein for bearded dragons. Top options include:
Phoenix worms are a great protein source with many advantages:
- 45-50% protein
- 20% fat
- Soft bodies easy to digest
- High in calcium and vitamins
- Can be fed at all life stages
Phoenix worms can be given as treats or daily feeders. Their moisture content keeps dragons well hydrated too.
Silkworms offer bearded dragons:
- 55% protein
- 18% fat
- High in vitamins A, B and E
They have soft flexible bodies that are easy to chew. Silkworms are best fed to adult dragons and some juveniles due to their size.
- 18-20% protein
- 13-15% fat
They have tough exoskeletons and are more difficult to digest than other worms. Only adult dragons should be given superworms in limited amounts.
Hornworms are soft-bodied caterpillars that provide:
- 9-14% protein
- 6-11% fat
They are not very high in protein compared to other feeders. But hornworms contain calcium and make a good occasional treat for adult dragons.
Best Vertebrate Protein Sources
While feeder insects and worms will make up the majority of a bearded dragon’s protein intake, limited amounts of vertebrate protein can supplement their diet. Good options include:
Skinless chicken breast offers dragons:
- High quality complete protein
- Low saturated fat
- B vitamins
Chicken can be offered to juveniles and adults once or twice a week in bite-sized pieces.
Turkey, like chicken, provides excellent lean protein, B vitamins and low saturated fat. Turkey is a great source of tryptophan which helps produce serotonin for mood and sleep. Offer turkey in moderation to juveniles and adults.
Scrambled or hard boiled eggs make a very digestible protein for bearded dragons. Eggs provide:
- 13% protein
- 10% fat
- Biotin for skin/coat health
Eggs can be fed to juveniles and adults once or twice a week.
Protein Sources to Avoid
While most protein sources are fine in moderation, there are a few proteins that should be limited or avoided completely:
Fish is very high in phosphorus which can prevent proper absorption of calcium. This imbalance can lead to metabolic bone disease. Only feed lean fish like tuna occasionally.
Dairy products like yogurt are generally too high in sugar, fat and phosphorus for bearded dragons. The lactose can also be difficult to digest. Limit yogurt to an occasional lick as a treat.
Insects from the Wild
Catching insects from outdoors poses a high risk of insecticide exposure and parasites. Never collect wild insects as feeders.
Avoid feeder insects that are too large for the dragon’s head like adult locusts or superworms. The external skeletons and jaws can injure the mouth. Only use size appropriate feeders.
Mammals like beef, pork and lamb are very high in saturated fat. The dense proteins are also harder to digest. These meats are too rich to offer bearded dragons.
Gut Loading Feeders
Gut loading your insects and worms before feeding is crucial to boost their nutritional value. The most nutrient dense gut load foods include:
|Collard Greens||Calcium, Vitamins C, K, A|
|Mustard Greens||Vitamin C, A, K, Calcium|
|Bell Peppers||Vitamin C, Calcium|
|Winter Squash||Vitamin A, Potassium|
|Sweet Potatoes||Vitamin A, Potassium|
|Papaya||Vitamin C, Calcium|
|Mango||Vitamin C, A|
|Cantaloupe||Vitamin A, C, Potassium|
|Apricots||Vitamin A, C|
|Blueberries||Vitamin C, Fiber|
Gut load insects for at least 24-48 hours before feeding for optimal nutrition. Rotate different vegetables and fruits to vary nutrients.
Supplementing with Calcium
In addition to gut loading, dusting insects with calcium supplements is key. Pure calcium carbonate powder provides optimal calcium with each feeding. Lightly coat insects in calcium powder just before offering them to your dragon. Calcium supports bone health, muscle function, egg development and more. Use calcium supplements at the following levels:
- Baby dragons: Daily
- Juveniles: 5-6x per week
- Adults: 3-4x per week
- Breeding/egg-laying females: Daily
Avoid oversupplementing with calcium or using supplements containing phosphorus. Also provide UVB lighting for natural vitamin D3 production to help utilize calcium efficiently.
Best Protein Feeding Tips
Follow these tips to safely provide protein for bearded dragons:
- Choose fresh insect and worm feeders no more than a week old
- A variety of protein sources creates a balanced diet
- Always gut load feeders before feeding out
- Use size appropriate insects for the dragon’s head
- Coat insects lightly in calcium powder
- Feed vertebrate protein in moderation 1-2x per week
- Avoid overfeeding protein to reduce obesity risk
- Remove any uneaten feeders within 15-20 minutes
- Keep feeders in clean, ventilated containers at optimal temperatures
Sample Feeding Schedules
Here are sample daily feeding schedules for bearded dragons at different life stages to optimize protein intake:
Baby Bearded Dragon
- Morning – 25 small gut loaded crickets
- Afternoon – chopped collard greens, bell peppers, zucchini
- Evening – 20-30 small gut loaded dubia roaches
Juvenile Bearded Dragon
- Morning – 35-50 small crickets
- Afternoon – mustard greens, butternut squash, figs
- Evening – 30-40 small dubia roaches, 10 mealworms
Adult Bearded Dragon
- Morning – 50-60 medium crickets, 10 superworms
- Afternoon – collard greens, papaya, blueberries, carrots
- Evening – 35 dubia roaches, 2 silkworms, 1 scrambled egg (2x/week)
Tailor amounts and protein sources to your dragon’s appetite, age and weight. Offer vegetables daily and fruits 2-3 times per week.
Bearded dragons are insectivores that thrive on animal protein. Feeder insects like crickets, dubia roaches and mealworms provide the bulk of their protein needs. These can be supplemented with worms like phoenix and silkworms for variety. Vertebrate protein like chicken, turkey and eggs can also be added in moderation 1-2 times per week.
Protein supports muscle growth, bone strength, organ function, appetite and more. Baby dragons need up to 70% protein in their diet. Juveniles and adults require 20-50% of total calories from protein depending on age. Always gut load feeders with nutritious fruits and vegetables to boost their vitamin and mineral content.
By feeding a diverse mix of appropriate proteins and supplementing with calcium, bearded dragon keepers can optimize nutrition. This will lead to excellent growth, health and longevity at every life stage.