Gerbils are omnivores, which means that they can digest both plant and animal matter. In the wild, gerbils eat insects. Feeding gerbils insects is a great way to supplement their diet with protein.
The best insects for gerbils are mealworms, waxworms, superworms, crickets, and locusts. Feed your gerbil no more than 1 to 2 insects per day. Offer a wide variety, as different insects have different nutrient profiles. Both live and dried insects are acceptable, but most gerbils prefer live insects.
We’ll explain why insects are a necessary part of a gerbil’s diet, and which insects gerbils can eat. We’ll then cover how to feed your gerbil insects, and how often.
Do Gerbils Eat Insects?
Wild Mongolian gerbils eat a vast array of different foods. They live in desert climates and have evolved to eat whatever small bits of food they come across. They are adept at seeking out food in harsh lands where few plants or animals survive.
A wild gerbil’s diet contains grains, seeds, grasses, plant roots, and branches, fruit, and also insects. This varied diet means that they can easily acquire a wide array of nutrients to keep them healthy.
Insects are a particularly important part of a wild gerbil’s diet. The kinds of insects gerbils eat depends on what is available. For example, they may eat flies, worms, crickets, or beetles and their larvae. As long as they can catch it, they’ll eat it.
Gerbil food mixes, that you can buy at pet stores, usually contain only plant-based foods. You can enrich your pet gerbil’s diet by offering them occasional insects, as a treat. This will help to emulate the diet that your gerbil would naturally have in the wild.
What Is the Nutritional Value of Insects?
Insects are high in protein, which is vital for a gerbil’s diet. Most insects are made up of around 15 – 22% protein.
According to Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals, gerbils fare best on a diet of 16% protein. Protein helps gerbils to build and repair their bodily tissues and maintain their shiny coat.
Most gerbil food mixes, especially cheaper varieties, don’t contain any animal protein. They contain protein from plant sources, such as seeds, nuts, and soy meal. But animal protein is essential for gerbils, as they’re omnivores.
Along with protein, insects are also an important source of vitamins and minerals. Most insects are good sources of iron, vitamin A, calcium, and B-vitamins, among others.
Insects make great additions to a gerbil’s diet. However, they should not be the only thing your gerbil eats. The main focus of a gerbil’s diet should be a mixture of grains, seeds, nuts, and vegetables.
What Kind of Insects Do Gerbils Eat?
In the wild, gerbils eat almost any insects that they come across. Pet gerbils can enjoy a wide variety of different kinds of insects, depending on what’s available.
For optimal health, feed your gerbil a range of different insects. This also ensures it won’t get bored with its food. Not all gerbils will like the taste of all insects. So if your gerbil refuses one type, there are plenty more you can try.
Can Gerbils Eat Mealworms?
Mealworms are the go-to animal protein source for most gerbil owners. They’re cheap, easy to get hold of, and a great source of nutrition.
Mealworms aren’t true worms – they are the larvae of mealworm beetles. They can grow up to 1 inch in length, though most are smaller than that. They contain roughly the same amount of protein as chicken, gram-for-gram.
You can feed mealworms live or dried, though most gerbils prefer to eat live insects. They are slow and easy to catch, but are more appealing to gerbils than dried versions. Live mealworms will quickly pupate and turn into beetles if not fed to your gerbil straight away.
The only downside to mealworms is that they are low in calcium. They are also high in phosphorous, which can inhibit how much calcium is absorbed. That’s why you should offer a variety of insects, rather than solely one type.
Can Gerbils Eat Wax Worms?
Wax worms, or waxworms, are the larvae of wax moths. They contain the most vitamin E of all the common feeder insects, and are high in fiber. However, their protein content is lower than mealworms.
Usually, it’s easier to find mealworms at pet stores than waxworms. But waxworms can be a great occasional treat, if you can get your hands on them.
Waxworms tend to be bigger than mealworms, but they are an acquired taste. Some gerbils love them, and some won’t touch them. If your gerbil doesn’t like waxworms, try mealworms or superworms instead.
Can Gerbils Eat Superworms?
Superworms look similar to mealworms, but are much larger – up to 2.25 inches long at full size. They are much higher in fiber and fat than mealworms, but lower in protein.
Gerbils will happily eat superworms as a treat, but they shouldn’t be the only insect you offer because of their lower protein content. Feed superworms alongside mealworms, wax worms, and crickets for variety.
If you’re buying superworms, ensure that they are the correct species (Zophobas morio). Sometimes, pet stores sell giant mealworms and label them as superworms. Giant mealworms are just mealworms that have been fed a chemical to make them grow larger.
Can Gerbils Eat Crickets?
Crickets are one of the best sources of animal protein for pet gerbils. According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, crickets contain more protein on average than mealworms (20.1%). They also contain less fat and saturated fat.
Live crickets are available at most pet stores, especially those which specialize in reptiles. If you prefer, you can also buy dried crickets, which you can order online.
Most gerbils prefer live crickets to dried ones. The difficulty with live crickets is that they’re fast, and have a tendency to escape.
Can Gerbils Eat Locusts?
Locusts are also known as grasshoppers. They’re similar to crickets, in the same order (Orthoptera) but different families. Locusts have shorter antennae then crickets, but their bodies are larger.
As they’re larger, locusts contain more calories and protein than crickets. They are more expensive because of this, but well worth it for an occasional gerbil treat.
Some gerbil owners find that because locusts are slower than crickets, they’re easier for gerbils to catch. They also have a smaller chance of finding hiding places, or escaping through cracks in the gerbilarium.
Can Gerbils Eat Beetles?
Mealworms and superworms are both larval forms of beetles (mealworm beetles and darkling beetles specifically). If a mealworm or superworm finds a hiding place inside your gerbilarium, it may eventually emerge as a beetle.
Mealworm and darkling beetles are not poisonous, so you don’t need to worry if your gerbil eats one. However, most gerbils don’t find them appetizing. This may be because beetles have a hard exoskeleton which is difficult for gerbils to bite through.
Waxworms don’t turn into beetles. They turn into moths, which are safe and easy for gerbils to eat.
Can Gerbils Eat Bugs from the Yard?
You should never collect wild bugs from your home or yard to feed your gerbil. All insects should be bought from a reputable source, such as a pet store.
They will ensure the insects are clean, disease-free, and fit for pets to eat. They can also control the insects’ diets, making sure they don’t eat anything unsuitable.
Wild bugs could have come into contact with poisons, such as pesticides. If your gerbil eats a bug that has swallowed or touched poison, it could become sick. Contaminants in soil, such as bacteria and parasites, could also be dangerous.
Some bugs might pose other risks, too. Centipedes and spiders, for example, could bite your gerbil.
Feeding Gerbils Insects
Most pet stores sell insects, in both live and dried varieties. They can also be ordered online.
If you can’t find the insects you want, try visiting a specialist reptile store. Insects are the main food source for many reptiles, like geckos and bearded dragons. Insects sold as reptile food are perfectly safe for gerbils.
Feed one or two mealworms or crickets to your gerbil per day. Larger insects, such as superworms and locusts, should be fed slightly more sparingly. One every few days should be more than enough.
Dried insects can be added to your gerbil’s food bowl, as you would any other food. If you’re planning to hand-feed, we’d recommend holding the insects with tweezers. Gerbils can become quite excited when offered insects, and may accidentally bite your fingers.
Do Gerbils Eat Live Insects?
The matter of live vs. dried insects really comes down to your personal preference. Gerbils can eat both. There are several benefits of choosing dried crickets or mealworms for your gerbil:
- Availability. Dried insects tend to be easier to get hold of, as you can order them online.
- Shelf life. Dried insects can be stored for a long time, right alongside your gerbil’s food mix. Live insects have to be fed to your gerbil soon after purchase.
- They can’t escape. Crickets are fast, and can fit through small gaps in the gerbilarium. Mealworms can bury themselves in substrate to avoid being eaten.
However, most gerbils prefer live insects. Gerbils have a natural instinct to ignore dead insects. A dead insect could have died of poisoning, which would then harm your gerbil to eat it.
Live insects are a great form of enrichment, as your gerbil will enjoy hunting them. They’ll help inspire your gerbil to exercise, too.
It’s best to move your gerbil into a separate enclosure when feeding them live insects. This way, the insects can’t escape or burrow into substrate. A large plastic box with a tight-fitting lid (and some air holes) works well.
What If My Gerbils Won’t Eat Insects?
Protein is an integral part of a gerbil’s diet. Insects are one of the easiest and most natural places to source protein from.
However, some gerbils don’t like to eat insects. Though it’s rare, you may find that your gerbil turns its nose up at both live and dried insects.
If this is the case, don’t worry. There are plenty of other ways that you can get animal protein into your gerbil’s diet.
- Most gerbils thoroughly enjoy a little hard-boiled egg as a treat.
- Cheese. Be cautious with cheese as it contains a lot of saturated fat. A small cube every few days is sufficient.
- Roast or boiled chicken. The chicken should not be cooked in oil, and should not have any salt or seasonings.
- Dog or cat food. Select the dry kind, with a protein content of at least 20%. Find a brand that is labeled as ‘complete.’ ‘Complete’ foods must meet strict nutritional requirements according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Add a couple of pieces into your gerbil’s food dish every day.
Some pre-made gerbil food mixes contain animal protein, too. Choose a ‘formed’ gerbil food, which is extruded and shaped into little biscuits. That way, your gerbil won’t be able to pick out the bits it doesn’t like.