Last Updated on October 6, 2023 by Samantha Harris
Omnivorous tortoises, like desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii), can eat worms, but herbivorous species, like Russian tortoises (Testudo horsfieldii), can get sick from ingesting animal protein.
How much and how often you feed omnivorous tortoise worms is size and species-dependent. According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, under 15% of a wild tortoise’s diet is primarily plant-based protein.
Fed in moderation, worms can be a healthy dietary addition. If a tortoise is an omnivorous species, it can eat wax worms, superworms, mealworms, nightcrawlers, and red wigglers.
Live superworms shouldn’t be fed to baby tortoises because they bite. Wax worms are also high in calories and fat, so they should only be provided to tortoises in moderation.
Do Tortoises Eat Worms?
If a tort is omnivorous, like red-footed and yellow-footed tortoises, it can occasionally eat animal matter in moderation. However, the bulk of their diet should be vegetation.
Worms are a high-protein food source, compromising 40-60% protein.
A tortoise shouldn’t consume much protein because it causes shell conditions like pyramiding. However, they need some dietary protein for building and repairing bodily tissues.
However, eating a few worms a week won’t push a tortoise over its safe protein threshold.
Herbivores, like sulcata and leopard tortoises, are unlikely to eat worms in the wild. While the occasional worm is unlikely to cause digestive distress, they’re not part of their regular diet.
If a tortoise doesn’t eat worms in the wild, avoid offering them any in captivity.
Can Baby Tortoises Eat Worms?
Baby tortoises can safely consume some animal protein if they’re omnivores. If they’re herbivorous tortoises, the same rules apply to hatchlings as adult tortoises.
Worms like earthworms are an excellent source of the following nutrients:
Baby tortoises need calcium to develop their shells. A calcium deficiency can affect adults and juveniles, but a shortage affects baby tortoises more acutely due to their rate of growth and development.
According to the Veterinary Record, baby tortoises given insufficient calcium didn’t develop healthy shells. However, worms shouldn’t be a baby tortoise’s primary source of calcium.
According to Zoo Biology, raised feeder worms (including mealworms, superworms, and wax worms) contain too little calcium. Instead, offer them as a supplement alongside other calcium-rich foods.
Certain worms bite, and superworms have sharp pins on their backs. Baby tortoises have more sensitive and vulnerable mouths, so it can make life uncomfortable.
For omnivorous baby tortoises, feed them mealworms and wax worms.
Can Tortoises Eat Wax Worms?
Wax worms are the larvae of wax moths, which are pale yellow or white, with small, black markings on their side. Their feet are black-tipped, have small black or brown heads, and are smaller and rounder than other worm species.
Wax worms are safe to feed omnivorous tortoises in moderation. However, as they’re high in fat and calories, overconsumption can cause obesity in animals with slow metabolisms, like tortoises.
Can Tortoises Eat Superworms?
Superworms are the larval stage of a darkling beetle, the sophabaas morio. For this reason, superworms are also called the morio worm.
Can tortoises eat morio worms safely? They won’t harm an adult tortoise when it eats and digests them, but they should be kept away from hatchlings and baby tortoises.
A mature tortoise will have a more resilient mouth and know how to eat a superworm without getting pricked by the sharp pin on its back. You can feed them dead worms to lessen the chances of a bite.
Offer morio worms, not superworms, to a tortoise. Superworm refers to various large mealworms, which aren’t recommended for tortoises. The two will be similar in color and shape, but morio worms have dark ends on their bodies and are primarily black.
Can Tortoises Eat Mealworms?
Mealworms aren’t ideal for tortoises as they have thick outer shells.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that mealworms can lead to impaction and intestinal blockages in tortoises. As a minimum, this can mean part of the worm passes through the gut undigested.
Despite the name, mealworms aren’t worms but the larval stage of the mealworm beetle. When left to grow, mealworms become pupa and emerge as adult beetles.
Can Tortoises Eat Nightcrawlers?
Nightcrawlers are often raised as fish bait but also used as reptile food.
Their name refers to many different species of earthworms. However, they’re classed as large earthworms, with the most common type being lumbricus terrestris, which has a pale, light-brown color.
Nightcrawlers are safe for tortoises to eat, but be wary of their quality.
Bait shops often sell nightcrawlers in bulk. However, bait shops raise them for bait, not to be fed to pets. For this reason, buy nightcrawlers raised specifically as reptile food.
Can Tortoises Eat Red Wigglers?
Red wigglers are an earthworm closely related to nightcrawlers, sometimes even sharing a name with them. You can spot a red wiggler by its thin shape, small size, and deep red color.
Red wigglers are usually a good choice for tortoises, at least compared to night crawlers, as their size makes it easier for tortoises to capture, chew, and digest.
Because they’re related to nightcrawlers, buy red wigglers raised as reptile feed, not bait.
How Many Worms Can Your Tortoise Eat?
The number of worms a tortoise can eat depends on its species and size.
Alongside other plant and animal proteins, worms should make up less than 15% of a tortoise’s diet, meaning that a small quantity can be offered once or twice a week.
Omnivorous tortoises should eat vegetation and some animal protein, such as worms.
Tortoises can eat worms, but not all varieties suit their diet.
Earthworms are nutritious for omnivorous tortoises in moderation. However, red wigglers contain more protein and fat, which harms a tortoise’s health if too many are eaten.
Tortoises shouldn’t consume wild-caught worms, as they may contain harmful parasites or toxins. Instead, feed tortoises captive-bred worms raised exclusively as food for reptiles.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all meal plan, so tortoises require a varied and nutritious species-specific diet.