Reptiles consume a wide variety of foods. Some are herbivorous and others are carnivorous. Many offer a mix of both.
Be sure to provide the right food for your pet at the best time. Offering food outside their optimal feeding times can stress them. It can also cause illness.
Carnivores, like crocodiles and alligators, live off a diet of mostly fresh meat. They stalk animals and birds that wander through their habitats, chasing them until they catch them in the water and bite them. They may also eat reptiles, fish and other vertebrates as well as invertebrates such as insects, amphibians and worms.
They typically have long, sharp teeth towards the front, called canine teeth that are designed for fighting and tearing flesh. These are used in conjunction with flat molars that can grind and cut up their food. Carnivores, whether they are apex predators or mesocarnivores (like snakes), play a critical role in any ecosystem by controlling animal populations. They keep populations from getting too large and prevent disease from spreading between prey animals.
Omnivores, on the other hand, live off of a variety of sources – including plants, insects and fungi. They may be solitary or they may live in herds and flocks. Herbivores, such as grasshoppers, are usually found in open habitats, while omnivorous lizards, such as green iguanas, can be found on land, in forests and even in deserts.
Pet owners of herbivorous reptiles can benefit from feeding their pets a diet that is rich in nutrients. They should be careful not to overfeed their omnivorous reptiles with meaty foods, as they can lead to obesity and nutritional deficiencies.
Herbivorous reptiles rely on plant matter for the majority of their energy. This includes fresh greens, fruits, and commercial kibble. Herbivorous reptiles need high fiber foods to keep them feeling full and satisfied. Alfalfa, parsley, dandelion leaves, carrots, squashes, and berries are good examples. These foods also provide valuable vitamins and minerals.
Herbalivorous reptiles should avoid foods that contain high levels of fat. Excessive fat intake can lead to fatty liver disease. This is particularly problematic in tortoises that consume dog and cat food.
Reptiles that eat plants need to find their food in the wild. Depending on the species, this may be accomplished through sight, touch, or smell. For example, some lizards use their tongues to taste chemicals from potential prey, while others stick them out into the air to catch airborne scent particles.
In captivity, herbivores must rely on their owners to provide a well-rounded diet. Poor feeding practices can cause nutritional deficiencies and other health problems such as metabolic bone disease from low calcium and vitamin D, hypovitaminosis A, and visceral and articular gout from dehydration.
Some herbivorous reptiles benefit from the addition of insects to their diets. However, feeder crickets and worms do not provide the high level of nutrient makeup that these reptiles require. These animals can be “gutloaded” with supplemental nutrient-rich pellets to ensure they get the proper amount of nutrients.
Many reptiles are considered omnivores and can benefit from a variety in their diet. They may enjoy a mix of fresh greens, commercial “kibble” and some fruit. Insects like crickets, mealworms and wax worms can also be included. These are better than standard feeder mice as they are more nutrient-dense. They should be gutloaded with high-value dietary supplements before feeding to avoid nutritional deficiencies and overgrowth of intestinal parasites.
Herbivores will enjoy fresh vegetables like kale, collard greens and romaine lettuce, carrots, zucchini, dandelions and squashes such as pumpkin. They will also eat fruits like bananas and apples. These foods are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
In addition, a diet of live prey can be an excellent way to add variety and provide mental stimulation to your pet’s daily routine. This food should be fed sparingly as it is high in protein and fat. It is recommended that you use a frozen and thawed prey item that has been dusted with vitamin powder or a high calcium dusting agent.
Some reptiles that are traditionally thought of as carnivorous or herbivorous can eat meat and plants at the same time. For example, ring-tailed lemurs at zoos are listed as herbivores but they will eat fruit, leaves and nuts as well as small mammals and birds. Similarly, a snake called the Common Gartersnake is typically thought of as a rodent eating snake but it will eat fish and even jellyfish. Some herpetoculturists have found that these changes in dietary preferences are heritable and that some reptiles are hard wired to one food type or another.
Many reptile species, such as the gecko, young Chinese water dragons and monitors, and some chameleons, survive primarily on a diet of live insects like flies, crickets, and worms. While they will eat non-living food, most reptiles are genetically attracted to the movement of live, ambulatory prey that triggers their natural feeding instincts. Feeding a reptile that does not have access to wild-caught insects in a captive environment can result in nutritional deficiencies, particularly fats and vitamins A and D.
For this reason, a reptile diet should always include a fresh source of insect prey to meet its protein and fatty acid needs. Reptiles should be fed a variety of gut loaded and dusted feeder insects, such as mealworms, black soldier fly larvae or hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) to provide a broad nutrient profile. Some high fat feeder insects, such as wax worms, may also be included to add calories and essential fatty acids.
In addition to the insect food, herbivores should be offered a fresh salad mix of greens such as romaine lettuce and iceberg lettuce, spinach and cabbage daily. They should also be given fruits in moderation, such as tomatoes and berries (including raspberries), carrots, peas and cucumbers. A small amount of dried fruits is also acceptable. Be careful to avoid foods that are too rich in calcium as they can cause renal disease in herbivorous reptiles.