Superworms and the potential risks

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Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Mardy on Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:09 am

After a recent discussion with a reputable long time breeder, I had initially decided against posting this. Mainly because most people don't believe in superworms causing injuries to geckos, and I just didn't have it in me to deal with having to defend myself. But I was browsing another gecko forum recently and happen to see a recent thread on this issue. So I responded to the thread over there, and I'll go ahead and copy/paste my post here. It's important for people to know that my goal is to raise awareness, it's not to try to scare folks from using superworms. We still use superworms here after the incidents, but we do crush their mandibles before feeding supers to our geckos.

Before I start, here's what that thread started with, this happened to someone else:

In writing things may sound dramatic, and some people can be skeptical until it happens to them. A friend of mine was feeding his gecko a superworm. She saw his gecko bite once and suddenly the worm dropped out of her mouth. After that the gecko started refusing to eat completely. Concerned he took her to the vet and a bite mark was seen in the inside of the mouth which had began to show signs of infection.

Please smash the superworm's head prior to feeding.

With thanks to cricket4u -- 8 Jan 2012

With that out of the way, this is our story.

On Jan. 16th around 1am in the morning, I fed my beautiful super giant mack snow raptor a superworm. It was really just a treat, as she usually gets dubia roaches every other day. But she was looking through the tank, looking cute, so I dropped a superworm in the tank for her.

She gobbled up the worm, didn't get to chomp on the head and just swallowed it pretty much. I was instantly worried when I saw it, so I hopped online to start researching. Every sites/posts I've read, everybody said superworms are 100% safe, that all negative things said about superworms are myth. People suggested that a gecko's stomach acid would kill it instantly if the superworm isn't already dead going in. Anybody that attempted to suggest superworms could cause injuries to geckos were instantly shot down, called liars, called names, etc.. So having read that, I went to sleep feeling a bit better.

Next day everything carried on as usual. I noticed seeing her out and about a couple of times, didn't think much of it at first. Around 1pm I noticed there was a superworm on the floor of the tank, regurgitated, and fully intact. That's when I knew something was wrong, so I opened up the tank, and saw this:

http://www.onlinegeckos.com/media/superworm-injuries/superworm-injuries1.jpg

*The reason I'm putting these in as links and not embedding pictures directly into the thread, is because these pictures are graphic. So click on it on your own free will, but be warned they are images of blood, poop, and the nasty stuff.

I was horrified, and instantly panicked. The feeling was like witnessing something bad that just happened to your family/friends. I got really sick. And here's a pic of the regurgitated superworm:

http://www.onlinegeckos.com/media/superworm-injuries/superworm-injuries2.jpg

My poor gecko looked so pale and white, I thought for sure she was dead:

http://www.onlinegeckos.com/media/superworm-injuries/superworm-injuries3.jpg

Over the course of two weeks straight, she defecated blood at least twice a day. They looked like this:

http://www.onlinegeckos.com/media/superworm-injuries/superworm-injuries4.jpg

I did take her to the vet, an exotics animal vet that is familiar with leopard geckos. He was surprised she lived past the first day after seeing the pictures. But aside from that, he couldn't tell me where she was bleeding internally, he had no way to stop the bleeding. He even prescribed me Metronidazole, which is an antibiotic used to treat parasite infections. He thought the bleeding may have come from parasites, which I said was not the case.

But I took the dose home just in case, and went and got a fecal exam to make sure she did not have any parasites. The fecal exam came back negative, no parasite infection. I end up not giving her any antibiotics because blind treating her may end up making her weaker.

The vet also prescribed Carafate, which as explained to me is like a pepto-bismol for reptiles. Now that's something I could definitely see help, so I followed the instructions and gave her a smaller than instructed dose of it for a few days.

On the 3rd week, she finally stopped defecating blood. And a few days ago, she pushed out this pile of junk:

http://www.onlinegeckos.com/media/superworm-injuries/superworm-injuries5.jpg

I never thought I would get so excited looking at poop, but I really was excited looking at a poop that was not in a pool of blood. And two days ago, she started acting like she wanted to eat. There was a routine where when I opened the tank, she would poke her head out if she wants to eat, and she did that two days ago. So I fed her a dubia roach, she ate it without hesitation. I was honestly worried right then as maybe eating would've reopened whatever wound she had.

But I'm glad to say, she defecated without blood again, so looks like she fought through it and will be OK now thumbs up 2

Here she is, still a bit pale, but she's starting to get color in her once again:



Compare this to when she was completely healthy, she has a ways to go yet. But at least she fought through it and she looks like she'll be fine. This is a video taken in December when she was healthy:




So if anybody ever has any doubts superworms can cause injuries to a leopard gecko, or even death, I hope this puts rest to that. Superworms have incredibly strong mandibles. Have you ever held a superworm and pressed your finger against its mouth? It'll bite, and you will hurt. That's how strong their mandibles are. If they can bite hard enough for us human skins to feel it, imagine what they can do inside a gecko's body.

Also by the looks of the regurgitated worm, it sure didn't look like it was dissolved in any way. So for people to suggest superworms will die of stomach acid right away is also wrong. The superworm will die eventually, but the problem is, what damages would it cause inside a gecko's stomach before dying?

Now I'm not advocating to stop using superworms completely. We still use superworms here, but we no longer just feed them anymore. We pinch their heads (which in effect breaking their mandibles). Some people don't want to do that because it's messy and takes time, but to know there's a chance your gecko could bleed out like mine did, or maybe die, do you really want to take that chance?

People can say this is a super rare occurrence, but I have doubts about that. In the internet age, we are finally seeing more people report such things on forums and on websites. Where as 10 years ago things like this could happen and nobody would know about it. Also the reptile vet I went to thought the blood came from parasite infection. That leads me to believe other people may have taken their geckos to vets when they saw blood in the poop, and be given antibiotics and called it a day. Some may have their geckos die and a novice owner would not even know the death may have been caused by a superworm.

To prove this isn't all that rare, just 2 weeks after this incident, we had another gecko that ate a superworm wrong. (This was prior to us deciding to pinch all superworm heads) She violently regurgitated this superworm after not chomping its head while it went in. She stopped eating for a few weeks due to it.



Fortunately she did not bleed, so apparently the superworm didn't do the same type of injuries to this gecko. But it was bad enough for this gecko to regurgitate the superworm violently and stop eating completely. So twice in two weeks, rare? I must be just having bad luck if this is truly rare.

Anyways, on a brighter note, you guys notice how all the pics of the poop and blood were on the paper towel? This awesome gecko walked out of her hide to the corner even while she was really sick and bleeding internally, and she never made a mess outside of that corner. This is one special dear pet, and I'm so glad she fought through it. I was feeling really bad and responsible because I'm the owner that fed her a big juicy superworm. I listened to others that superworms were 100% safe and that pinching heads was not necessary. My pet almost died due to it, never again.

That's our story, again I'm not advocating to not use superworms at all. But I feel it's important for people to know the potential risks, and that you can always play safe and just pinch their heads to break their mandibles before feeding them to your geckos. Good day Smile

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by SaSobek on Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:21 am

wow crazy, I am glad your gecko made it I never would have thought it happen, but anything can happen.

great story thanks for posting.

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Kermit on Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:46 am

I was wonderng when this was going to show up Smile just to add mardy, this is strictly your assmption, it wasn't proven by a vet, it wasn't proven or disproven it could have been something else aside of the superworm, xrays or sonogram could have shown where the bleeding was coming from or at least "pooling" yet none were done. Metronidazol is also called flagl, it is used to treat several issues aside of parasites, which is in a way inaccurate because it is used to treat protozoa infections such as giardia as well as being used to treat colitis which will cause rectal bleeding, I know because I have a dog that suffers from chronic colitis and he has it prescribed. Here's more info on it: *What is Metronidazole?*Metronidazole is an antibiotic and antiprotozoal medication used to treat various conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, nonspecific diarrheal disorders, infections caused by Giardia (a cause of diarrhea), and periodontal disease.
Its other uses include:
•    An antibiotic that effectively treats inflammatory bowel disease    
•    Remedies certain diarrheal disorders    
•    Treats infections caused by Giardia (intestinal parasite)    
•    Also treats periodontal disease    
*How it works:* 
Metronidazole is especially effective against anaerobic infections - bacteria that can live without oxygen. It's able to penetrate bone, making it especially useful in oral/dental infections. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties in the large intestine and is an effective anti-diarrhea medication for certain diseases.

So technically you should have used this, it could have helped your leo and settled any internal inflamation pretty quickly.

I do agree that for younger leos switching to larger prey it would be prudent to crush the heads on supers until they become proficient eaters. Eros' diet is 90% supers and when he eats, he watches the super, looks for the head then strikes. With experience your leos will/should learn how to eat prey so it doesn't harm them. When he was younger tho I did crush the heads on the supers but if your leo dosnt eat slow moving prey they will likely refuse this feeder if pinched.

So aside of the arguement that they have strong pinschers, the same thing could be said for mealies as well as I have been bitten by both. Overall the thing to take away from this thread is to use caution and logic no matter what you feed. When feeding live food, any live food, it can fight back whether is a bug, or a mouse, rat, or what have you. Thanks for your contribution mardy, I'm glad your leo is doing better.

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by gothicgurrrl on Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:58 am

Oh dear Sad thanks for posting this.
I'm worried about my geckos now. I feed superworms/morioworms as a stable diet... my gecko Banana strikes the head and eats the worm, and she refuses to eat anything that isn't running. But Grumpy never strikes the head, he just bites the worm anywhere and eats it.. sometimes they bite his mouth. I have tried crushing the head but he will just lick the worm and walk away, uninterested. :S
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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Kermit on Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:10 am

Don't worry too much sarah, just be cautious as you usually are and I'm sure it'll be fine.

This was what I was worried about... mass panic and paranoia.

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Mardy on Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:20 am

Please don't panic Sad I didn't want that to happen from this post. But if you do observe a gecko that does not strike at supers properly, it probably helps to crush the mandibles prior to feeding.

There's a way to pinch them that breaks their mandibles without killing them. Their head does not need to be cutoff or crushed, that kills them. Their mandibles are at the very edge of their head. Hold one up with one hand just below their head so they can't squirm. Then take a finger and press it against their mouth, you'll see how they open up their mandibles and take a bite at you. Yes it'll hurt, which shows you how strong they are.

You just need to pinch the very edge of their head to break their mandibles. I've tried it and it does not seem to kill them. It's icky because they ooze liquid when you do that, but they seem to survive. If you crush a bit too much, then yes they'll die.

But they're your animals, you don't need to do this if you don't want to. And just because this happened to me and some other people, doesn't mean it'll happen to you. You are in control Smile

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Smiley on Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:24 am

Thanks for the info man, definitely gonna keep it in mind. Great post thumbs up 2
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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Kermit on Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:29 am

Thanks for the info on how to properly crush the mandibles mardy. That'll help a lot thumbs up 2

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Mardy on Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:40 am

Kermit wrote:
So technically you should have used this, it could have helped your leo and settled any internal inflamation pretty quickly.

So aside of the arguement that they have strong pinschers, the same thing could be said for mealies as well as I have been bitten by both.


Actually I went by what the vet said, he prescribed Metronidazole specifically thinking it was a parasites infection that caused bloody stool. He had never heard of superworms causing problems so assumed it wasn't so (sounds like everybody else really). So to play safe I went out of my way (outside of vet's recommendation) to get a fecal exam that proved there was no parasite infection. I had done research on Metronidazole and there are some pretty bad side effects. One of the things vets do, which unfortunately human doctors do as well, is to perform blind treatment. Many think giving broad spectrum antibiotics is a good thing no matter whether a gecko checks out positive for anything. I've had too many bad experiences with vets and human doctors to know sometimes you do have to second guess them.

Could Metronidazole have helped? Possibly. Could it have made her worse during the worst possible time when she lost a lot of blood already and was weak? Definitely possible as well. The good thing is she's now better.

With regards to getting bitten by feeders, I've tested many feeders and only have ever felt the bite of a superworm. They are really something else.

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Krakatoa on Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:41 am

Thanks for the information! If I do switch to supers, I'll definitely follow what you did with the mandibles.
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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by gothicgurrrl on Sat Feb 11, 2012 10:50 am

I'm going to try crushing the mandibles Smile thanks for the info!! Smile
I hope your leo is okay Smile
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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by James on Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:23 pm

I feed anke superworms via tweezers,I make sure she gives them a few good bites on the head befor I let them go. Smile

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by smsararas2 on Sun Feb 12, 2012 1:01 am

Thank you for this interesting, although upsetting post. It never hurts to have a "myth" proved out, or denied. I will still use my superworms as I always have BUT I will pay much more attention to HOW they are eating them and if I have one that does not crush the heads, I may be doing it for them.
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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by peach75 on Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:10 pm

Mardy wrote:Please don't panic Sad I didn't want that to happen from this post. But if you do observe a gecko that does not strike at supers properly, it probably helps to crush the mandibles prior to feeding.

There's a way to pinch them that breaks their mandibles without killing them. Their head does not need to be cutoff or crushed, that kills them. Their mandibles are at the very edge of their head. Hold one up with one hand just below their head so they can't squirm. Then take a finger and press it against their mouth, you'll see how they open up their mandibles and take a bite at you. Yes it'll hurt, which shows you how strong they are.

You just need to pinch the very edge of their head to break their mandibles. I've tried it and it does not seem to kill them. It's icky because they ooze liquid when you do that, but they seem to survive. If you crush a bit too much, then yes they'll die.

But they're your animals, you don't need to do this if you don't want to. And just because this happened to me and some other people, doesn't mean it'll happen to you. You are in control Smile

OMG! dude the same exact thing happened to my bearded dragon with superworms, but I never fed them again! I was told they where crappy food anyway and I didn't know then. that scared the heck out of me. I wanted to tell you to that the one on the first pic is a few grams overweight. My gecko was that chunky and the vet told me to stop feeding mealworms for awhile because she was overweight. the tail shouldn't be bigger than the neck. I'm just looking out. i wouldn't feed them anymore if i where you after that. They got to much fat anyway. happy she recovered tho thumbs up 2

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Mardy on Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:54 pm

She's fed a strict dubia roach diet, one roach every other day. Dubia roaches are probably the lowest fat, healthy feeder around, so a bit fat storage in the tail isn't a bad thing when she's fed healthy diet especially before breeding season. Female geckos will feed a lot during winter time in preparation for spring breeding. That tail will go down guaranteed once she starts breeding.

For a pet gecko that isn't going to be a breeder, then I'd say yes if your gecko had a fat tail like that, you should cut back a lot on feeding.

The superworm was a treat something probably fed to her once every couple of weeks. Dumb of me to do it really, but sometimes they look at you in such a cute way, you can't help but give them a treat.

Did your bearded dragon live through it?

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by peach75 on Mon Feb 13, 2012 3:08 pm

Mardy wrote:She's fed a strict dubia roach diet, one roach every other day. Dubia roaches are probably the lowest fat, healthy feeder around, so a bit fat storage in the tail isn't a bad thing when she's fed healthy diet especially before breeding season. Female geckos will feed a lot during winter time in preparation for spring breeding. That tail will go down guaranteed once she starts breeding.

For a pet gecko that isn't going to be a breeder, then I'd say yes if your gecko had a fat tail like that, you should cut back a lot on feeding.

The superworm was a treat something probably fed to her once every couple of weeks. Dumb of me to do it really, but sometimes they look at you in such a cute way, you can't help but give them a treat.

Did your bearded dragon live through it?
Yeah, he did but he did not eat for like 2 weeks and he was losing weight. The vet gave him some medicine to soothe the stomache but I can't remember the name. I had to give him some liquid nutrition for a while and he was a stubborn little guy. That taught me a lesson, my friend told me only to feed them as treats too but I gave him 3 a week. My heart dropped. I thought he was going to die and it would have took me a long time to forgive myself if he died. That was my buddy Smile

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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by Mardy on Mon Feb 13, 2012 3:20 pm

Well I'm glad your beardie made it thumbs up 2 I know how you felt, I told myself the same thing about how I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if my gecko died. She's my personal favorite pet out of our collection.

Supers can still be fed, they are only potentially dangerous if their mandibles are intact and that they are swallowed without heads being crunched.

Here's another shot of her, all better and hugging her favorite water well Smile


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Re: Superworms and the potential risks

Post by peach75 on Mon Feb 13, 2012 3:32 pm

Mardy wrote:Well I'm glad your beardie made it thumbs up 2 I know how you felt, I told myself the same thing about how I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if my gecko died. She's my personal favorite pet out of our collection.

Supers can still be fed, they are only potentially dangerous if their mandibles are intact and that they are swallowed without heads being crunched.

Here's another shot of her, all better and hugging her favorite water well Smile


She's a pretty girl! I know it's a relief to see her doing good know. You know what's weird, I never seen my gekos drink water. There water just evaporates,lol
My beardy die about a year ago but he was 10. All of a sudden his heart just stopped. I miss that boy. the vet actually told me they was a crappy feeder so I don't bother with them. My buddy told me before this happened that a superworm flipped and pinched his geckos eyelid but just made a little hole. I thought he was lying and then look what happen to me Embarassed

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