What do ackie monitors eat? Ackie monitors are carnivores, which means that they eat other animals. To be more specific, they are primarily insectivorous, but they are also known to eat a significant amount of lizard prey (King, 2008). Insects and lizards are both low-fat foods. Pet ackies are likely to do best on a diet that reflects what they eat in the wild, so when designing a feeding schedule for your ackie, make sure to plan a low-fat diet primarily consisting of well-gutloaded insects, with occasional lizard prey.
Ackie Monitor Feeding Schedule
According to Robert Mendyk et al., small but frequent meals is likely to be a healthier feeding approach than large, occasional meals. Here is a good schedule to start with:
- Hatchlings and juveniles (0-6 months) — daily
- Subadults and adults (>6 months) — every other day
- Reproductive females — daily
How many insects should be offered per feeding?
Hatchlings and juveniles should be fed as much as they can eat, as they need the energy and nutrients to support growth. For subadults and adults, offer roughly as much as they are capable of eating within a 5-10 minute period.
Reproductive females (females that are housed with a male) should be essentially allowed to eat as much as they want. Even if you plan on disposing of the eggs, she still needs enough nutrition to form them properly without negatively affecting her health.
How large should prey be?
Like many other monitors, ackies can take down rather large prey relative to their size. It is recommended to feed your ackie an insect roughly the same size to slightly bigger than the size of the lizard’s head.
Food Options for Ackie Monitors
Insects & Other Invertebrates
As a survival mechanism, ackie monitors are opportunistic feeders, eating whatever prey they can find. In their native habitat, the majority of ackie monitor diet ends up being invertebrates like grasshoppers, beetles, cockroaches, spiders, isopods, caterpillars, cicadas, snails, stick insects, centipedes, crickets, and ticks (King, 2008).
Here is a list of appropriate feeder insects/invertebrates to choose from:
- Black soldier fly larvae
- Discoid roaches
- Dubia roaches
Like most insectivores, ackie monitors are attracted to motion and generally prefer their food live. They seem to enjoy the chase (Kuhn & Julander, 1999), and it’s a good source of exercise. However, if you put live insects into your ackie’s enclosure to hunt, then, make sure to provide a source of food for the insects so they have something to nibble on aside from your lizard. Usually a piece of squash or apple is plenty to tide them over until they inevitably get found and eaten.
All feeders should be captive-bred and well fed and hydrated. Avoid offering wild-caught insects to avoid introducing unwanted diseases or parasites to your pet.
Other Feeder Options for Ackie Monitors
Although ackies primarily eat invertebrates, it’s important to remember that vertebrate prey is also part of an ackie monitor’s diet— particularly lizards. The same study which listed commonly-eaten invertebrates also noted that “despite having a low frequency of occurrence in the diet of V. acanthurus, lizards represented a large percentage of the total volume of food consumed.”
Feeder lizards are not nearly as easy to get as feeder insects, but here are some options that are generally reasonably accessible:
- Green anoles
- House geckos
- Iguana meat
To avoid passing reptile parasites from the feeder to your pet, it’s best to use pre-killed and frozen feeder lizards rather than live or freshly-killed.
Generally speaking, more caloric options like eggs and young birds or rodents do not appear to be a particularly large part of ackie monitors’ natural diet. However, these foods can be used to add further variety to your ackie’s diet and help female ackie recover lost resources after laying eggs. Because they are very energy-dense, however, use them sparingly — otherwise, your ackie can get fat!
- Quail eggs (with shell)
- Button quail chicks
- Young mice
- Young rats
Commercial Diets for Ackie Monitors
Although fresh food is best, high-quality commercial diets are another way to add even more variety to your ackie monitor’s diet. They’re also good to have on hand for emergencies when you don’t have fresh food on hand.
In a pinch, canned/vacuum sealed feeder insects can also be useful.
DON’T NEGLECT VARIETY!!
Each different type of food has a slightly different array of nutrients to offer, so one of the best ways to make sure that your ackie gets well-rounded nutrition is to offer as diverse of a diet as possible. According to Horn and Visser, a restricted diet may lead to an amino acid imbalance, which affects protein synthesis, and thus affects the animal’s overall health. It is also reasonable to assume that a restricted diet can also lead to imbalances in other nutrients, which in turn leads to illness.
Dietary Supplements: Calcium, Multivitamins & Gutloading
Although providing UVB and a variety of different foods goes a long way toward balancing your ackie’s nutrition, dietary supplements are a handy way to help cover any leftover deficiencies. Even wild ackies self-supplement in a way — Horn and Visser also noted that wild monitors may unconsciously self-supplement by rubbing their prey through soil before eating it (p.231). Let me make one thing clear, however: dietary supplements are NOT a “fix” for a poor diet!
Calcium is essential to a captive insectivore’s diet because captive-bred insects have a chronically low calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. When there is more phosphorus than calcium present in a food, the animal’s body has to source calcium from its own reserves to properly process the phosphorus. Dusting feeder insects and invertebrates with calcium helps correct this imbalance.
For this reason, ReptiFiles recommends lightly covering all invertebrate prey with a high-quality reptile calcium powder supplement (excepting isopods and hornworms, which are naturally high in calcium). Here is a list of ReptiFiles’ preferred calcium supplements:
To “dust” prey in calcium powder, put the prey in a plastic bag with a little bit of calcium powder, seal, and gently shake until lightly coated.
Calcium dusting is not necessary for whole eggs, whole prey, and commercial diets.
What about vitamin D3?
If you are providing enough UVB for your ackie monitor according to the specifications on the Lighting page, your pet should be able to make all of the vitamin D3 that its body needs. However, occasionally using a low-D3 calcium supplement or multivitamin containing D3 is a reasonable way to “top up” your ackie’s reserves without risk of overdose.
Supplementing vitamin D3 “instead” of using UVB lighting is not recommended. This is very dangerous, as vitamin D3 supplementation is an imprecise science at best. Supplementing D3 to replace the role of UVB in the environment requires guesswork and may provide too much or too little to the animal, depending on individual needs that can vary depending on the individual’s current health, life stage, and time of year. UVB (appropriately provided) is the best way to make sure your monitor is consistently getting the perfect amount of D3 for its needs.
Using a reptile multivitamin powder supplement every once in a while is a good way to help cover any potential vitamin/mineral deficiencies in your ackie’s diet. However, it’s easy to overdose a reptile with vitamin supplements, so when in doubt, use too little rather than too much — reptile bodies are VERY good at making do with what they have.
However, since ackies are insectivores and unlikely to be able to convert carotene to vitamin A, they need a supplement that contains vitamin A (retinol) rather than beta carotene.
Here are ReptiFiles’ preferred reptile multivitamins for insectivores:
Use each supplement as directed by the label.
Have you ever heard the saying, “You are what you eat”? Generally it’s used to encourage a healthy, balanced diet in humans, but it’s also very applicable to feeder insects. Which do you think would have more nutrition: bugs fed on oatmeal and cardboard, or bugs fed on vegetables and fruits? The latter, obviously! What your feeder insects eat directly affects the nutrition that your ackie gets by eating them, and the practice of giving nutritious food to feeder insects is called gutloading.
Even if you aren’t raising your own colony of feeder insects, it’s important to gutload any bugs you buy for at least 24 hours before feeding them to your ackie. These are my preferred commercial insect gutload formulas:
- Arcadia InsectFuel
- Dubia.com Dubia Diet
- Mazuri Better Bug Gut Loading Diet
- Repashy Bug Burger
- Lugarti Premium Dubia Diet
You can mix these formulas with water or offer them alongside hydrated gel water crystals as a source of water. Do not offer a water dish, as the insects may drown.
Some people like to use vegetable scraps to “gutload” their feeders, but personally I dislike this practice since the nutrition is incomplete and not specifically formulated for the insects’ dietary needs.
Although ackies get most of their water from the food they eat and hanging out in humid burrows, they still need to have a shallow bowl of fresh water in their enclosure at all times. Without free access to fresh water, ackies can become dehydrated, potentially leading to health problems like organ strain, trouble shedding, and impaction.
The water bowl should be no deeper than the height of your lizard’s back. Use tap, spring, or filtered water for your ackie. Avoid distilled and softened water, as these aren’t very good for reptiles to drink.
Change out the water whenever it gets soiled. Once a week, give the water bowl a scrub with a veterinary disinfectant like F10SC or Rescue to get rid of pathogens. Make sure to pay attention to usage instructions!
Keep reading about ackie monitor care:
- Introduction to Ackie Monitors
- Varanus acanthurus Subspecies
- Shopping List: Supplies You Will Need
- How to Select and Buy a Pet Ackie Monitor
- Enclosure Size & Roommates
- Lighting & UVB Requirements
- Heating Requirements
- Humidity Requirements
- Substrate Options
- Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Enclosure
- Feeding Your Ackie Monitor
- Handling Tips & Behavioral Notes
- General Health Guide
- Additional Resources