Freeze dried worms.

Steve

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At the moment being summer, there is no difficulty finding worms in my compost bin to suppliment the stick food I give my axies.

The other day I spotted freeze dried earthworms for sale in a shop for feeding to garden birds.

In the winter when earthworms are harder to find (and/or it rains too much to go look for them ;)) I was thinking that these freeze dried worms may be a good source of protein for my axies.

Has any one tried them before?
 

Darkmaverick

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The freeze dried worms at best can only be used as a supplementary treat. The freeze dry or lyophilisation process depletes a lot of the existing nutrition in the worms. It cannot replace live worms as a staple.

Live worms have a high water content which is essential for the distribution of water-soluble vitamins and minerals as well as for cellular activity such as protein enzymes.

Live worms also carry a certain amount of saprophytic (environmental) microbes. For animals that consume the worms, the saprophytic organisms actually constitute the normal microflora in their alimentary tract. There is a symbiotic relationship between these microorganisms and the host. Some of these microorganisms help manufacture certain trace minerals and also aid in the immunity within the gut by competitively vying to colonise the alimentary tract against opportunistic/pathogenic microbes. Thus animals evolved to feed on live food tend to have the same gut flora found in their prey.

Freeze-drying, or lyophilization, is the sublimation/removal of water content from frozen food. The dehydration occurs under a vacuum, with the product solidly frozen during the process. Although this technique preserves cellular integrity better compared to other preservation methods such as drying, irradiation or heat treatment, there are two steps involved - the deep freezing (-50 degree celsius) and the sublimation, which can affect the nutritional content of the food.

Live cells, particularly mammalian cells can become lysed by the ice crystals formed during the freezing process. Hence in laboratories dealing with live cells and cryopreservation, glycerol is needed to help protect the cells against freeze damage. As such, some proteins and enzymes in the worms can become damaged in this process.

Secondly, the sublimation stage is essentially rapid dessication. The removal of water content will remove some dissolved water soluble vitamins and minerals, although some fat soluble vitamins will be retained. Volatile compounds such as as volatile fatty acids (acetate, proprionate, butyrate) can also be removed in this process.

Thirdly, the process prevents enzymatic and bacterial activity (hence preserve the food). Some enzymes will be lost in this process. The absence of any live bacteria means that consumption of this food type will not supplment the gut with the microflora. (humans sometimes too supplement with probiotics like yogurt etc.)

That said, freeze dried products do comparatively retain more nutrition compared to other preserved food types due to the less heat applied during the processing which can denature heat sensitive proteins. Fresh produce/food types are always the best option nutrition wise compare to preserved food.

I am sorry i do not have papers specifically contrasting the nutritional content of live versus freeze-dried worms. I extrapolate a lot of the concepts from veterinary nutrition literature.
 
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