How To Raise Mealworms For Feed, Fishing, Or Fun

Ed Wike
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Why Raise Meal Worms?

One of the benefits of raising mealworms is their size. Mealworms are some of the few insects that can grow to full maturity in a home environment. They can be a good source of natural protein for small to medium sized pets, like lizards, turtles, fish, chickens, ducks, or deer. They can also be used for composting, vermiculture, and fishing.

Mealworms are one of the easiest insects to raise. They thrive on basically any kind of garbage. They will eat just about anything including dead leaves, corncobs, and cardboard. As long as they are fed and moisture is provided, they are relatively self sustaining. Mealworms can be raised in a plastic Tupperware. A starter colony will thrive with a few holes poked through the lid or the cover. Provide a damp, natural substrate that can be easily removed and replaced without killing the worms.

Simple Guidelines For Raising Mealworms:

{1}. Find a plastic container or fish tank.
{2}. Drill air holes in the lid or cover.
{3}. Add a container of dirt.
{4}. Add a container of dried up leaves.
{5}. Add something to keep moisture in.
{6}. Add some worms.
{7}. Put your container somewhere dark and keep it cool.

Life Cycle Of Mealworms

The mealworm has four distinct stages in its life cycle. The egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages. In the egg stage, the mealworm lays its eggs within itself. After about a week of incubation, the meal worm larvae are born. It is at this point where you first see meal worms.

The mealworm larvae is the second stage of the meal worm's life cycle. They are basically just miniaturized versions of the adult mealworm. They have very little legs. This makes it very hard for them to move. However, they are born with a lot of stored energy. They are able to quickly move around searching for food. When they find it, they are able to consume it. The meal worm larvae is born with small eyes that are covered in a clear layer. This allows the mealworm to focus. It can also move its eyes from side to side, however.

After they make that first round of food consumption, they begin to pile on the pounds. It takes roughly about one month for the mealworm larvae to transform into the pupae level of meal worm life. During this time, they are in a sort of sleep stage. In fact, they aren’t even mealworms at this stage.

Although they are able to move about, they aren’t interested in doing so. The pupae simply stay still until they undergo their metamorphosis.

What Do Mealworms Eat?

Mealworms are the larval form of the darkling beetle, and they are widely raised around the globe as a live feeder for fish and pet reptiles, and as a food source for insectivorous wildlife, such as frogs, birds, and lizards.

Depending on the species of darkling beetle, these tiny creatures may be yellow, brown, or even green in color.

A mealworm colony that is properly growing and maintained should consist of three different castes of adult beetles, including:

  • Queen beetles, which lay a stream of eggs
  • Male beetles, which make up the largest percentage of adult beetles and are responsible for maintaining the fanning and cleaning of the mealworm colony, and
  • Female beetles, which serve the primary role of laying eggs

Mealworm Container Design

Mealworms multiply rapidly so it is a good idea to build a container that allows for easy access and plenty of drainage. Block off one end of a storage container and fill the other with bedding. Add the worms and a few starter crickets. Replenish the worm bedding as needed. Scatter old banana peels, breads, pasta or candy in a shallow container for them to feed on. Clean out and disinfect the container every six months.

How Deep Should My Mealworm Bin Be?

Mealworms should be kept in a dark place, if you are raising them to feed your reptile or fish. This will allow them to continue to mature to their fullest, and if you don't have a large amount of them, they can stay in a stackable bin.

If you have a large amount, and want to raise mealworms to sell, you can purchase something like the Mealworm Mega Lab, which is a tub that will allow you to grow mealworms to a large size. It has removable trays inside, which you can use to separate your mealworms to make them grow.

If you raise mealworms to sell, state the quantity on your bin/tub so that you don't overstock. Having too many mealworms at once could cause them to eat more than they need, and die when they run out of food to consume.

What Type Of Container Do I Need?

One of the most important considerations for keeping mealworms is finding the right container. You need to make sure you have an environment that is suitable for mealworms of all different life stages. For proper mealworm breeding, you need to know their needs throughout their development. Here are some key considerations:

  • Container Material – Select food grade plastic or plexiglass for durability, easy cleaning, and resistance to oxygen transmission. Mealworms can survive for extended periods of time in anaerobic conditions.
  • Size – Choose a container size that matches your mealworm population. For breeding purposes, start at about 1/2 gallon per 1,000 mealworms. For feeders and hobby fish bait, increase volume 4x.
  • Air Space – Leaving sufficient air space is important to provide mealworms with room to crawl about and a place to hide.
  • Food Source – Mealworms need to have a readily accessible food source. Keep your food in air-tight containers that are shallow with raised edges. Place a small amount of dry dog food or cornmeal at the bottom, gradually building up to about 1-2" in height.

Where Should I Keep My Mealworms?

The most important thing to keep in mind when raising mealworms is that they need a warm environment. If the temperature is below seventy degrees Fahrenheit, they won't grow as fast.

To keep your mealworms at the right temperature, place them in an aquarium or closet. They aren't very active, so they won't do much to mess up your place. With an aquarium, you can also use a fish tank heater to maintain warm temperatures.

An aquarium also prevents the mealworms from contaminating your kitchen. Pet stores sell aquariums or you can get one from a thrift store or even use an old fish tank. When you buy an aquarium, make sure to get the tank before you get your mealworms. You don't want to get your mealworms, then have to wait to get the tank.

If you want to keep the food form entering the aquarium, you can cover the top and place it on a stable platform above the aquarium.

How To Raise Mealworms

When raising mealworms at home, there are additional supplies needed, including wheat bran to feed the worms, a shallow box (a shoe box will do) for them to live in, and a plate or other shallow container for the cocoons. The room where the mealworms are living must be kept at a temperature of at least 70 degrees F at all times, without any fluctuations. Mealworms can only be allowed to go through the larva stage in an environment that is 70 degrees F or higher.

It is very easy to store wheat bran and find a box for the worms to live in, but it is slightly more difficult to keep a consistent temperature of 70 degrees F. One idea is to keep the plate that the cocoons hatch into in front of a space heater. Make sure that the heat of the space heater or heat lamp is high enough, and make sure that it is out of reach of the mealworms.

Starting Your Mealworm Farm

Mealworms aren't very difficult to care for. They do need a little more attention than most terrarium animals, but don't require a lot of complex care.

There are a few things you should know, though, before you get started. The first thing you need to know is that most mealworm species are hermaphrodites. This means that your worms will, on occasion, produce both male and female reproductive organs. The good news is that if this happens, the worms won't produce eggs and so you don't have to worry about potential infestations.

The bad news is that the worms may need to be separated. If they reproduce, the adult worms may eat the eggs and young. This means you need to be able to tell the difference between the sexes. The adult male worms have a small white streak on the sides of their body, while the adult females have a dark body.

The other important thing you need to know is that your worms may or will go through an uncomfortable transition as they mature. Prepared foods (like oats or rice) are high in fat and will cause the worms to develop fat bodies.

Maintaining Your Mealworm Farm

Mealworms are easy to raise and you can feed them to your pets, or to larger animals. You can even feed them to the fish in your aquarium. These mealworms are also an excellent source of good-quality protein. You must treat the mealworm farm as they are delicate.

The first step is to get a glass terrarium. Fill it with a mixture of wheat bran, flour, chopped carrot and lettuce. Leave a small amount of space at the top of the terrarium to make it easier to fill and to empty it later.

Add the mealworms to this mixture and cover the top of the container with a lid. Make sure to seal all cracks with a tape so that pests will not enter the container. The containers must be in a dark location. Do not expose the container to a lot of heat or sunlight.

Mealworms love to feed on wheat bran and flour. Keep the feed inside a pet-food bowl so that it’s readily accessible.

Keep checking on the mealworms from time to time. Once they have grown into adults, they can be ready in as little as two months. Once you notice that the worms have grown to an adult stage, transfer them into a new container.

Do keep them well-fed and do clean the container once a week. You can either empty it every week or transfer smaller amounts of compost into a larger container.

Changing The Bedding

Every three or four months, depending on how often you feed, you should change the mealworm bedding completely. To do this, you need to take away the old bedding and replace it with new bedding. This is an important part of mealworm care because it stops the build-up of harmful bacteria and disease from the last bedding.

To do this, you first need to remove the lid of the storage container. Then take the bedding out and put it into a trash bag. Next remove the bag and throw it in the trash.

Next, remove the old pellets from inside the container. Take out the old cardboard and replace it with fresh cardboard. Then put the new bedding on top of the cardboard.

Finally, cover the bedding with bedding and you are finished.

You should also change the bedding as soon as you see the mealworms getting dirty or diseased. If you fail to change the bedding, the mealworms can get sick.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I raise mealworms?

Raising mealworms is a great way to blend a hobby and a necessity. It is a great way to save a few dollars. It is also a great way to be self sufficient.

What are mealworms?

Mealworms are the larval stage of the darkling beetle. They are used as live food for reptiles, birds and fish. They are also great for composting. They can be fed to larger animals as a staple food. Mealworms require no refrigeration or preservatives. They have a long shelf life.

Can mealworms on plants harm the plants?

Mealworms on plants can eat tender leaf tips. However, they generally are so full of nutrients they are not hungry enough to eat more than a tiny portion of the plant.

What is all the white stuff on the mealworms?

The white stuff is fat that prevents the mealworms body from drying up. The worms can bespread through a worm digester, compost pile, or cut in half and fed to larger animals.

Must mealworms be refrigerated?

Mealworms must be refrigerated. But they can be frozen if you are going to use them in a few months.

Where can I buy mealworms for sale?

Q: Can I use high-protein chicken feed meal for my mealworms?

A:Our answer is yes, and no. A better way to feed your mealworms may be to use a seed-based feed. We have just expanded our mealworm treats section. This is a one stop spot to buy good quality worms and start feeding them to your birds!

A:We currently stock the following seeds: cottonseed, navy bean, butternut squash, and chia seed. These are all seeds that can be used to produce a moist, rich substrate for your mealworms. Another good option is a quality dry dog food; Boost for large breed, Small Dog, or Puppy Chow is a good one.

You will have to grind up the seeds into a fine, moist substrate to feed your bugs. You can use a mini coffee bean grinder or crush the seed in a bag with a rolling pin. This method maintains the integrity of the seed for maximum nutrition and moisture to your bugs. Remember to keep your bugs in an open-top container; they need fresh air and will crawl away if trapped. If you are looking for something a little different to feed your bugs, you can also use a quality diet dog food that is high in protein, high in fat, and has the right ratio of vitamins and minerals.

Q: My beetles seem to be attacking my mealworms!

What do I do?

This is quite common and many people have reported this with beetles or even crickets. When the beetles or crickets face the most stressful situation for them, they would begin to try to eat the mealworms or the beetle grub. The reason you see this, is that they grab what may provide the most nutrition for them at the time in a stressful moment.

In addition, if your setup is not perfect for your beetles, crickets, and mealworms, they might have run out of feed and hungry, they might attack the mealworms.

There is no way to keep the beetles and crickets from ever attacking the mealworms.

Q: Can I refrigerate live mealworms for later feed use?

A: Mealworms can be refrigerated in a glass jar for several days. Keep in mind, the cooler the temperature, the slower the worms will move. Also, be prepared for them to wake up in warm weather (especially if the jar is opened) and start moving around which may agitate any remaining bedding. Moving them may cause them stress which increases the number of mealworms that die. Mealworms that are housed in cooler temperatures for long times, have a much higher percentage of survivors after their release into the wild than those that are brought out earlier.