Last time I told you about my superworm colony, which is just exploding! I have so many new babies that I don't have to worry that my girls will go without this coming winter. Insects are difficult to get in the winter, because a lot of them die during transit due to the temperatures in our fair country.
A few months back I purchased a 100 pack of mealworms from the pet store because I was looking for something different for the girls. Variety is the spice of life, and not just for us humans. When I opened the container, I noticed a pupae inside. I thought this was odd, because my only experience was with supers, who have to be separated and stressed into pupating. So, off to trusty Google I go (what would I do without you?) and found a whole lot of info regarding mealworms and how to successfully breed them. Mealies make great treats for many lizard, fish, frogs, hedgehogs and chickens. They aren't packed with a whole lot of nutrition, but if you have the correct combination of substrate, veggies and minerals appropriate to your pet, they can be quite an inexpensive food source.
First a little education: Mealworms are the larval stage of the mealworm beetle, which is within the same species as the darkling beetle (which makes the superworms). They are much smaller than supers, and come in two sizes, the small regular mealworm, and the larger giant mealworm, which is somewhere in size between the regular and the superworm (also called the kingworm). They go from larval stage to beetle, where they reproduce, lay eggs and the cycle continues. As with the larger darkling beetle, they can fly, but really can't be bothered, at least in my experience. I have shook them off of cardboard and they just fall, I haven't seen them even attempt flight. Mealworms eat the substrate you give them and require fruit and vegetables for hydration. The beetles do not eat the substrate, they only eat the fruits and veggies.
So, what do you need in order to start and maintain your own feeder colony of mealworms? Surprisingly little. This is the easiest colony I've set up. The funny thing is that my beardies and gecko have absolutely no interest in eating them! They just do not move around enough. However, my beardies love eating the beetles. They have absolutely no nutritional value, so if you're thinking of feeding them to your own pet, make sure they're just a treat. I usually shake them onto a plate that's been dusted with calcium or a multivitamin, so they're getting something out of the deal, health wise.
There are two different schools of thought when it comes to breeding and raising mealworms. The first treats them the same as supers, segregating the beetles, pupae and larva. If you would like to try this method, you can read my post on breeding supers (click on 'pets' under the categories section to the right), it's much more involved, but some swear by it. The second is the method I use and have been extremely successful with, even though there is very little effort involved. It's all done in one container without ever moving any of the bugs. They live in their own community, all together. As I mentioned before, I started breeding them almost by accident! This second method is what I will outline below. Happy breeding!
These guys go thorough their life cycle relatively quickly and you'll have a population explosion in no time, so starting out small is a good idea. I started out with a 1000 worm shipment, and I have more bugs than I know what do do with right now!
Their substrate is their food. Just because they're bugs, don't skimp here. Keep in mind who you're feeding them to. Whatever they eat is what you pet will be eating. I go to bulk barn and pick out whatever is organic and on sale, bring it home, grind it in my nutribullet and I'm done. It's not as expensive as you think. Start out small, and add a little every month or so. Good things to use are; quinoa, millet, kamut, wheat bran, lentils, seeds and any other grains you find. You can also add dried spices. I add basil and thyme to mine because they are high in calcium and low in phosphorus, which is good for my girls. You don't have to go organic - buy a box of mutigrain cheerios and a box of weetabix. Shred and grind them and you have pretty instant substrate!
The size will depend on how many bugs you have. It can be rather shallow, they're small and not very good climbers. The sides on mine are not high at all and I have yet to find an escapee. They're just high enough so my beardie can't climb in.
Eggcrate or cardboard.
Both the beetles and worms like to congregate under things. You can use eggcrate or pretty much anything available to you. I also put some folded-over pages from the phone book in there for them.
If you do not give them a regular source of moisture in the form of fruit and/or vegetables, they will suck each other dry! Things like potatoes, carrots, cabbage and celery keep well and don't really mold. You can put pretty much any scraps in there, just keep in mind, again, that your pet is eating them. Do not feed your feeders anything that your pet cannot eat. For example: I cannot put onions or garlic in there because they would make my dragons very sick. It's a small fraction, but do you really want to take the chance? Replace their food every day or so. If you're using things like carrots, you don't even have to remove the old ones: they'll suck the moisture out of them and they just dry out. If you had melon for dessert and gave them the rind, make sure you take it out the next day (shaking well to dislodge any tiny babies) to prevent mold. If you see any, take out the whole section and dump it into your compost. Mold is insidious and will take over quickly before you even realize it, sickening and killing your colony and potentially your pets.
Okay - so you have your bugs, container and all the other things ready. What happens next? Depending on the age of the mealies you purchased, you'll start to see pupae. Once they start, they'll pretty much pupate at the same time, so one day you may have all worms, four days later all pupae and about a week after that, all beetles! Once you go through this with your first batch, you'll have a good mixture of all three at any time going forward.
Clean out your container and cover the bottom with about and inch or two of substrate. You don't need to start with a whole lot, as you'll be adding to it over time. Add eggcrate and any other hiding places you're giving your bugs. Dump your worms in and place some veggies inside. You can place them directly onto the bed or on top of cardboard or newsprint - they'll burrow right through to get to their moisture. That's pretty much it! Within a few months you'll start to see babies and your whole cycle begins anew. Compared to any of the other feeders out there, this setup is really the quickest and easiest method for having a constant supply of food.
You may notice that some of your beetles seem to have malformed wing cases. It doesn't seem to bother them too much, and from what I've noticed it's not too big of a deal. It may occur because they did not get enough moisture just before they pupated and didn't form properly. I don't notice too much of it right now (I'm on my second generation of beetles), but I did notice about 40% of my initial batch did have this issue. As they pupated shortly after arriving at my house, I think it may have to do with moisture issues and perhaps the stress of shipment. Don't worry about it of you see these guys. They'll go about their business and maybe even get eaten by their friends!
There is not a whole lot of cleanup necessary with these little guys. As long as you keep their fruit and veggies fresh, there's not really a whole lot else you need to do. You can remove dead bugs and shed skin, but it's really not necessary because, like I mentioned before, they're cannibals and will actually eat their dead, saving you cleanup.
And that's really all there is to breeding mealworms. It's really that easy! There's no need to move or separate them or have multiple containers unless you want to have multiple colonies. The only thing I would advise, with any insect you're breeding, is to add a new pool of bugs every 3-4 generations. Remember that they are inbreeding, and too much is not good for any living thing. All you need to do is buy a hundred or so new worms, I would suggest from a different supplier than the original batch (they're probably inbreeding also), dump them into your colony, and you're good for a few more generations. You'll probably do this once a year and you should have a pretty healthy bug colony.
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