Mealworm Care and Feeding
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Mealworm Facts and Information
Mealworms are the larva stage of the Darkling Beetle or Tenebrio Beetle. This Adult meal worm is a nocturnal beetle that is approximately one inch in length and dark brown or black in color with a hard outer shell. The Darkling Beetle has a similar lifecycle to a butterfly or a moth and develops through a four stage complete metamorphosis which starts as an egg that hatches to a larva then transforms to a pupa and completes the life cycle as an adult. This process begins with a female Darkling beetle burrowing into soft ground and laying anywhere from 270 to 500 small white bean shaped eggs at one time or in small batches in the spring. These eggs are tiny and one egg is barely visible to the naked eye. The eggs hatch in 4 to 20 days depending on temperature and the hatched larvae are mealworms. These mealworms are between ½ and ¾ inches in length with a full grown larva at about 1 ¼ inches long. Mealworms are light golden in color, darkening as they near their next stage in life. The larval stage can last from 90 up to 114 days. At their last molt they curl up and start the pupae stage.
The Darkling Beetle and the meal worm are arthropods. An anthropod wears its skeleton on the outside for protection, much like a suit of armor. The mealworm like any other youngster has two goals in mind… eating and growing. Mealworms have a healthy appetite and can grow rapidly in good conditions. Because mealworms have a somewhat hard outer shell, as they grow, they will molt their outer shell up to nine times or more. As they shed the old shell they are growing and continue to do so until their new shell hardens. Mealworms can go through this shed and grow process six to nine times or more during this stage of their life.
The Darkling Beetle and the mealworm eat decaying and decomposing leaf litter, dried grasses, grain and wood matter; even occasionally new plant growth. Although not common in the wild, when you do find mealworms, it will be in an area were their food sources are readily available. This can be animal dens under logs and rocks as well as grain silos and barn areas. Mealworms and the Darkling beetle has become very much dependant on humans, as we tend to provide a perfect environment with abundant food sources. Because of this, mealworms are most commonly found near human habitation.
Mealworms have many natural enemies including wild birds and small mammals. Lizards and some snakes will eat mealworms as well. Even birds of prey such as the kestrel or sparrow hawk, if hungry enough will eat mealworms. Though mealworms have many natural enemies they are very resistant to disease and parasites.
Although mealworms are predominately sold as a healthy live food source for some pets, mealworms are also a food source for humans. Before you say YUCK, consider this, many people say mealworms are rather tasty. Eating insects in nothing new for humans; just look at shows like Survivor and Fear Factor. Not one person on any one of those shows died after eating insects and to the horror of many, most of us have inadvertently eaten up to a pound of insects in our lifetime.
Mealworms are low in fat, high in protein and actually taste good. When buying mealworms to dine on, first let them feed on grain and fresh green matter for several days. To prepare your mealworms you should first rinse them in a colander under cool water and then pat dry. Next, place them in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer until they are dead; this can take about 15 minutes. Once they have died, you can rinse them again though this is not necessary. Chop them up if you prefer or eat them whole and enjoy.
Although many people don’t like their mealworms crawling off their plate, mealworms are actually more nutritious live and fresh. The simplest way to eat a live mealworm is to simply grab up as many as you think you can handle and put them in your mouth chew and swallow…yum yum.
The mealworm's four stage complete metamorphosis from egg to adult is interesting and fun to watch, many classrooms will include a mealworm farm in their curriculum for this reason. If you are a teacher and would like more information on starting a mealworm farm for educational purposes contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org we might be able to help you get started for free or at least very cheap depending on the scope of your project.
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