Mealworm Care and Feeding
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Raising Mealworms and Breeding Mealworms
So you want to raise mealworms eh? Well look no further heres a guide that will have you farming these little guys in no time. Mealworms are a great source of nutrition for a variety of pets, and with a small amount of time and effort you can grow them in your own home. For many people raising their own worms is more trouble then its worth, some don't want to spend the time on it, some are grossed out by the process, and some would just rather not have a box of beetles living in their house. But if your adventurous and find the prospect of raising your own worms to be interesting read on.
Mealworms have 4 stages in their development: egg, larvae, pupa, and beetle. They start off as a tiny bean shaped egg and then hatch into tiny worms. The worms grow over a period of about 3 months untill their final molt where they emerge as a pupa. After about a week the pupas crack open out come a beetle.
You can either order mealworms online(maybe from this site), or you can find them at pet stores or bait shops. Order large mealworms if they have an option, these will turn into pupa the fastest. 250-500 Are a good number of worms to start with. NOTE: Avoid "Giant" mealworms or "Superworms". Giant mealworms have been treated with growth hormone to prevent them from pupating, if they do pupate the resulting beetles will be sterile. Superworms are a different species of insects and raising them is a whole different can of worms, pardon the pun :)
These are what your mealworms throughout all of their life cycles. I strongly recommend separating each of the life cycles so you will probably need a total of 3 storage containers. A good container for the worms is a 6 quart plastic container you can find at Walmart. The pupa you can put into a smaller container because they don't eat or move much. The beetle's container can also be somewhat small. 2-4 Quart containers should work fine for the beetles and pupa.
Mealworms will eat a large variety of grains. You can use oats, corn meal, wheat bran, ect. I personally have tried cornmeal and wheat bran. Wheat bran is what I use, and it has worked well for me so far its a pretty cheap bedding, you can find it at a feed store or order it online. Using oats can be a hassle because its very hard to sift out the worms and beetles.
Source of Moisture
I personally use carrots but you can also use potatoes. Ive found that carrots get moldy slower.
Lay 2-3 inches of bedding in the 6 quart container, add a carrot broken in half, and add mealworms. Using a lid is optional but I would recommend it. I have found that when I didn't use a lid the carrots dried out in about 2-3 days, with a lid they lasted well over a week. The key is to provide your worms with a source of moisture, they will drink from the carrots, while keeping the bedding dry. If your bedding gains too much moisture it will grow mold, and also run the risk of developing grain mites(see mites section below). I usually throw my carrots out a couple days after mold starts to form on them or when they are almost dried out. If you don't provide enough moisture for the mealworms they will cannibalize each other for moisture.
Separating pupa and beetles
If you are lucky and your worms are just about to pupate when you get them you might have a few pupa in the first week, but most likely it will be 1-3 weeks before you start to see pupa in the box. The pupa look like alien worms, they are shorter, curl into a C shape, and usually wind up on top of your bedding. Your larvae will eat them if you don't separate them out quickly. Check the box at least every 2 days and pull out all the pupa and put them in a smaller box. The box that the pupa are in doesn't need much in the way of food and water, I usually put about 1/2 to 1 inch of bedding in(to make the beetles easier to pick up) and 1/4 of a carrot.
After 1 or 2 weeks the pupa will hatch into beetles, you have to be quick at separating the beetles from the pupa because the beetles will eat them if given too much time. Move the beetles to the other of your smaller containers, this one should have about 1-2 inches of bedding and half a carrot. I've noticed the beetles seem to drink from the carrots the most, so be sure to keep an eye on them. Ive been picking up the beetles by hand and moving them over, if you are the squeamish type, and for some reason are still raising insects you can put an apple in the container, the beetles will grab onto it and you can shake them off into the beetle box. A decent number of your beetles will be deformed in some way, most often their wings will be ragged or wont come together properly. These beetles should be discarded as they will likely die shortly anyway. I personally throw out any beetles with even the slightest imperfections with the hope that the descendants of the perfect beetles will have a lower chance of being deformed. I will post an update in 6-9 months on the difference, if any, that this has made.
Harvesting the eggs
After you have 10-20 beetles you will want to start separating the bedding in your beetle box from the beetles every 2 weeks. The beetles will eat the eggs if you leave them with the eggs longer then that. To separate the beetles from the bedding you can use a sifter, you want to have the holes be just smaller then the beetles, if its too big it will allow beetles to fall through, too small and it will take forever. An alternate method is putting an apple slice in and waiting for the beetles to swarm it, then shaking them off. Add the separated bedding to your 6 quart worm box. Then add fresh bedding into the beetle box. After a few months you will figure the right amounts to use to keep the bedding amounts constant in your worm box.
Your worm box will start to get messy after a couple weeks, there will be a lot of worm castings on the top of your bedding. Mix the top layer of the bedding to get the worm castings back into the bedding so the mealworms will eat them, make sure that you leave the bottom layer undisturbed when you do this. After a month or so you will probably start to notice a gray substance on the bottom of the worm box, this is frass(meal worm poop). When the layer of frass becomes significant, scoop the bedding above the frass out into a temporary container and discard the frass or save it for fertilizer. Then pour the bedding and worms back into your worm box. After 4-6 months your worm bedding will start to get pretty dirty, when this happens sift out your worms and completely replace your bedding. NOTE: To maximize your mealworm production you might want to save your frass and discarded bedding for a month and then remove any worms that have hatched from the eggs inside.
After 4-5 months you should start to have more mealworms then you can house in your boxes, and if done correctly you will be constantly producing more. At this point you can either sift mealworms out using a sifter, or you can place a piece of crumpled newspaper on top of your bedding in the worm box, the worms will crawl into it after a few hours and you can shake them out. Your goal is to keep your worm production at a constant, to do this you will want to make sure that you have a constant number of pupa and beetles being produced. The beetles live for about 6-8 weeks so you need to have a constant supply of new beetles to keep your farm going.
Of all the problems that you may face with your mealworm culture, grain mites are probably the most troublesome. Grain mites are about the size of a speck of flour, and will breed in practically any type of grain you put them in. They can survive being frozen, and go for months without food. You only have two defenses against grain mites. The first is to not get them in the first place, microwave your bedding before using it. This should kill any grain mites and their eggs. The second, and best option probably, is regulating the humidity. Grain mites need a level of humidity of 75% or higher to reproduce. Keeping your humidity level down to 55% and making sure there is some ventilation to where you are keeping your mealworms should prevent grain mites from hatching and reproducing. One other method is to keep your mealworm boxes on a pan of water to form a moat around the box. This only helps though if your grain is clean, and your starter worms are also. Your mealworm colony will have a distinctive smell, if that smell changes significantly to a kind of piny smell, you probably have grain mites. You will probably also notice a dusty substance forming on the air holes and the sides of your box. If this happens to your colony, destroy it and start over. Its disappointing to have to do but there is no good way to get rid of them. Dump out the worms, clean the box with bleach, let it thoroughly drive, and watch your humidity, grain, and mealworm sources better the next time.
The real name of the game is patience. Odds are you will make some mistakes while creating your mealworm farm, you might end up with dry spells where you run out of worms, or have too many worms. After a 6 months to a year of trial and error you should have your production at the level you need. Raising mealworms can be time consuming and problematic, but if you have extra time and a willingness to learn, it can be fun too.
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