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Mealworm Farm Experiences

Learn how to raise mealworms without much trouble.
  1. hannakat
    My mealworm farm adventure….
    (Tenebrio molitor)
    (also visit https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-to-raise-mealworms to see how Gallo del Cielo raises mealworms and www.westknollfarm.com to read about Amy's mealworm farm.)
    In the winter of 2010-2011, I spent $40.00 buying freeze dried mealworms for my girls since there were no insects available that time of year in Pennsylvania. My chickadees absolutely loved them and I was able to train them to come at the slightest call.
    I found out that it was possible to raise mealworms without much trouble and went about the task of researching everything I could find regarding the subject. There seemed to be a lot of holes in the information that I found, and to some degree, conflict about it. So I decided to use the 3-drawer setup, which would enable me to ‘study’ the development and habits of the Darkling beetle and its different stages. My ultimate goal, though, was to store up enough larva to take my chickadees through the winter.

    To say that I’ve had a blast is putting it mildly. I spent so much time watching and learning that I was even able to take photos of a beetle laying an egg. Really cool (well, it was for me!).
    Probably the most important thing I learned was that temperature and lighting have a big influence on the speed of development. BUT, even though ideal temperature is reported to be 80°-100° F, a mealworm farm will develop very nicely at 72° F.
    Okay, down to basics.

    Life cycle Stages:
    Egg
    Larva
    Pupae
    Darkling beetle
    This time table is relative to conditions such as temperature, food source, etc:
    Egg Incubation: 4-19 days (usually 4-7). Another source says 20-40 days. I had eggs hatch within 14 days of observation.

    Larva: 10 weeks. Visible after about a week
    Pupa: 6-18 (18-24?) days
    Beetle and Egg Laying: 8-12 weeks (followed by death). Egg laying starts 4-19 days (average 12) after emergence. I now have beetles that are going on 5 months old. I am still finding eggs from this group, although not as many.

    Pupae: Newly pupated to a few days old. The one on the far right is getting ready to morph into a beetle. Also 3 dead pupae at the top of photo.
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    Mealworm: One on the left just shed it's exoskeleton so it is white.
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    Beetles: Again, the white one is newly morphed from a pupae. As they age they get darker....hense Darkling beetle! There are also a couple malformed beetles for reference.
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    Examples of deal mealworms and pupae. I had just cleaned my bottom drawer picking out the dead.
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    Housing: A simple aquarium or plastic bin will do as both have smooth sides. I have a 3-drawer colony and a bin colony. You will need to provide ventilation. To avoid the chance of other insects invading, I use screening material to cover the large holes we drilled in the lid and on the sides of the bin. Putting a screen over it also keeps curious cat paws out. Do not place in direct sunlight.
    I have small holes drilled around the tops of each drawer in the 3-drawer colony for additional ventilation.

    To make the 3-drawer setup, I cut the bottom out of the top drawer and hot glued screening material over the hole. This drawer is for the beetles so that when the eggs hatch, the small worms will fall into the second drawer. I found that a good number of the eggs actually dropped through also. I used the bottom drawer for the mealworms (larva) and moved them to the top drawer when the pupated. There they morphed into beetles and started laying eggs.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Substrate: The best substrate (substance to raise them in) is wheat bran (not the same as wheat germ). Rolled oats work, as does wheat flour and chicken feed. You can even add fish food flakes, dried milk and a wee bit of corn meal. From the research and personal experience, I will not use corn meal or chicken feed any more and I now freeze or microwave all food sources to prevent the possible problem of grain mites. It’s just a precaution but worth doing.

    You’ll need at least 1-1/2” of substrate (if using a small set up like my 3-drawer). I’ve found that as the colony grows, it’s necessary to add more. I have about 4” in the single tub now, although I still maintain 1-1/2 in the 3-drawer colony. I have been thinning the numbers out (freezing them) as the worms get big enough.

    Moisture sources: It is necessary to provide some sort of moisture source such as carrots, potato slice, apple slice, kale, lettuce, beet leaves, celery, dandelion leaves, squash slices, cucumber….you can pretty much try anything (except citrus). Either they will eat it or they won’t. It’s better if you only supply what they can consume in a day or 2 to avoid any chance of mold forming. You do not want mold in your mealworm colony.
    It’s advisable to place the veggies/fruit on plastic lids or on bits of newspaper to prevent moisture from entering the substrate. Most of the problems encountered when raising mealworms is caused by too much moisture.
    Other:
    It’s good to provide cardboard pieces, egg carton pieces, toilet paper tubes, layers of newspaper or paper towel in your colony. The worms and beetles like to hide under and in these items. It also makes collecting them easier. The worms congregate under and in between the newspaper layers allowing you to pickup and shake them into another container or into your hand.
    As a mealworm larva grows, it sheds it's outer skin (exoskeleton) many times. After each shedding, the larva appears white. Newly hatched wee wormies are also white, as are the pupae immediately after they pupate and even the beetles appear to have an almost white body immediately after it morphs. As they age, all stages get darker. The beetle will generally darken until it is black.
    Picture: Pile of shed baby exoskeletons. White larger worm that just shed it's exoskeleton.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Picture of a beetle laying an egg. Picture of the egg beside a rolled oat.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    You can slow down development by placing the larva (mealworm) in the fridge (I used clean cottage cheese containers with some substrate and holes punched in the lid) for quite a while. I did find that there was a higher mortality rate during pupation and higher deformity rate of the beetles from the refrigerated worms. It’s still a useful tool to stager the colony though.
    Experiment/observation:
    At one point, someone raised the concern that the Darkling beetle is able to fly. Everything I read said otherwise. However, to put minds at ease, I conducted the "Do my beetles fly or not" test.
    First test: Let robust beetles fall from height of 5' into bathtub.
    Second test: Let different group of robust beetles fall from height of 14' into grass.


    Findings: The Tenebrio molitor did NOT fly. Nor did it even bounce upon landing. *thunk* One of the beetles did OPEN it's ineffective little wings but they didn't even change the direction of its descent.
    My newest setup:
    I've been freezing mealeis from my original group and downsizing their housing as I go. I'm now setting up the single bin to accommodate 2 groups of beetles. I've been putting all beetles into a container for a couple months and plan to start a second container 11/10/11. This way, I can easily get rid of the beetles when they reach 5-6 months old..
    I found 2 smaller containers to fit inside the single bin, cut the bottoms out and hot glued screening in. I then hot glued empty thread spools to elevate it above the substrate for the next batch of wormies!
    The 3-drawer colony is still going strong with a new batch of wee wormies under way in the 2nd drawer. I'm still using rolled oats for the beetles and am sticking to a finer substrate for the worms to develop in to make sifting easier.
    Also pictured is my pupae nursery. I've had more success moving the pupae into a small container with paper and a veggie leaf for a bit of moisture. I check the container often moving any morphed beetle into the beetle container.
    I've found that not much space is really needed for a thriving colony so I'm sticking with the 3-drawer unit and my small single bin.

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Comments

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  1. BirdaMay
    Amy, could you please tell me what size (how many quarts or the dimensions) of your single bin and your internal bin on the spool stilts? I really like the efficiency and simplicity of your set-up.

    So, in the 3-drawer bin, the beetles are on top in oats, the eggs fall through to the middle drawer and develop into mealworms living in wheat bran, but what is in the bottom drawer, and what kind of substrate is down there? Thanks!
  2. BirdaMay
    Brilliant set up! Love the Pupae Nursery and the Geriatric Beetle Ward!
  3. DmCrawlz
    Another tip: Instead of putting the pupa into a container, turn the container upside down, place it in your beetle bin and put the pupa on it. That way, when the pupa's morph into beetles, they will just crawl off and land into your beetle bin...one less thing to sort...
  4. bootsNbirds
    Why no citrus? Is it bad for them? I use old oranges from our trees and they appear to like it. The only problem I've noticed so far is that the pupae will die if I accidentally set the slice down on top of them (oops).
  5. polarbearpilot
    HI orginalcookie. I personally have never used wheat flour. I use wheat bran as the main substrate. It's light and airy and the beetles can bury themselves and still breathe. Also, they like it dark, so I always put at least one layer of newspaper on top of the food. This serves two purposes. It keeps the light out, and if the beetles happen to turn themselves over somehow, their feet can grab hold of the paper and can crawl upside down. Just don't use smooth waxy paper. The larger more mature mealworms like to be in between layers of paper, so I flatten a brown bag and put on top of the food. They crawl in there which makes the job of collecting them a breeze. Also, don't forget to give them wet food. They need liquid to live. Good luck. Hope your worm farm will thrive and multiply.
  6. originalcookie
    I just got my new bettles. I have about 5 of them so far. I put them in a new container with wheat flour, some non-medicated chicken feed and rolled oats. They appear to be struggling. I keep finding them on their backs with their legs waving in the air. 1 or 2 have died. Am I doing something wrong? Will the flour smother them?
  7. Meadowchick
    a neighbor gave me a started plastic box mealies about 2 weeks ago and....some of the worms have already turned into beetles. I am enjoying this aspect of chicken feed growing! Your post is very informative with the photos...I appreciate it.
  8. JRchickchick
    Oh, and next question...for the 3 drawer set-up, how deep are the drawers?
  9. JRchickchick
    This is all very helpful. I have 1000 arriving on Monday, and just picked up 75 adult (beetles) yesterday to throw in a second generation of mealies in my start-up (for my chickens for treats). I have them in a plastic shoe bin right now with oatmeal and some egg cartons. I sat and watched "Beetle TV" last night while hubby watched a basketball game!

    My question...I found the tiniest dots on the egg carton this morning. Would this be beetle poo, or the freshly laid eggs? They started off very light in color, but have since darkened a bit.

    I haven't decided on a single bin set-up or the three bin set-up. Or both. :eek:) What's your favorite and why? Thanks... :eek:)
  10. Scoopers804
    Well holey patooties! I didn't realize how inexpensive and simple this could be! My hubby just buys meal worms for fishing by the 50pk.. (($3.50 for 50!!)) So I was giving my chickens some of them... but I am definitely gonna start working on my own setup for farming them! And to know I can order them 1000 at a time? For a few bucks? Wow.. I am embarrassed for all those years of never checking it out for myself .. and excited that I hopefully will never pay a couple hundred percent in markup prices for mealworms again! Thanks so much for this post!
      JolandaH likes this.

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