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.
    mealpupae.jpg
    Mealworm: One on the left just shed it's exoskeleton so it is white.
    mealcolors.jpg
    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.
    mealbeetles.jpg
    Examples of deal mealworms and pupae. I had just cleaned my bottom drawer picking out the dead.
    mealdead.jpg

    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.
    59623_mealworm_3_drawer_1.jpg 59623_mealworm_3_d_screen.jpg

    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.
    59623_mealworm_baby_exoskeletons.jpg 59623_mealworm_white_after_shedding.jpg
    Picture of a beetle laying an egg. Picture of the egg beside a rolled oat.
    59623_mealworm_laying_egg_2.jpg 59623_mealworm_egg_beside_rolled_oat.jpg
    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.

    mealnewcontainer1.jpg
    mealcontainer2.jpg
    mealcontainer3.jpg
    mealnursery.jpg

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  1. darrylv50
    Your article is very informative and well written. The pictures are clear and helpful. I started with ordering 500 mealworms (575 were sent :)) in August. Within a couple of weeks they turned into pupa and now I have beetles. I have the same 3 drawer setup as you. I have the screened bottom in the top drawer for the eggs to fall through into the second one. I haven't had any worms hatch yet and can't really tell if there are eggs but I am sure there must be. I am wondering how you can tell the eggs from the substrate. I am so glad to read your comments from others who watch beetle-tv because I love to just sit and watch them. This is an interesting hobby and it will be profitable to feed them to my girls without paying $20 for 30 oz of dried ones. Thanks for all the info.
  2. 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!
  3. BirdaMay
    Brilliant set up! Love the Pupae Nursery and the Geriatric Beetle Ward!
  4. 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...
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. 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.
  9. JRchickchick
    Oh, and next question...for the 3 drawer set-up, how deep are the drawers?
  10. 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:)
  11. 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.
  12. mrealm
    Great article! The pictures were very helpful. I had purchase 3000 a couple of weeks ago with the intention of starting a farm. The chickens absolutely love them. It is a frenzy when I feed them some. This was my first go round and I guess that I had some pupae and didn't even realize it.
  13. Janebo
    All this information is great but is there anybody from Australia that does the same.... raising mealworms for their chooks?
  14. WestKnollAmy
    Fabulous! Happy farming!
  15. polarbearpilot
    Thanks Amy. I got your delivery confirmation. can't wait to get started on my farm.
  16. WestKnollAmy
    I personally do not like chicken feed or corn meal because it is so heavy and they like to burrow in it. Mine did not seem to like living in it and I had a harder time harvesting from it.
  17. polarbearpilot
    Can I ask why you DON"T use chicken feed or corn meal? Thanks.
  18. Nutcase
    Wow you sure do have a good farm going there! Am starting mine this week hopefully! What a helpful and informative article.
  19. WestKnollAmy
    You have a great set up! I love looking at your new ideas! You are brilliant!
  20. jchny2000
    Thanks for the pictures, and notes. This was very helpful, am starting mine next week!
  21. questions543
    kelli- You get the worms and dont kill all of them... You let some take their natural role and let them turn into puipae and then a beetle
    My question is can I use cheese cloth to ventilate the area
  22. Kelli
    Question 1. Where do I get the beetles in order to keep producing the meal worms?
    I plan on starting mine as soon as I understand this question. Thank you.
  23. Scooter&Suzie
    Aussie Lady - I started with 1000 and a few months later I finally have babies - but there are millions! I would say if you let it sit a year you would have plenty and could spare some to the ladies. Just my two cents though.
    momgoose - I've heard of chicks eating them before, but if I were you I would just pick out the smaller ones. Also, sometimes a mealworm will bite a lizards roof of the mouth and kill the lizard this way. I would be a bit afraid that the same thing might happen for the babies (the adults are safe) so maybe try crushing their heads first.
    I know some people will dump everything to their chickens if they get moths or whatever in their bins, and they just start over. I would recommend just feeding the worms, but the bettles, and probably even the pupa, can be given.
  24. Scooter&Suzie
    Thanks, this was very helpful!
  25. Aussie Lady
    Can anyone help? If you discover ants in your meal worm farm/box, do you know if this would be harmful for the meal worms. Would the ants eat the eggs?
  26. SteveBaz
    I am a 3 day old beginner and have done some reading but by far you have answered and explained yourself very well. You answered many questions I had and some I had not thought of as of yet. THANKS. I find you very informative and helpful
  27. momgoose
    At what stages can the worms be fed to chickens?
    Thanks for the incredible pictures and information!
    Terri
  28. momgoose
    Can I feed them to 3 + week old chicks?
    Great information! I thought mealworms just liked corn meal!
  29. CrazyChickenMom
    Do you ever dry any of the worms - or just freeze only?
  30. so lucky
    "Playing in the mealie farm" is what my grand daughters love to do. Next time they come over, we are going to separate out the big worms to feed the chickens. The Ewww! factor is at 99%, tho. they don't want to touch the beetles or the worms.(yet) :) Gotta use a plastic spoon. lol.
  31. Aussie Lady
    Hi, Thank you for your valuable information. I just ordered my meal worms (30 large). It seems like a small amount however I believe these will multiply quickly as I live in Brisbane/Australia and it is very muggy at present, winters are very mild. I only have 1 Silkie and will be getting 4 Australorps shortly. One question though - starting with 30 meal worms how long do you think it would take to get a good number of these?
  32. vclark321
    I am so grateful for the pictures! I have been working on my mealie farm for the last 2 months and I am just now getting pupae by the dozen! I have 2,500 I started with and I even have a couple of beetles! I am so excited! When I come home from work in the morning I take care of the animals and then I enjoy playing in the mealie farm!! Then I go to sleep! Life is good. Thank you for sharing!
  33. LilyLovesBugs
    I'm thinking of starting this. Very helpful!
  34. snowflake
    very interesting pics help a lot. I may try this some time

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