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How To Culture Mealwormsfrom the Primer of Wildlife Care, Bruckner Nature Center
Mealworms are the larvae of the beetle Tenebrio molitor. During their life cycle these beetles undergo complete metamorphosis: egg, pupa, and adult. Times required for each stage under average conditions are listed below.
Mealworms are handy for feeding to a variety of animals, such as birds, bats, amphibians, and reptiles. To culture mealworms, use a plastic, metal, or glass container with smooth sides to prevent escape. Cover the colony with a screen; secure the screen with an elastic band. The size of the container will be determined by the number of larvae to be cultured:
wide-mouth gallon jar....1,000 mealworms
NOTE: To discourage mites from invading the mealworm colony, place the container in a bowl of water.
Feeding Mealworm Colonies
Use any of the following mixtures:
Cover food and mealworms with 2-3 layers of moistened burlap. Sprinkle with water once weekly to maintain moisture level in colony. Burlap also simplifies collecting mealworms. The larvae gather between the burlap layers and can easily be scooped by hand or picked out with forceps.
NOTE: Mixtures of foods, such as oats, intended for human consumption are less likely to contain contaminates, such as mites, that can destroy a mealworm colony.
Lay slices of apple, potato, carrot, or over-ripe banana over the surface of the colony to provide fluids for the mealworms. In addition to obtaining moisture from these vegetables and fruits, mealworms lay their eggs on them. Collect these and save them when starting a new colony.
Mealworms thrive in a warm (80-90 degrees F) environment. To maintain the larvae in a state of dormancy, cover the container with cloth to prevent condensation, and set in the refrigerator (40-50 degrees F). Mealworms will die at lower temperatures.
Cleaning the Colony and Starting New Colonies
Over time, a build-up of powdery residue will appear in the container. This residue, called frass, consists of mealworm wastes and eggs. Sift this out once a month using a colander, window screen, or tea strainer. Keep frass in a separate container and add bran and potato slices. The eggs will hatch in about one month. Two weeks after hatching, sift out the tiny larvae and put them in a container with fresh food, burlap, and vegetable slices as described above.
Barnard, S.M. 1990. The Maintenance of Insectivorous Bats in Captivity.
Morrow, GA: Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources
Berg, L. 1988. Care of Mealworms. Rehabilitation Manual. 11th ed.
Austin, TX: Wildlife Rescue, Inc.
Heinemann, J., Mealworms: their care and feeding. Wildlife J. 9(1):16.
Snedigar, R. 1963. Our Small Native Animals: Their Habits and Care. New York, NY: Dover Publ., Inc.