Breeding your own mealworms is a very easy and cost-effective way to have a supply of fresh, yummy mealworms on hand that your chooks and other poultry will love. They are a great high protein snack to feed and it’s a lot easier to do than you think…
The Super Mealworm is NOT a worm (and therefore not slimy, surprisingly). It is the larval stage (grub) of the Super Mealworm beetle, also called the Darkling beetle (Zophobas morio). Although the grub looks a bit like a worm, the mealworm has six small, jointed legs. Both the larva and the beetle are nocturnal, but they are also active during the day.
Quick Mealworm facts
1. Surface area is more important than depth in keeping and breeding mealworms.
2. Darkling beetles do not fly or jump. They can climb but if your container has smooth sides and are approx.. 5-10cm higher than the level of the bedding, they can’t do it…
3. Mealworms are dry (not slimy like an earthworm) and don’t smell unless you wait aaaages before cleaning out their container.
4. Mealworms are an insect and therefore have six legs but they do NOT bite.
5. Female beetles can lay 300-500 eggs in their lifetime, so given time and basic care you can have a self-sufficient setup quite quickly.
6. Mealworm eggs are invisible to the naked eye and just look like dust.
7. Mealworms and beetles do not drink, but instead get the moisture that they need from the food you give them (we prefer sliced carrots).
8. Mealworms will eat the eggs (attached to Growth Media), pupae and each other if there isn’t enough bran and food source.
9. Beetles will also eat pupae and eggs.
10. You can carefully pick up live pupae and it will wiggle its tail. I find this stage a bit freaky as they look very ‘alien’. Blergh.
The following instructions will assume that you are starting with the Aussie Chook Supplies Super Mealworm Breeding Kit with beetles. Please make adjustments to the stages/levels depending on what you have chosen to use to start your breeding setup.
Choice of bedding/food for mealworms and beetles
We use a Growth media which has a chemical-free vegetarian base – perfect for optimal growth rates and consists of small granules which make for easy sieving. Essentially, mealworms are what they eat, so if you want organic mealworms for your animals, feed them organic food. As your confidence and colony grow you can try what you like and see what works for you.
Some mealworm breeders prefer to use bran or pollard as cheaper substitutes as they can be found in bulk quite cheaply. If you are purchasing bulk bran/pollard from a Produce Store, it is best that you microwave it until it is quite hot, then cool it down completely before using it for your mealworm setup. Some bran/grain products contain tiny grain mites which can completely destroy your mealworm setup but as they are invisible to the naked eye (mostly) unless in large numbers, we encourage you to err on the side of caution. It is heartbreaking to set it all up and come to see little white flecks (millions of them) and realise what they are and that you have to throw it out and start again…
Our Mealworm breeding kits are sent out with the mealworms (and beetles, if purchased) in this Growth Media. As part of the production process, the base material is heat-treated, so you won’t inherit any grain mites from us!
Mealworms do not need water as they do not drink. Instead, if it a good idea for you to regularly feed your mealworms fruit or vegetables for them to eat and obtain moisture. We prefer carrot as they are always in our fridge and are slow to develop mould – almost every time they will be eaten by the mealworms long before they even have the opportunity to grow mould!
Other viable options are apples, potatoes, celery, and lettuce although pretty much anything will do as a moisture source. Again, try a few things to see what you think and choose what is best for you and your mealworms.
Setting up your breeding area
What you need prior to get together before setting up your mealworm breeding area:
- A storage container that can house the five different stage of mealworms that you will have. A plastic drawer unit is perfect for this as it is not airtight provides reasonable ventilation. Drill holes into the top edges of the drawers to improve ventilation if you want…
- A number of mealworms (the more the merrier)
- Aussie Chook Supplies Mealworm Growth Media, Unprocessed Bran, chicken starter crumble or rolled oats
- Thinly sliced carrot, apple, potato or similar
Optimal temperature for breeding is between approx. 20-30 degrees, so give some thought as to the position/location of your setup. Growth will go from rapid to slow depending on temperatures. We keep our worms in the garage during the warmer months and bring them in the Study during the colder months. Unlike mealworms from the Tenbrio molitor, Super Mealworms cannot tolerate periods of refrigeration as they are temperature sensitive and can die from the cold.
When unpacking your two containers, you may see some dead mealworms (black, stiff and not moving) in the top of the container. How many depends on the distance they have travelled and the conditions of their transport vehicles. This is no biggie we take this into consideration and provide more than enough to give you a great start. Pick them out and feed them to your chooks.
Unpacking your Mealworms
Pack one will be labelled Feeder/Grower mealworms. You might need to poke around to see the mealworms underneath the Growth Media. This whole pack can simply be turned into your breeding trays, including Growth Media for feeding out as needed. But remember to leave some of them to grow and complete the future stages as outlined below.
Pack two will contain your Adult Super Mealworms and beetles. Again, turn the pack into a separate breeding tray. This will be where your beetles will continue to breed and lay eggs amongst the media. Once the eggs start to hatch (after staying in the media for approx 3-4 weeks) you can remove the beetles and put them in a new container with fresh media and start again. Dead beetles who have lived a full and happy life, burrowing in media, eating vegetables and fornicating to provide you with the next generation, can also be fed to the chooks.
The Adult Super Mealworms will have to be kept separate from the other stages (preferably in a dark, temperature stable location) so they can turn into beetles. The best way to do this is to remove them and put them (individually) into a small, high sided canister or container approx. the size of a kids medicine cup (available for purchase here). They do not require or should have any bedding or food sources as this stage mimics the food cycle availability in nature and gives them a gentle push to pupate. This process happens over 14 days, and then another 14 days after they pupate they will hatch into beetles.
These new beetles will hatch out white/cream and then darken to black over 24-48 hours. These newly hatched beetles can then just be added to your beetle tray to increase the population there. They will then breed and lay more eggs, giving you more mealworms and the cycle continues. Beetles love the dark, so adding an upturned egg carton, toilet roll or other smallish pieces of cardboard will be appreciated for them to climb over and hide in/under.
Now going forward…
Every few days or weekly care:
* Just give your mealworms a shuffle every now and again to increase the airflow and see how they are going.
* Remove adult mealworms to ensure that your pupae containers are full to continue the cycle.
* Check and remove/replace food source with fresh food as needed. If your food is going mouldy remove it straight away. Either there is too much food for the mealworms to eat, or you have poor ventilation.
After 3-4 weeks…
* Your beetles will have laid lots of eggs in their bran. It is time to take the beetles out of the Growth Media/bran and put them into a new, clean container with new Growth Media/bran. Remove the dead beetles and feed to chooks or compost (whatever your prefer).
* Your old bran needs to be kept for a few weeks and the eggs will hatch into tiny little mealworms. This can take a while so wait at least two weeks before expecting to see anything. When the eggs hatch and the mealworms start growing they are virtually invisible to the naked eye. You can only really tell they are there by moving an area of Growth Media/bran and watching very carefully. If you disturb a pocket of bran you will see the Growth Media flickering slightly, which is moving from the baby worms. Some YouTube vidoes show this very well… like here (Forward to 5:28 for movement).
* You will eventually have two or three stages of mealworm growth (you can combine them into one tray/level if you want), all in different stages. They will consist of:
* Old Growth Media/bran with eggs hatching into baby mealworms
* Baby/growing mealworm tray/level
* Large mealworm container (for feeding and turning to pupae)
* Pupae tray with individual containers
* Beetle tray/level with fresh Growth Media/bran
Your health and mealworm care
If you have respiratory issues, asthma or similar please use extreme caution when handling and cleaning the mealworms. It is quite common for people who work with insects to become allergic to their dust/frass etc. The dust, eggs and poo particles are very fine and can easily cause irritation to your respiratory system. I have no allergies or asthma but I find it necessary to wear a good quality dust mask when handling and cleaning my mealworms. Not a nice feeling when you breathe the dust in…
Cleaning your mealworm setup
You will need to clean your mealworm setup at some stage. Mealworms and beetles eat the bran as well as the food that you give them, and the poo (frass) sinks to the bottom of the containers. It is a very fine, grey colour. It can also smell of ammonia. The mealworms will also shed their exoskeleton multiple times in their lifecycle, and most often will come to the surface, so this is best removed also… Also, mealworms will die so you can remove your dead mealworms and dead pupae or pupae husks.
To remove the exoskeleton, grab your dustmask, the tray and a handheld fan or stiff piece of cardboard. Go outside to a well ventilated area, hold the tray/container on a downward angle and fan the top. The exoskeleton is very light and will fly out of the container and the bran will stay at the bottom (as it is heavier).
Removing the frass is a bit more involved, and you will need some sieves with different sized holes. It’s best shown in these YouTube videos –
Mealworm poo is great for your garden and very concentrated so use it sparingly… Otherwise compost it, bring it to your local food swap, sell it on Gumtree (seriously) or throw it away.
Google has lots of information. If you are active on Facebook, feel free to join –
Once your mealworm farms is established and has enough in each lifecycle… feed your chookies!!!!