The price of feeders such as mealworms are going up year after year. Sometimes, they are even hard to find, so why not learn how to breed mealworms yourself? This easy method will show you how you can set up a mealworm breeding colony with just a few supplies, mealworms, and days.
- A lot of mealworms
- Bins to separate mealworms and beetles
- Wheat Bran / Fresh Veggies
To get started, you should prepare your bins for the mealworms and different stages of mealworms. You may choose to use a mealworm breeding rack system like in the picture below or by just using shoe box size sterilite bins. Either way is fine. I have had great success in using the rack system though. It saves a lot of time when transferring and cleaning the bins. It also helps keep your colony organized.
Having multiple bins will help you separate all your different types of mealworms (babies, adults, beetles, pupae, and feeders). You can arrange the bins in any order that you would like. You may choose to use 3 bins or all of the bins. The organization and method of breeding mealworms is all up to you. Below is just a mock up of how to breed mealworms one way.
If you would like to make a more advanced mealworm colony setup using an automated system, you can add screen to the bottom of the beetle bin to allow the eggs to drop into a different bin.
Once you have your mealworm bins ready, you may then add your bedding. The bedding will act as the substrate and food for your mealworms. They will burrow in it, eat it, and live in it. Having this in mind, you will be wanting to clean it out once it starts smelling bad. Wheat bran and dried oatmeal oats is what most people use as the bedding, but you may make up your own blend if you want too. Add the bedding to at least 4 bins (babies, adults, beetles, and feeders). It is very important that you separate your breeding mealworm colony from your feeder colony to ensure a rapid growth and breeding process. If you start picking mealworms from different stages to feed to your reptiles and other small animals, you may not have such a successful colony. So make sure to separate the two mealworm colonies.
Time to add the mealworms. You should start off with a good amount of mealworms. If you have a small colony of reptiles, I would suggest starting off with about 1,000 – 3,000 mealworms. If you have a large collection of reptiles, start with about 5,000 mealworms. These amounts will allow you use some for breeding and feeding without running out.
Mealworm Life Cycle
It is very important that you get familiar with the mealworm life cycle so you know what to expect and when to expect it.
Eggs: 1-2 weeks
Mealworms: Approximately 10 weeks
Pupae: 1-2 weeks
Beetles: 2-3 months
When breeding mealworms, it is very important that you separate your mealworms, pupae, beetles, and eggs from one another. If you don’t, one will eat the other as a food source. Depending on how many bins you have, you should separate your colony as follows:
The top bin should contain your beetles. During the beetle stage, eggs will start to drop in the bin. After about a month, you will start to see baby mealworms. Sometimes it may even take longer, but usually it takes about 4 weeks to start seeing new life. Once you do, sift the eggs, mealworms, and bedding into the last bottom bin. It is very important that you keep all the frass and bedding in that last bin, because there is probably hundreds of eggs in there that you do not see. Make sure to add fresh bedding to the last bin and beetle bin.
The second bin should contain nothing but mealworm pupae. If you see pupae, you will recognize it immediately, because they will look like white little aliens. Pupae will not bite, fly, crawl, or eat. It will only wiggle when you touch or grab it. Having this in mind, you should not have any type of bedding in the bin. Only put a little bit of food in one corner of the bin for the hatched beetles to eat. Once you see a beetle in the bin, make sure to remove it immediately into the beetle bin or there might be a chance of the beetle eating other pupae.
As you can see, these pupae are in a cup. You can contain your pupae in any way you would like. But just remember, they will turn into beetles, so make sure they are somewhere contained.
The third bin should contain your adult mealworms. The adult mealworms are the worms closest to becoming pupae. You do not need to separate the mealworms like you need to with superworms, in order for them to turn into pupae. Make sure you keep an eye on this bin daily or at least every other day to remove the pupae from the bin. Mealworms will eat pupae as a food source if needed.
The fourth bin should contain all your baby mealworms. Once all your eggs hatch out, you can sift all the baby mealworms from the bottom bin and transfer the new generation of mealworms into the above baby mealworm bin. You will most likely have thousands of baby mealworms at this point. It might not seem much at this point because of their size, but once they start growing, you may need more bins.
Eggs and Sifted Frass
The last bin should contain the eggs, a few baby microscopic mealworms, and frass from the beetle bin. It is very important you keep the bedding and frass from the beetl bin, because this is where all the eggs are located. Eggs are about 2 mm in size, which is very hard to see for some people. Eggs will fall through the sifter without a doubt, which is why you should not throw away the bedding. Once all your eggs hatch and you can see a lot of baby mealworms, you can then move them up to the next bin with fresh bedding.
What do Mealworms Eat?
As you may have noticed from the pictures above, lettuce and potatoes were used. This type of food acts as hydration for the mealworms and beetles. Some people may recommend to use water crystals as hydration, but I find it easier to just use fresh vegetables. Do not just use any vegetables though. Make sure it’s vegetables that are safe for your reptiles and frogs. You need to remember that your reptiles will be eating what you are feeding to your mealworms. Their main diet will consist of the bedding, so make sure to blend up or buy a good protein diet.
When using fresh vegetables, it is very important that you remove any uneaten vegetables the following day to avoid bacteria and mold build up. Too much humidity and water in the bedding can cause a ruin in your mealworm colony.