While I’m by no means an expert on mealworm breeding, I’ve managed to land on a pretty solid method of cultivating a small scale colony. It takes a bit of preparing and a lot of patience, but if you’re looking to breed your own feeders at home, here’s some things that have worked for me.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Obviously. I’ve found ordering about 1,000 gives you a good group to kick start your breeding efforts.
There’s several different kinds you could use for your worms, just always keep ventilation in mind. Trapped moisture causes all kinds of problems, and a big group of wiggly worms generates a lot of heat. Add those two together and you can get mold or grain mite problems which are both nightmares to deal with. So always make sure your little grubs can breath.
I use these Sterilite plastic drawers that can be found at Walmart. (They come much cleaner than this one, which is one of my well loved and well dirtied drawers.)
They have lots of ventilation, stack to save room, and are easy to clean. They have little tabs at the back of each drawer designed to hold them in place, but I recommend clipping those off with a wire cutter. You’ll be shuffling drawers around a lot and it makes things easier.
You will also want spare containers. I always have some spare 6qt containers around for when I need to do some cleaning or sorting. They help a lot!
3. Food and Water Sources
You have two choices for gutload (feeder insect food), make your own, or buy pre-made food. This is the area I’m still currently figuring out, so I can only share my current experiments here. I can guarantee, however, that this will be the main area that you spend money to maintain your colony.
Currently I make my own food, which required purchasing a food processor to blend everything up. I use a modified version of this recipe that’s been floating around the web for a while. At the moment I’m blending together whole oats, powdered milk, baby rice cereal, wheat germ, peanuts, raw unsalted sunflower seeds and a protein supplement my roommate didn’t want anymore. It works pretty well, but I’m always looking for easier options or a better recipe.
For a water source, I use both carrots and potatoes. Potatoes have the bad habit of going moldy quickly, so keep an eye on them and remove them if they start to look nasty. I’ve found my mealworms also love Repashy’s bug-burger formula, so that’s something to look into as well.
Sifting tools. Because at some point you’ll need to separate worms from their poop, and having some of these makes it so much easier.
A grease pencil to track your colony. This is my own personal method, but I like to scribble on the outside of each tray some notes to help me keep track of what is inside it.
THE ACTUAL BREEDING
After you’ve acquired your starter group of mealworms, keep them fed and happy until they start to turn into these things, the pupae.
My favorite part is how at the tiniest pressure they do a little dance for you.
At this point I like to separate the pupae into their own container, since the mealworms have the bad habit of eating their comrades. It’s very time consuming however, so you can choose to do it or not. But eventually your pupae will then turn into… Beetles! Darkling beetles to be specific.
For the beetles, I set up their own fresh trays of substrate.
I layer it about one knuckle deep, or an inch if you want to get specific.
The beetles will then dig down beneath this later of food and lay their eggs into the substrate and directly onto the bottom of the tray.
Let them do their business for a good while, about two to three weeks. I usually keep about 100-200 beetles per tray to avoid overcrowding. If things start looking too cramped, just start another tray.
After a while you will get. Babies! Which are quite tiny. (That’s the center of my palm for scale)
Once I notice new babies have started hatching, I move the beetles to a new tray, and let them fill it all up again. You can easily do this 3 or 4 times before your beetles start to die off.
Ways to check for babies is to pull it out the tray and look at the bottom. You’ll see the little worms themselves or the little trails they’ve created.
Another way is to dig into the substrate and look for the tiny worms.
If you spot some, time to move the beetles to a new tray!
This staggering effect also does something awesome, it creates a similar staggering effect in your new crop of babies as well. If you have a busy colony, and are starting up new trays every couple weeks, you’ll even eventually end with a constant flow of every stage of the mealworm life cycle. From tiny babies to adults to pupae to beetles. This proved incredibly helpful the one time I bred my geckos, because I had all sizes of mealworms to feed the babies as they grew.
Your baby trays will just look like a box of substrate for a while, but keep putting in new carrots or potatoes as needed. You’ll start to see them grow bigger and eventually they’ll reach full size, pupate, and then the cycle begins anew!
My growth charts and feeding records I made in microsoft word (well actually Open Office since I’m too broke to afford word). I used the tables tool and adjusted out all the little boxes I wanted. They’re pretty basic but hey, works for me!
My cage cards I made in Photoshop, because I wanted to make sure and make the dimensions perfectly match those little plastic ID sleeves.
If you want, I could make some pdf’s and images of the documents and then have those available to download from somewhere so anyone who wants to use them can download and print them out.