Raising mealworms is a great way to save money on feed for pets or animals that eat mealworms, to use as fishing bait, make some extra money and reduce pollution.
If you’ve been thinking about starting this mealworm farm process, this helpful guide will lead you in the right direction.
Getting Started Raising Mealworms
The first step to growing and raising mealworms is setting up a home for them and getting the right equipment for the breeding process (more on this in the next section!).
You’ll want to choose a location that’s well lit but not too hot, as mealworms will die in temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) but will also quickly pupate and turn into mealworm beetles (the darkling beetle) at temperatures higher than 70 degrees.
Some good locations to raise mealworms are on the floor of a spare room or in your garage.
Start with a container of some sort and make sure it’s deep enough for your worms to molt without sticking their heads out.
As they grow, they’ll need extra room to thrive, especially if you plan to have your own mealworm farm.
A five-gallon bucket is sufficient if you’re starting to raise mealworms.
Do note that mealworm bedding should consist of about 75% moistened paper pulp (paper towel or newsprint works well) and 25% bran.
Never use any sawdust as it can cause problems for your mealworms.
How to Raise Mealworms: Life Cycle and The Breeding Process
A mealworm’s life cycle consists of the following stages and the time period each stage lasts:
- Eggs (5 days – 2.5 weeks)
- Mealworm (4-10 weeks)
- Pupa (1-3 weeks, but could be up to 9 months in cold temperatures or over the winter)
- Darkling Beetles (live for 3-12 months)
- Lay Eggs (the darkling beetle will lay eggs after around 10-20 days)
NOTE: Warmer temperatures will tend to speed up the life cycle of your meal worms. If you want to raise mealworms faster, increase the temperature with their tolerated range (more on this further down). Light may also increase the speed of the growth cycle when you raise mealworms. To slow things down before they turn into mealworm beetles, you can put them in the refrigerator to slow down the mealworm life cycle.
Equipment and Setup Needed for Your Own Mealworm Farm
You’ll need the following equipment to raise your own mealworms and start a mealworm colony:
- 4-5 Plastic containers, tubs, worm trays or set of 4-5 drawers stacked on top of each other which you can store mealworms in at the different stages of the meal worms life cycle. Add a fine mesh which replaces the bottom of the top plastic container draw. (cut out the bottom of the tub and add something like fly screen mesh)
- Bedding – You’ll see in the next few sections, what bedding to add to each specific mealworm container
- Sifter or a sieve
Here’s what each level of your worm trays will represent:
Container 1 – Darkling Beetles
This is where darkling beetles breed and lay mealworm eggs. The mesh is simply so that their eggs can fall into the second container below once they start laying eggs.
Container 2 – Eggs and Hatching Baby Worms
This is the tray where you wait for the eggs to hatch into baby, fresh mealworms. When this happens, you move them into the tray below where the mealworms grow.
Container 3 – Raise Mealworms
This tray is where mealworms grow and begin their larval stage as live mealworms en route to becoming a darkling beetle.
They won’t spend their whole time here and will be moved around 2 weeks before they are due to pupate.
Bedding can be wheat bran or pollard, and vegetables put on top of a plastic dish (to avoid molding and touching the bedding)
Container 4 – Mealworms Thrive and Increase in Size
Some call this stage “gut loading” but it basically means feeding them as much nutritious food as possible before you harvest mealworms, so when feeding to pets or animals that eat mealworms, they are as large as possible. Chicken granule feed and wheat bran is a great option here.
You can then harvest them from your mealworm farm before they turn into mealworm beetles (darkling)
Container 5 (optional) – Pupate into Mealworm Beetles
When raising mealworms, you may want some from your mealworm farm to go all the way through the mealworm lifecycle, so that you can continue the process when the darkling beetles lay eggs.
This tub is just for the pupae and beetles (very briefly) to be kept before the beetles are immediately moved to the top of the mealworm farm chain again.
Add a little bit of wheat bran to this container – around a quarter inch – and you’re good to go.
The Duration Of Time Needed For Growing Mealworms
It will usually take about 2-3 months before you have hundreds or thousands of new worms available to feed your pets, such as lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, chameleons, tarantulas, birds, fish or he many species of animal that eat mealworms.
It can take this long to start a large mealworm colony.
Feed Mealworms – What do Mealworms Eat?
There are some general foods that will work for your mealworm farm which include:
- sweet potato
- wholegrain bread
Fruits can work but generally mold quickly, so can add extra maintenance and may not be worth the extra time for no extra reward.
Below are more specific dietary recommendations for specific periods of raising mealworms:
Only give them vegetables, such as apples and carrots.
Mealworms eat oatmeal, wheat bran or bread soaked in milk too.
Remove any decaying food after a few days.
Introduce some protein into their diet with meat (the fresher the better) or chicken feed is preferable to avoid nasty smells from your meal worms habitat, but don’t feed them too much.
It’s time to give them more protein from powdered (blended) eggshell, dried fish, or liver powder. Extra vegetables are also needed.
You can also feed them crushed dry dog or cat food.
Don’t forget the wheat bran your live mealworms too.
Stop feeding your mealworms vegetables and rely solely on protein, such as lean ground beef, soaked dog/cat food, chicken livers, and dry whole wheat bread.
Try lightly frying it in some vegetable oil before adding it to their container.
After this period, your mealworms will be ready
Maintaining Your Mealworms Growth
The mealworm growing process should take a couple of months before you have hundreds or thousands of new mealworms.
Keep humidity levels between 60% and 80%, but no more than that as any higher can result in mold growth.
Also make sure that the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) but below 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).
If not, your worms will suffocate because they cannot breathe properly when the air is too dry or warm.
IMPORTANT: Ideally, you want to keep them in conditions cooler than 70 degrees F to keep them from turning into pupae and beetles.
At 70 degrees, they are most comfortable and will eat rapidly, accelerating their larval stage and change into darkling beetles
If you want live mealworms by the end of this process so you can then harvest mealworms, (and you want to stop them turning into a mature darkling beetle) follow those rules.
How to Harvest Mealworms
For the purpose of growing mealworms, you’ll need to move some into a second container with some eggshells or oatmeal and wait for them to molt into pupae.
The worms will then begin the pupal stage of their lives, which lasts about two weeks before they turn into darkling beetles.
At the end of this period, they’ll turn into adult darkling beetles that are ready to be bred, sold or fed to pets or animals who prefer beetles to meal worms.
Remove any dead mealworms, decaying food, or excess frass so your mealworms don’t suffocate.
Each mealworm will produce one adult worm every 1-2 months.
Keep in mind that worms are living creatures and that they can die or fail to thrive for various reasons beyond your control.
If this occurs, buy more adult worms from a pet store until your mealworms have reached the desired number.
Benefits Of Raising Mealworms
- Good for your pets, such as lizards and chickens, and mealworms will turn into adult worms in 2-3 months.
- They are a vital part of the digestive system in some animals, particularly reptiles. As such, they can produce very valuable droppings called mealworm frass. These contain nutrients that have been digested by the worms when they eat.
- They love carrots, apples, and whole-wheat bread. Pet stores sell commercially prepared live mealworms at a fairly high price, so why not raise your own? It’s easy, fun, and saves you money too. You won’t need to buy mealworms again.
- You can also control how many mealworms your pet eats so that it never goes hungry or without its favorite food.
- They are very easy to care for and you basically know everything you need to know about growing mealworms after reading this guide.
In short, feeding your pet your own mealworms means it gets a high-quality diet that’s rich in vitamins and nutrients.
This results in a happier pet that remains healthy while also allowing you to have fun and produce high-quality mealworms.
Growing mealworms is much more environmentally friendly than buying them from the pet store.
Hopefully this guide has shown you how to get started growing your own mealworms.
Remember to keep the worms in a dark container (or at least keep the container half in the light so they have the option) with pieces of vegetables, bread and the correct bedding.
Everything you need to raise mealworms and start your own mealworm farm is explained here, but growing them the right way will ensure success and more live mealworms, so it’s important to remember the process.
Have fun creating your mealworm habitat and if you have your own mealworm farm, we’d love to hear your experience or any tips you have for harvesting extra mealworms or how you farm mealworms optimally.