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What are Mealworms?

By Nychole Price
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle, also known as Tenebrio molitor. The darkling beetle is a holometabolic insect, meaning it has four life-stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The mealworm is a darkling beetle in larva form, where it remains for 90 to 114 days, before turning into a pupa.

Mealworms are hatched from white, bean-shaped eggs that are 1/20 of an inch (1.27 mm) in length. When they are first born, the larvae are white, but will turn either honey-yellow or yellow-brown within a couple days. The mealworm, when mature, will measure 1.25 inches (3.18 cm) long. Their bodies are smooth and hard, with a shiny appearance.

The primary uses of mealworms are as food for reptiles and birds, and as fishing bait. The mealworm is high in protein, which is why it is the preferred food among reptile and bird owners. Worms can be purchased at pet stores, where they are sold in a container with oatmeal or bran. This is used as food and bedding for the worms. This will usually cost around twenty five dollars for a thousand worms.

When used for fishing bait, many commercial suppliers feed the mealworms a juvenile hormone that helps them grow to abnormal sizes, making the worms more attractive to the fish. Yellow mealworm bait is often used when fishing for perch, trout, bluegill and whitefish. They are especially popular among ice fisherman.

Many people choose to raise their own worms, as it is very easy and can also be fun. When farming your own worms, the cost per 1000 worms is reduced to ten cents, which includes the food and bedding. It ensures an endless supply of bait for avid fishermen.

In order to breed mealworms, you will need a plastic container, whole wheat flour or wheat bran, potatoes, and a starter culture of about 500 mealworms. You can purchase the starter culture online. Many pet supply stores will also sell you a starter culture, but it usually costs about twice as much as purchasing it online.

Fill the plastic container with about one inch (2.5 cm) of the whole wheat flour and add the worm culture. Place a couple of thin potato slices in the box for moisture. Keep the temperature around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.89 degrees Celsius). In a couple of weeks the worms will turn into pupae, followed by beetles approximately three days later. Transfer the beetles to another container to breed and lay approximately 500 eggs each.

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Discussion Comments
By DentalFloss — On Jul 21, 2011

@MaPa10- It is hilarious to think of the way that people will react when unexpectedly faced with an animal, even something tiny and harmless like a gerbil. Sounds like those upperclassmen got what they deserved!

By MaPa — On Jul 21, 2011

@whiteplane - That's great. I can see the person snooping in your container and then screaming and running away when they found it full of worms.

In high school, my Biology teacher was breeding some gerbils and he told us we could buy the extras really cheap if we wanted. I bought two, and I brought in a little box to take them home. I was a Freshman and I went to an all-boys Catholic high school known for hazing. Nothing harsh, but the upperclassmen would mess with you a little. So I'm walking down the hall with my box o' gerbils and a couple of Seniors spot me and ask what's in the box.

Before I could even answer they grabbed it and one of them held it near his face and took the lid off. A little furry gerbil popped out and the guy screamed like a girl and ran about five steps before he realized what he just did. He just kind of chuckled and handed it back, but I wish I had a video of his reaction.

By parkthekarma — On Jul 20, 2011

You know what else loves those things? Eels. I had a relatively normal 20-gallon freshwater aquarium, and I bought this eel for it called a tire tread eel. For months he didn't grow, barely came out. I never saw him eat, even though I fed the fish all the time. Turns out he didn't like the fish food, must have been just eating enough off the bottom to hang on.

I went to the pet store and told them the problem and they sold me a container of meal worms. I dropped a few in and he went nuts! Flew out from under the rock he liked to hide beneath and went tearing around snapping them up and knocking everything over.

The fish were frantically trying to get out of his way. They weren't used to him because he spent all day under his rock. It was crazy. He would eat a bunch of them at a time.

Eventually, I started buying night crawlers at a bait shop and keeping them in the fridge. He loved those too. Eventually he got so big he would try to burrow under the rocks on the bottom and part of him would stick out. Knocked stuff over all the time.

By KLR650 — On Jul 20, 2011

@ZsaZsa56 - My hand is up too. I didn't eat them at a restaurant, though. I got into the lizard food. Mealworms and waxworms both. I had a couple of each. I managed to keep them down, but it was definitely a one time thing. I figured if the lizard liked it, I would too, right? No, no I did not. I was a strange kid.

Apparently, I was not as strange as my little brother, because he not only ate them, he loved them.

By golf07 — On Jul 19, 2011

I buy my eggs from a lady who raises her own chickens. I know she will feed her chickens some mealworms. She told me she cannot always get mealworms live so will often use freeze dried ones that she orders online.

Just the thought of it sounds kind of gross to me, but I realize the benefits of using them. I just like buying the farm fresh eggs and knowing that she takes good care of her chickens.

By honeybees — On Jul 19, 2011

Anytime we see bluebirds in the spring, I always do whatever I can to attract them and keep them around. They are so pretty to watch and listen to, but it can be hard to get them to stay and nest.

I have used live mealworms as a way to do this. In addition to the suet that is provided, I read that this is one way to attract them to your feeders and keep them there longer.

If you live in a climate where you have bluebirds year round, feeding them mealworms is a good way to help keep them around so you can enjoy them all year. If you live in a place like me where you only see them a few months out of the year, this can still give you an advantage over other types of feed.

By LisaLou — On Jul 18, 2011

Every winter my husband looks forward to going ice fishing. I often wish we did not live in a place where we get such cold winters, but I have lived here all my life.

He uses different kinds of bait, but mealworms are always one of his favorites. He has even thought about raising mealworms to use for himself and sell to his friends who also like to go ice fishing.

I know they are very popular among a lot of the fisherman, but he hasn't got me talked in to it yet.

By tigers88 — On Jul 18, 2011

My neighbor grows mealworms in his basement. He showed me the operation once and I was impressed. It is surprisingly small, compact and clean. I had visions of thousands of little worms writhing around somewhere but they actually don't move around all that much. It kind of looks like a big container of corn chips.

He is a big fisherman and he says that he save s a bundle by growing his own. I have to believe him. Almost every Saturday and Sunday morning I hear his truck starting before dawn so that he can get out to the lake and start fishing. This guy is crazy about it.

By whiteplane — On Jul 18, 2011

My dad had a big lizard collection when we were growing up and he was always buying mealwoms. Of course, in a house with that many mealworms there are bound to be some unpleasant experiences. We would find dried mealworms in the most unexpected placed. I can also remember a time when a friend almost went running down the road screaming after finding a container of mealworms in the fridge. Dad always thought it was kind of funny, but the rest of us knew the truth; it was gross.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Jul 18, 2011

Lots of people have seen mealworms. How many people can claim that they have eaten meal worms, though? Mine seems to be the only hand in the air.

When I was a teenager I went on a family trip to Montreal. They had a bug museum there that we visited. While we were looking around they had a bug tasting featuring fried crickets, chocolate covered ants and meal worm pizza. I've got to tell you, all of them were pretty good, especially the pizza. The mealworms just tasted crunchy and greasy, like an overcooked piece of bacon. I would definitely try them again if given the opportunity.

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