Mealworms are the larvae of mealworm beetles and are used as a food source for many different exotic pets. Reptiles, amphibians, sugar gliders, skunks, and other animals consider various sizes of mealworms as part of their diet but purchasing live food sources on a regular basis can become inconvenient and expensive to pet owners. Thankfully, mealworms are incredibly easy to breed and raise to feed to your exotic pet. With the proper setup—which takes around 15 minutes—a group of mealworms to start your new colony, and about two months to let them complete a full life cycle you can have your own plentiful and quiet supply of mealworms to feed to your lizard, frog, glider and other pets. You'll never have to make another trip to the pet store for mealworms again!
How to Raise Mealworms
- Get a small plastic storage bin (such as one for shoes that you can poke holes in the top) or a container sold at the pet store with a snap on vented lid to use as a container for your mealworm colony. It should be a container that light goes through but will hold the substrate and not allow the worms to escape.
- Place one to two inches of bran, oats, or a mixture of the two in the bottom of the container. This will be your mealworm's bedding and give them something to eat and burrow in.
- Place half of a raw potato on the substrate or in a shallow dish for the mealworms to eat and drink from.
- Purchase about two dozen mealworms from the pet store to use as your starter colony.
- Place the mealworms in the prepared container and make sure it stays relatively warm. If it is winter and you are worried about the container getting too cold you can use an inexpensive heating pad placed under the container to keep it warm. If the mealworms get too cold their development will stop (this is why they are stored in the refrigerator at the pet store).
- Replace the potato every couple of days (do not let it get moldy) so your mealworms have fresh food and water.
- Since the mealworms are already in the larval stage they should pupate in about three weeks. Two weeks after they pupate the mealworm beetles should emerge.
- The mealworm beetles will lay very small eggs which are difficult to see. When these eggs hatch the new larvae are also very small.
- The mealworm beetles will die while the larvae grow and the life cycle is repeated.
- After one life cycle, the mealworm colony should be well established and you can start using it to feed to your exotic pet.
Once you start feeding the mealworms from the colony to your pet you can offer a variety of vegetables and fruit (such as carrots, orange slices, and leafy greens) to the colony to increase the nutritional value of the mealworms that your pet is eating.
Add bran or oats as necessary to maintain the substrate level. Clean and change out the substrate as needed to keep it clean and fresh but wait until the colony is well-established. Eggs and tiny larvae may be lost if you clean the substrate early on and the life cycle will be interrupted. Once you have a large supply of mealworms, the dirty substrate can be filtered out and the mealworms can be saved to put in the clean substrate. Do not allow mold to grow on the food or substrate.
If you have too many mealworms simply place the whole container in the fridge to temporarily stop their development and simply rewarm it to room temperature when you need them to continue to reproduce.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT