How to Raise Mealworms to Feed Your Pet Reptiles Birds and Amphibians

Raising mealworms to feed your pet reptiles, birds and amphibians is relatively easy, and eliminates all those emergency runs to the pet store when you realize you are out of food.

Raising mealworms to feed your pet reptiles, birds and amphibians is relatively easy, and eliminates all those emergency runs to the pet store when you realize you are out of food. The first thing to consider is housing. Almost any waterproof container with adequate air flow will work for mealworms, but what I prefer is a three-tiered plastic cabinet, like those readily found at a discount store.

I use the three-tiered variety because there are three life stages for a mealworm that need separate quarters: larvae, pupae and adult beetle/eggs. When the drawers are in place in their cabinet, there is plenty of space along the top for sufficient air flow, yet no danger of the beetles escaping. You can also use individual plastic tubs with snap on lids, but for those, you will need to drill or otherwise poke several small holes in the lid for air flow.

Once you have chosen your mealworm housing, you need to decide on your bedding, which will also serve as food for the larvae and adults. Almost any course grain mixture will work. I use a mixture of corn meal, grits, oatmeal and powdered milk. Basically, you can use just about anything in your cupboard, as long as it is coarsely ground. Fill all three drawers with the medium to a thickness of at least two inches.

Next you need to provide moisture. Mealworms get their moisture from food, so you need to add small pieces of peeled potato or apple, making sure you set them atop a metal jar lid, or something to keep the wet surface off the bedding. Otherwise, the damp meal will mold easily and spoil your culture. The potato or apple pieces should be replaced when they dry significantly, or if they begin to mold.

Now you're ready for your starter mealworms. These can be purchased at most pet stores. You will want the regular sized mealworms, and 50 will be quite enough. Pour them all in one of the drawers. Mealworms molt often, so you should check your drawer each day and dispose of the shed exoskeletons. After a few days, the larvae will morph into pupae. You can identify the pupae by their half-moon shape, with one end being a little larger in circumference.

Remove the pupae on a daily basis and place them in a second drawer. It is important to do this often, as the larvae could eat them if they are not removed. The pupae are almost motionless, although they will often exhibit one quick flip of sorts when you first pick them up. Pupae do not need moisture, as long as you check their drawer often and immediately remove any beetles that have emerged.

In a couple of weeks, your pupae should begin to morph into beetles. Once this happens, you should remove the beetles to the third drawer. They do not bite, nor do they fly, so they are easily contained in this drawer system. You will need to provide adequate moisture for this life stage as well.

In just a few days the beetles will begin to mate and lay eggs. Remove them from the culture once they die. After a few weeks, you will begin to see very tiny larvae, as the eggs begin to hatch. At this point, you should remove and dispose of the remaining beetles, as they will readily eat the larvae. This completes the life cycle, and within a couple of months you should have plenty of mealworms to feed your pets.

Be sure to keep the medium cleaned of any dead organisms, and change it when it begins to look too dirty or if it molds. Mealworms are a valued food source for bluebirds as well, so if you find that you have more than you need for your pets, try putting a dish of them outside and see if you can attract bluebirds to your yard.