Mealworm Farming From A to Z – Everything You Should Know

If you own chickens, ducks, or other birds you probably already know that they have surprisingly high protein requirements. Especially in times of stress, illness, molting or egg-laying extra protein is especially necessary, and getting them enough through their usual food can be challenging. That’s where mealworm farming come in.


Mealworms are protein-packed treats and supplements for chickens and other birds they will love to eat, and you’ll love the boost of nutrition it can give them.

But mealworms are shockingly expensive compared to other food, and this has led many poultry keepers to start farming their own.

Bug farming might sound a little crazy, but it’s a lot easier than you think, and who knows, you might even start to enjoy it on its own merits.

Keep reading and I’ll tell you absolutely everything that you’ll need to know to start your own prosperous and easily manageable mealworm farm.

Just What is a Mealworm?

Before we go any further, we need to know exactly what a mealworm is. Mealworms are not true worms; we’re not talking about earthworms and nightcrawlers here. Mealworms are actually a type of insect larvae, specifically the larvae of darkling beetles.

Most folks who own reptiles and birds are already well acquainted with mealworms as a, well, meal for their animals but that isn’t how they got their name.

Mealworms are pretty serious pests of grains, including cereal meal, hence the name. What’s worse, it’s easier for them to hide and be transported in large stocks, and that has seen them spread literally all around the world.

Where Do Mealworms Come From?

As mentioned, mealworms are the larvae of darkling beetles, but to be more specific, each mealworm comes from an egg as the second phase of the mealworm life cycle.

I know this sounds like boring science trivia, but this is important to know if you want to farm mealworms yourself.

Actually, it’s really good news: each mealworm comes from an egg, but each female darkling beetle can lay hundreds and hundreds of eggs during her reproductive cycle.

To say that mealworms, and their parent beetles that lay them, reproduce exponentially is a gargantuan understatement!

Why Would You Farm Them?

Chances are you don’t want to farm mealworms just because you are really into bugs. If you feed your animals, chickens or anything else, mealworms you want to start farming them because it can save you a bundle on food costs.

And, generally, it is totally worth your time because mealworms are very easy to raise, keep and process so long as you don’t have any trouble sticking to a schedule.

For a little bit of time each week, you can keep yourself and all your animals in mealworms in perpetuity going forward.

In fact, your mealworms and the adult beetles they turn into reproduce so quickly you’re probably going to have a huge surplus.

That means you can sell them to friends and neighbors or even market them, or process them into nutritious food that you can preserve and store as snacks for later.

What Other Animals Eat Mealworms?

I’ve mentioned several times already that various poultry livestock species eat mealworms, specifically chickens, ducks and geese.

If you want to get really exotic, emus and ostriches can also eat mealworms and mealworm meal.

There are lots of other animals that eat mealworms too, and if you own them or are involved in a business that services them, mealworm farming is probably a good idea.

Many other bird species, including many pet species, like canaries, lovebirds and parrots will eat mealworms as will many reptile and amphibian species: geckos, turtles, frogs, salamanders and the like.

But we aren’t done yet. Many fish eat mealworms, specifically predatory fish species. And believe it or not even mammals eat mealworms, is there a favorite of small species like hedgehogs, sugar gliders and certain rodents.

Believe it or not, mealworms and mealworm feed can even be used as a protein-bulking supplement for larger mammals like pigs.

How Much Land Do I Need for Mealworm Farming?

Mealworm farming is sort of a misnomer if you were thinking about how much land you need to raise them!

You don’t need land, not really, to raise your mealworms. At most, you’ll need a room or closet in your home, or potentially some space in your garage. That’s all.

If you have room for no more than a single filing cabinet, you’ve got more than enough room to start raising lots and lots of mealworms.

If you really need to save on space, a single large plastic container or tray, like a medium-sized storage bin, is all you need to start a productive mealworm ranching operation.

We’ll talk more about equipment and space requirements down below.

Do Mealworms Stay Worms Forever?

To be clear, no! Your mealworms will not stay warms forever no matter what you do, unless they die. As a natural part of the mealworm life cycle they will eventually metamorphose into a pupa form and then emerge as adult beetles.

Typically, the entire life cycle takes about 4 months from front to back, but they will only remain in their larval, worm, form for about 3 months depending on conditions.

What Should You Do with Their Beetles?

Mealworm beetles are an important part of your farm, because it is the adult beetles that lay the eggs that will lead to more mealworms.

However, their numbers must be sharply controlled unless you want to be dealing with truly explosive growth: not all adult beetles are females, but each female will lay hundreds of eggs that will likely hatch into mealworms ready to propagate the life cycle.

Accordingly, you generally want to separate the pupae from the rest of your mealworms so you can keep a handle on the number of adult beetles that you’ll be dealing with.

But let’s say, for whatever reason, you make a big mistake and wind up with dozens and dozens or hundreds of adult beetles, all ready to mate and mingle. What should you do?

If you want to dispatch them humanely and without making a huge mess, you can simply place them in a sealed container in the freezer and this will kill them.

Resist the urge to take them outside and dump them because that can lead to a huge and damaging wild population of darkling beetles!

Any of your neighbors that are growing crops of their own will despise you if they find out you did it.

How Should You Store Your Mealworms?

Mealworms are easy to store inside any container that has slick walls that are at least a foot deep, so you can get by with shorter walls if you keep the top of the container tightly closed.

Depending on your preferences, you might use an actual insect terrarium, one of the aforementioned to plastic storage tubs (you can make a closely fitting lid with screen door mesh) or any other similar container it is easy to handle, easy to clean and won’t make it too easy for the little worms or adult beetles to climb and escape.

If you want to use a tiered system in a filing cabinet or other piece of furniture that will allow you to stack multiple trays, the trays themselves can be smaller for convenience, but you must ensure that they close tightly to prevent escapes!

How Can You Keep Mealworms Alive?

Keeping mealworms alive is easy: all you need to do is make sure they have enough food and a little bit of water in the form of moisture (they typically get this from their food) and take care to protect them from diseases, mold and things like that. This is easily accomplished by cleaning up their container when required.

Temperature and humidity are important considerations, both for the health and life of your mealworms and also to help control the speed at which they mature into adults.

Mealworms thrive at right around 78°Fahrenheit with a humidity level between 65% and 70%. This ensures that eggs will hatch and mealworms grow quickly, but mealworms can survive and temperatures anywhere from 55° to 90° Fahrenheit.

Humidity could be considerably lower, no less than 50%, or a little bit higher, no more than 75%.

You can modify the temperature using any variety of terrarium heaters and humidifiers, or improvised solutions such as in room heating, fans and so forth.

Conditions are Critical for their Longevity Mealworms!

If you prefer to batch harvest your mealworms, keeping enough alive and growing toward adulthood for maintenance levels only, you’ll need to do your part to regulate conditions in order to slow down their growth.

This can be done by placing some or all of your mealworms in a refrigerator to cool them.

So long as they don’t get too cold, this will not kill them and can greatly extend the time that they remain both fresh and alive, and also remain in the larval worm stage.

What Do Mealworms Eat?

Mealworms eat a variety of things, but it is always organic matter like vegetables, grains and fruit.

The best thing you can feed your mealworms will actually take the form of their bedding, or substrate.

Oats and wheat bran are the best and most popular from a cost-to-nutrition perspective, but some people use rice bran, cornmeal or wheat germ.

Are there things mealworms CAN'T eat?

This can be supplemented with vegetables or fruits like apple or banana slices, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams.

Cutting a chunk of each, or multiple smaller chunks, to place in each container with the mealworms will allow them to eat and drink as needed.

The latter produce is especially important because this is the primary method from which mealworms get their water- actually through their food!

Notice how all of the fruits and veggies I listed are firm and moist, but not juicy. This will help keep mold under control and also prevent your mealworms from sticking to the chunks of food

How To Out Mealworms

If you want to dry out your mealworms to kill and preserve them for feeding to your chickens or other animals, all you need to do is put them in the oven or outside in a solar oven set up for low heat.

Roasting your mealworms anywhere between 120 °F and 150 °F slowly over several hours will dry them out without really cooking them. This makes them easy to collect and store, and easy to feed to your animals.

Keep in mind that, for certain species that prefer moist food, you can rehydrate them by soaking them for a brief time in a dish of water before feeding.

How Do You Breed Mealworms?

Breeding mealworms is really simple: all you need to do is keep them alive and thriving and they will eventually mature into adult beetles that will get busy with each other before laying tons and tons of eggs, continuing the life cycle and keeping you absolutely overflowing with mealworms if you aren’t careful.

The first step to breeding mealworms is to start with good, healthy larvae. This means you want to buy them from a known and trusted supplier that has not treated them with any growth hormones to make them bigger.

These modified mealworms tend to be sterile and cannot reproduce if they do survive to adulthood at all.

Mealworms: A Quick Guide to Breeding the Easy Way

Look for the larvae to start entering their pupil stage after their last molt. They sort of look like an odd, lumpy little worm, and will appear dead because they won’t move- typically they will only twitch if you touch or disturb them.

From here you have an option: either start removing the other mealworms to your other trays for use as food, or carefully remove the pupa and put it in a separate, clean container with several inches of substrate on the bottom.

Don’t panic at this point, because the pupa will basically appear dead for at least two weeks and probably three.

But after this point, you’ll notice the pupa will split open and a small, chunky brown beetle will emerge. This is the adult, but still juvenile, beetle!

Just a few days after this, that little brown beetle will mature into a large, glossy black or charcoal gray beetle.

This is the final stage, and once you have multiple adult beetles together they will start breeding. Don’t worry about this part, they’ll take care of it themselves, but once you notice the presents of many fully matured adults expect eggs in the near future.

This is why it is so important to breed your mealworms in a clean container with fresh substrate: now you must look carefully for small 1mm to 2 mm ivory-colored eggs hidden in the substrate.

Some folks like to place egg cartons in their breeding containers to give the beetles somewhere convenient to lay their eggs which can make recovering them easier.

Once the eggs are laid, you’ll want to separate the adults from the eggs because some adults will try to eat them. One to two weeks later, the eggs will hatch into small mealworms, and the whole cycle will repeat itself.

What Do Mealworm Eggs Look Like?

Mealworm eggs look like tiny grains of rice. They actually look like super tiny little chicken eggs, oval in shape and ivory or off-white in color and vaguely translucent.

There are difficult to spot in substrate, so you might want to use a contrasting color substrate especially for your breeding container.

Common Problems When Breeding Mealworms

The biggest problems mealworm Farmers encounter with breeding usually come from issues that will compromise the eggs or the health of the resulting mealworms.

Mold is a major problem, so you want to make it a point to sift and if necessary replace the substrate in each of your containers on an as-needed basis.

When you notice the substrate starts to show any mold or other growing contamination whatsoever, change it out and clean the container.

Similarly, when you notice an abundance of brown specks piling up, it is time to sift and if necessary add or replace substrate. These brown specs are called castings, or dross: mealworm poop!

You can save the stuff and use it as a beneficial additive to your fertilizer or compost or throw it away.

A fine sieve or bucket strainer is useful for separating the super fine droppings from the good and fresh substrate and the mealworms themselves. Just handle it carefully so you don’t injure them accidentally.

Also make it a point to gently disinfect containers as needed, because mealworms can suffer from their own diseases and infections in nasty conditions.

Don’t use anything with harsh chemicals or insecticidal qualities for obvious reasons!

This Sounds Like a Lot of Work. Where Can You Buy Live Mealworms?

You can buy live mealworms from other mealworm ranchers or insect specialists in your community or online. Simply search for them, and you should get lots of results.

However! Be very, very cautious and vet any of your suppliers: as mentioned, some will use growth hormones on their mealworms to make them more appealing and also more profitable as snacks for animals, but in doing so they make these mealworms sterile so they aren’t any good to you for breeding.

What are the Benefits of Feeding Mealworms to Chickens?

Mealworms are excellent for chickens because they supply tons of protein and other vitamins and minerals that chickens need to be healthy.

They are especially important for supporting the health of any chicken that is stressed, sick, growing, healing from an injury or laying eggs.

Not for nothing, chickens really do love the little buggers and they are sure to become one of their favorite traits.

How Old Should Chickens Be Before they Get Mealworms?

Generally, you’ll want to wait until chicks are old enough to start eating properly solid foods, anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks old depending on the breed and how quickly they grow.

How Many Mealworms Should Chickens Eat?

Chickens should get mealworms on a supplemental or treat basis, definitely not as the primary item in their diet or all the time.

Mealworms are good for chickens and high in protein, but also very high in fat and calories. Too many mealworms in their diet can lead to an attritional imbalance or just pronounced weight gain!

Scattering a large handful of mealworms, say one for every six or seven chickens, in their usual feed is adequate.

How Often Should Chickens Get Mealworms?

If your chickens are happy and healthy, you can give them mealworms a couple of times a week as a treat.

For chickens that are stressed, sick or injured as described above, you can feed them more often, but in smaller quantities, as a supplement to their usual diet to help them cope.

Is it Illegal to Feed Chickens Mealworms?

No, it isn’t illegal to feed chickens to mealworms in the United States. However, it isn’t out of the question that there could be particular local or county ordinances to the contrary, or even ones that might affect your raising of these insects.

Always double-check before you commit!

Is it Illegal in Other Countries?

Surprisingly yes, at least in the UK and potentially other countries in Europe also. Throughout the UK, it’s currently considered an offense to feed dried mealworms to chickens.

It doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t know why, but currently, various culture keeper associations and special interest groups are working on reversing this ruling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do mealworms get their water from?

Mealworms get their water from the food they eat, typically fruits and vegetables as described above. In some containers, they might be provided with a small cube of damp sponge to suck on.

What do mealworms turn into?

Mealworms will eventually grow and turn into beetles, specifically darkling beetles. 

How long does it take for mealworms to turn into beetles?

It will usually take around 4 months, total, for mealworms to turn into adult beetles. Most of this time is spent as growing larvae, or worms, and several weeks will be spent in the pupa stage prior to emergence as an adult.

How long do mealworms live?

Assuming their life cycle proceeds normally, mealworms will live for about 5 months or a little longer in total. They generally only stay as mealworms for 2 to 3 months before they enter the pupa stage.

Do mealworms need to be refrigerated?

No. Mealworms don’t need to be refrigerated unless you want to slow down their metabolism and keep them as live, fresh worms longer.

How much do mealworms cost?

The cost of live mealworms varies greatly, but they typically sell for about $3.50 per pound.

How to separate mealworm eggs from beetles?

The best way to separate mealworm eggs from beetles is to remove the adult beetles while leaving the eggs in the container. Eggs are delicate and easy to damage or disrupt.

What kind of “bedding” is best for mealworms?

Mealworms don’t really need true bedding like mammals, but they do need substrate to live in. In this case, they also eat their substrate, so wheat bran or oatmeal are good choices.

How do you stop mealworms from turning into beetles?

You cannot truly stop most mealworms from turning into beetles. Lower temperatures will extend the time that they remain larva, however, a trick you can use to your advantage. The only other way to reliably prevent metamorphosis is to kill them.

mealworm farming pinterest

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *