Mealworms are an important food source for all sorts of animals in nature, especially many species of birds. Naturally, lots of people who own birds (including chickens) keep mealworms on hand both alive and dead as treats or a regular part of their feathered friends’ diets.
Storing mealworms for the short-term and for the long-term entails special challenges, especially if you want to keep them alive and prevent them from maturing into adult beetles!
But it isn’t too hard and something that any bird owner should be able to do if you can handle the gross-out factor. Keep reading and I’ll tell you everything you need to know…
What are Mealworms?
Mealworms are not truly worms, but instead are the larvae of the appropriately named yellow mealworm beetle, a type of darkling beetle.
Mealworms are fairly serious grain pests, made all the worse since they have spread from their original range throughout the world thanks to human exploration and trade.
But, for our purposes, mealworms are an important part of many birds’ and other animals’ diets.
They are high in protein, and birds can consume them whole or as a ground supplement to their regular grain feed.
Also, these critters reproduce very, very quickly: adult female beetles lay many hundreds of eggs at once that hatch in a little over a week.
The larval worms take upwards of 3 months to mature and then repeat the cycle, meaning you can have a never-ending and exponential growth of mealworms as food for your birds if you want to.
Affordable, easy to raise, and highly nutritious, mealworms are a great food for most birds and other animals.
What Animals Eat Mealworms?
Aside from many species of birds, mealworms are popular treats for lizards and snakes, frogs, hedgehogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, and even fish.
Among birds, they are especially important for wild species like bluebirds, woodpeckers, thrushes, and others that feast heavily on bugs.
Young hatchlings in particular need the nutrition and protein provided by insects, meaning adult birds will surely be on the lookout for these protein-packed morsels.
Where Can You Get Mealworms?
Mealworms can be purchased in bulk either alive or dead (and dried up) from nearly any pet or poultry supply store.
Dried mealworms are especially convenient if you’re feeding them to fish or just don’t want to deal with the smell and yuck factor of live worms. Do note that most birds are highly responsive to live mealworms, though!
Also, mealworms are extremely easy to breed en masse, giving bird owners a super cheap and relatively easy way to raise their birds’ food.
How To Store Mealworms
Mealworms can be stored either alive or dead for short-term and long-term use. The best way to store mealworms will depends entirely on what you’re trying to do with them and what your own preferences are.
Generally, if you are feeding chickens, a few birds, or just wild birds, and know you’ll be going through a relatively small supply you can try to keep your mealworms alive.
Long-term live storage is also possible, but trickier. But live worms need care like all living things, and if you don’t want to be a mealworm rancher then you should just keep dead ones. You can easily kill your mealworms if it comes down to that.
Remember! In warmer temperatures mealworms will start to mature into adult beetles, and start breeding soon after that, so make sure you have a plan for either using them up by that time or killing them. Otherwise you will soon be overflowing with mealworms, literally!
Keeping Live Mealworms Short-Term
If you’re looking to keep live mealworms in the short term, keep them in a container with some sort of bedding like oatmeal, bran, or ground “sawdust” bird seed.
This will help maintain their health and give them something to burrow into and hide under should they feel threatened.
You’ll also want to make sure that they have supplementary food available. While they aren’t picky eaters, adding something like apples or potatoes can help not only feed them but boost their health, meaning they have a better nutritional profile for your birds or other animals.
These worms can climb, but don’t have a great grip. To prevent escapees, make sure that whatever container you use is smooth-sided and at least 3 inches tall.
A lid is optional if you are sure they cannot climb out, but if in doubt pop one on to secure the container. Don’t forget the air holes!
You should make it a point to remove moldy food and change the substrate periodically to keep the worms healthy. Mold leads to disease which can wipe out your “herd”.
Keeping dried or “dead” mealworms is easy, no additional care is needed. Simply place the dead mealworms into an airtight container such as a zipper bag or mason jar and protect them from moisture.
Long-Term Live Storage Tips
Long-term live storage is harder since the mealworms, as mentioned, will mature into adult beetles and run amok in about 3 months under normal conditions.
To combat this process, we can drop the temperature. Cooler temps greatly slow, but do not halt, maturation. This is accomplished by placing our mealworms in the fridge.
You’ll have to make sure they have enough food and a clean substrate as usual. However, consider a tightly closing lid as mealworms will stink up your fridge including the food inside!
This is a bridge too far for many keepers and for serious mealworm ranchers a small mini- or lab-fridge is just the ticket for sanity and sanitation both.
How Long Do Mealworms Live in the Fridge?
Following the above procedures, you can get 6 to 9 months out of live mealworms in the fridge.
Can You Keep Mealworms in the Freezer?
You can, just not alive. Freezing temps will kill mealworms dead, and this is actually a great way to mass euthanize live worms to convert them to dry storage.
Simply place your mealworms in the freezer for a few hours and that is all it will take.
How Can You Keep Mealworms Warm in the Winter?
Simply keep them in your home, assuming your home is heated to a reasonably comfortable temperature. Protect them from freezing, and they will live.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.