Mealworms may be the last animals you want to see or touch. But guess what? For chickens, these creepy, slimy creatures are their chocolates! In fact, they will do anything to have them!
And more than its taste, mealworms also have other benefits for them. Rasing mealworms in your backyard is also very easy and it’s cheaper in the long run.
If you want to know how; read this step-by-step guide and you will learn everything you need.
Table of Contents
- 1 What are Mealworms?
- 2 Understanding the Life Cycle of Darkling Beetles
- 3 What do Mealworms Look Like?
- 4 Are Mealworms Pests to Humans?
- 5 What are the Benefits of Mealworms to Chickens?
- 6 How to Raise Mealworms for Chickens
- 7 Where to find mealworms for sale?
- 8 Conclusion
What are Mealworms?
First of all, Mealworms are insects and not really worms. They are the larval stage of the Darkling Beetle (Tenebrionoidea), which has 19,000 different species. This kind of beetle is the largest family of the beetle species. It has four different stages – egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The larva is the yellow mealworm (Tenebrionid larvae or Tenebrio molitor).
Understanding the Life Cycle of Darkling Beetles
Darkling Beetle eggs are being produced through mating. A female Darkling Beetle may take around 5 months before they can start laying eggs. They usually lay eggs in the bran (hard outer layers of cereal grain) or oatmeal which serve as the source of their food once they are hatched. Females can lay around 276 eggs within 22-137 days.
These white eggs look like beans that are covered with a sticky substrate that causes the flour, meal, or grain waste. They are very tiny and probably smaller than a sand grain and can be barely seen by the human eye. These eggs may take 1-2 weeks before transforming into mealworms but may take longer in low temperatures and humidity.
As mentioned earlier, Mealworms are the larvae form of the Darkling Beetle. They will undergo between 10 and 14 times of shedding until they grow very big for their skin. In the last shedding phase, they will lose their skin and will transform into their pupal form. Mealworms may stay on this stage between 8 and 10 weeks before they become pupae.
Mealworms usually stay in their pupal stage between 6 and 30 days, depending on the incubation temperature. In colder months, it may even take them up to 9 months. During this stage, the pupa is inactive and does not eat. They slowly change their color from creamy white to brown while transforming into adults, thus the complete metamorphosis.
Adult Darkling Beetle
As the adult darkling beetles emerge from the pupa, they vary in shape and size. But ideally, they measure between 2 and 19 mm (0.13 and 0.75 inches). They are usually reddish-brown, brownish-black, or polished dark brown and have fused wings (sealed to the body) which make them unable to fly. Their lifespan is between 3 and 4 months only.
What do Mealworms Look Like?
Also dubbed as false wireworms, mealworms are usually slightly flattened and cylindrical but are sometimes broad and short or strongly flattened. And because they are not real worms, this soft-bodied animal has a skeleton and six jointed short legs just like their adult version. However, they use their legs for burrowing and for walking.
Mealworms have four sections – the head, the thorax, the abdomen, and the pointed spine which is located at their ends. The thorax has three segments (proto, meso, and meta) and this is where their legs are attached to. Their abdomen is composed of nine segments and is long enough for their storage of food, which is almost 30% fat content.
The skeleton of mealworms is called the exoskeleton, which means it is an external skeleton that is wrapped around the mealworm’s body. It also serves as their skin that supports and protects the body. Mealworms gradually become golden as they get older, and they undergo series of molting periods before they transform into the pupal stage.
On average, mealworms are about 2.5 cm (about 1 inch) long while adults usually measure between 1.25 and 1.8 cm (0.49 and .7 inch) in length. Nevertheless, both of them are considered nocturnal animals. This means they are active during the day but are most active at night. Giant mealworms are usually called superworms.
Are Mealworms Pests to Humans?
The natural habitat for mealworms is any dark, humid area where they can find sources of food. This includes rotten logs, beneath the rocks, and damp locations. Nevertheless, they prefer the humid environment of homes such as damaged grain residues, neglected stored food or food scraps, accumulated animal waste, and gardens as well.
But while mealworms are considered natural pests, humans can eat them. In fact, they are popular processed food such as insect burgers, especially in Asian countries. In the US, some top restaurants have been serving processed mealworms for years. On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority has declared mealworms as safe for eating.
What are the Benefits of Mealworms to Chickens?
Since humans eat mealworms, chickens can eat them, too. In fact, these non-appealing delicacies have lots of nutrients that can help birds be healthier, stronger, and more productive. And although commercialized standard feed already has all of these nutrients, there are lots of benefits from feeding chickens with mealworms. Here they are:
#1 Mealworms Have High Protein Content
Ideally, pullets that are from 7 to 18 weeks old need around 17-18% protein. Once they reach 19 weeks old or they are close to laying lay eggs, they will need less protein which is about 16% only. During their molting period, chickens that are molting need about 20% of protein for their new set of feathers. Too much protein cause overweight.
On the other hand, live mealworms are 20-30% protein while dried mealworms are 50-53% protein. By doing simple math, it’s pretty obvious that mealworms have more protein content than chickens need, and are therefore bad. For this reason, mealworms should only be about 10 percent of your chicken’s diet or 1 mealworm per 10 chickens.
#2 Mealworms are Great Treats for Chickens
What do you feel every time you eat chocolates? Well, it’s the same feeling that chickens feel while they are eating mealworms. Similarly, if you give chocolates to a friend or children, it creates a bonding moment and adds trust in your relationship. This analogy means that mealworms are great treats or small snacks for your chickens.
Speaking of bonding moments, you can also use mealworms while training your baby chicks to scratch. Well, they can learn to scratch by themselves but you must also help them make it a habit. And yes, baby chicks can already eat mealworms once they reach about 2 weeks of age. However, they should not be your substitute for starter feed.
#3 Mealworms Help Chickens During Molting Period
Molting is when the feathers of chickens fall off and will be replaced with new ones. So don’t worry if they look ugly and bald. This happens once a year and usually occurs during spring and fall. During this period, chickens need protein the most to help their new feathers grow faster. This is when mealworms are ideal for them as a supplement.
Aside from that, molting can also lower the protein nutrients inside your chickens, thus weakening their immune system. Adding mealworms to their diet during this difficult period can help a lot in replacing the lost protein in your flock. Therefore, it will help boost their immune system and your chickens will be less prone to infectious diseases.
#4 Mealworms Help Eggs to be More Nutritious
In case you don’t know, an egg white contains 13 grams of protein or 26 percent of the entire egg. Therefore, laying hens need more protein so they can produce more nutritious eggs. Aside from the usual layer feed you are giving them, many experts suggest that adding mealworms to their diet is of great help in boosting their health.
You may also wonder why free-range chicken eggs (or pastured eggs) are said to be healthier than those from hens in cages or confinement. Aside from the fact that hens need lots of space, they are also likely to find some bugs and insects in the soil. For better control of their protein intake, give them the right amount of mealworms.
#5 Mealworms Help Chickens While Creating a Deep Litter System
A deep litter system plays a vital role in every poultry management. It releases heat into the coop and therefore helps chickens in keeping their bodies warm during winter. It also helps in increasing egg production, maximizing the use of your soil, and saving your time. This is because you only need to deep clean your coop once or twice a year.
To do this, you must add some organic materials to the chicken poop to serve it as bedding. To attain a uniform mixture, you have to turn the bedding using a rake or shovel. During this process, your chicken can help you by scratching the dirt. If you put mealworms on it, your flock will be more excited to scratch. In short, you are helping each other.
How to Raise Mealworms for Chickens
Now that you have a deeper understanding of mealworms and their benefits to your chickens, the next question would be, how do you get them? Well, you can easily buy them online. However, you can save a lot of money if you will raise them in your backyard. Below is the step-by-step procedure and are very easy to follow:
#1 Find a Container
Before you buy mealworms to start with, you must find a place for them. You can use an old aquarium, a plastic container, or a tub. The size will depend on how many mealworms you would like to raise. And because they prefer darker places, cover their sides or paint it. You can put a cover against predators but make sure it still allows airflow.
You would also want to make it wider than deeper. A deeper container may help prevent mealworms from climbing up. However, they are unlikely to leave if you give them enough food. On the other hand, a wider container means wider bedding and more sources of food. If are living in a cold environment, you may want to put on some light or heater.
On the other hand, you can also raise mealworms using a tiered system. Here, you will have at least two drawers. One is for the pupa and beetles, while the rest is for the mealworms. More drawers will not only mean more mealworms; you can also segregate them according to their ages and sizes, and harvesting will be easier.
#2 Prepare Your Container
Make sure that your container is clean and dry. Choose a warm and humid location. Ideally, the temperature is between 77 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 65-70% humidity. In this condition, more eggs are likely to be hatched and mealworms tend to grow faster. Colder temperature will reduce their growth rate and they may also die.
#3 Add Feed (Substrate)
Once your container is ready, you may now add the bedding or substrate which will also serve as feed for your mealworms. Ideally, the depth should be at least 2 inches but not deeper than 8 inches. If the bedding is too deep, you will find it hard time maintaining it. Mealworms eat wheat bran, rolled oats, cereal crumbs, chicken mash, or any organic material.
Nevertheless, never feed them with chicken feed that contains diatomaceous earth (DE). Otherwise, they will die. Make sure that the feed has been properly sterilized before giving it to them so that no pests will be present. And because they also need water, you can add some carrots or potatoes. However, avoid them from getting wet.
#4 Add Mealworms
Now that their house is ready, you can now add the mealworms. Pour them slowly into the container and cover them properly. You can start with 500 mealworms. To give an idea, a 10-gallon aquarium can house around 1,000 mealworms, which weigh about 3.7 ounces. But of course, the more mealworms you have, the better.
To make sure they are clean and healthy, buy only from reputable sellers. Also, compare their prices before buying. If they are too cheap, they are likely to be of low quality. Also, avoid buying superworms or giant mealworms. Most of them are regular mealworms that have been treated with growth hormones and may harm your chickens.
#5 Feed Them More and Maintain Their House
There’s no limit in feeding mealworms and they can eat as much as they can. In fact, the more they eat, the faster they grow, and the more mealworms you will have. But while you are adding food, make sure that the remaining ones have no mold or not rotten. But again, avoid feeding them with fruits and vegetables that have high water content.
#6 It’s Harvest Time
You can actually harvest your mealworms any time. However, it’s better if you wait for 3 to 4 months to make sure they are already fully grown. If you notice that they are turning into black or dark brown, it means they are already too old and are likely to be pupa soon or an adult beetle. If you have dead beetles, don’t remove them. Let the pupae do their job.
Where to find mealworms for sale?
If you’re looking for mealworms for sale then we recommend buying them from your local market as it is cheaper than buying them online due to shipping cost. In case that it is not available locally then the best option is to buy it online, you can find it available at a cheap price on amazon and aliexpress website.
Mealworms are not only delicious snacks for your chicken, they also offer lots of health benefits. While it’s very easy to raise them, it also needs a lot of patience. It’s also natural if you are uncomfortable looking at them or touching them. But once you start, you can get used to it. After all, they are harmless creatures. In fact, they are also edible.