Despite the name and its wriggling nature, mealworm is not actually a true worm. So, actually, what is a mealworm? Many people also have a query regarding, 'is mealworm an insect or not'. Well, it is a stage (the larval stage) in the life cycle of an insect (darkling beetle). Its name is coined with reference to its food habit, which includes cereals, grains and cornmeal. Scroll down to find more info regarding facts about mealworm related to its types, habitat, identification, feeding, rearing, infestation and life cycle.
Facts about Mealworm
There are three types of mealworms, namely, the yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor), dark mealworm (T. obscurus) and the giant mealworm (Zophobas sp.). Of these, the yellow mealworm is the most abundantly found species. As the names suggest, they are demarcated by their color shade and size. The adult forms of these mealworms have nocturnal behavior.
Habitat of Mealworm
They consume dried grasses, leaf litter, decomposed organic matter and grains. Mealworm habitat is concentrated in areas where food sources are abundantly found. Hence, in the wild, they remain hidden under wood logs, underneath logs and amongst rotten vegetation. Otherwise, they are mostly found near animal enclosures and food storage sites.
As expected, the young mealworms are smaller in size (approximately ½ -¾ inch in length). Similar to other insect larvae, they are heavy feeders and devour constantly. Their size increases to about 1¼ inch within the next few weeks. Appearance wise, they are golden in color, and their shade darkens as they become matured following which, they are ready to enter the pupa stage.
Mealworm for Pets
For those who have pet birds, mealworms need no introduction. Yes, they are favorite foods for woodpeckers, bluebirds, wrens, chickadees and many more birds in the list. In addition, mealworms along with other insects form the bulk of the diet for pet fish, rodents, lizards and other exotic pets. They can be purchased from pet stores or reared at home.
While rearing of mealworm is not a simple task to proceed with, it can be accomplished with specific care in feeding and controlling immediate environmental conditions. Say for example, maximum portion of mealworm feed comes from wheat bran or flakes, and these larvae are reared in closed containers with sufficient ventilation. They are kept in low temperature to arrest pupation.
Is mealworm a pest? The answer is both 'yes' and 'no'. Mealworms rarely attack garden plants and cereal crops. Hence, they are not destructive pests, at least for your garden. Nevertheless, mealworms feed on flour of cereals and dried foods stored in homes, grain stores and farms. And once they identify food sources, these worm like larvae feed voraciously like other pests.
Mealworm Life Cycle
There is not much to talk about the life cycle of mealworms. Rather, we should look into the darkling beetle life cycle, which comprises four successive stages, similar to moths and butterflies. During spring, the adult female beetle lays about 300 or more eggs, which hatch to mealworms within 4-20 days. This larval stage lasts for 90-114 days, and the larvae pupate and develop into adults.
Quick Mealworm Facts for Kids
- Mealworm is a basic food for birds and some pets in captivity. Hence, it is commonly sold as a live food in pet stores.
- Besides serving as a live feed for pets, mealworms are also consumed by humans. As far as mealworm nutrition facts are concerned, they are rich sources of proteins and contain low fats.
- For human consumption, cleaned mealworms are subjected to low temperature in the freezer and consumed as a whole or after chopping. Many prefer eating them live to get maximum nutrients.
- While using mealworms for feeding, it is better to raise them at home. By doing so, one can monitor the food quality and rearing conditions of these larvae, which one is unsure of in case of market sold ones.
- For science students, studying about the life cycle of mealworm is often included as a part of the curriculum. This allows students to understand molting of larvae during the growing stages, and succession from one stage to another.
- Mealworms do have natural predators in their habitat. They include rodents, frogs, lizards, fish and birds amongst others.
- If mealworms are maintained in a crowded condition, they start feeding upon each other. To avoid this, large larvae should be kept in large containers with sufficient space.
After reading the above facts about mealworms, you might be clear about these larvae that crawl like worms. In general, the larval period is the longest of all stages, followed by the adult stage. While live mealworms require warm climatic condition (temperature ranging from 77-81°F) for gaining optimal growth, storage for consumption is best done in the refrigerator to slow down their rate of metamorphosis.