The mealworm is not a worm. It is actually the larval form of a mealworm beetle. This larval form is the second stage in its life cycle, and at this stage, it does look like a worm. Elaborated below are the mealworm's life stages.
The Life Cycle of Mealworms
The mealworm goes through a huge metamorphosis during its life cycle, transforming from a tiny egg to a full-grown adult beetle.
Stage I - The Egg
Development in mealworm beetles occurs in three stages. The first stage is the laying of the eggs. First, the male beetle chases the female beetle till she gives in. Then the mating happens and the male releases the sperm into the female genital tract. After a few days, the female looks for soft ground to burrow and lays around 500 eggs. These eggs are tiny, white-colored, and oval-shaped. However, due to dust and other impurities, they become yellowish.
Stage II - The Larva
After 4-20 days, the eggs hatch and the larvae surface. This is the second stage, where it actually resembles a worm. At this stage, the mealworm keeps crawling and eats vigorously on any vegetation or dead insects. Molting or the shedding of its outer skin, which looks like dry scales, happens in this stage. The molting continues till the larva grows too big for its exoskeleton. The mealworm then drops its carapace and curls into a pupa. In the larva stage, the mealworm's life span is around 90-115 days.
Stage III - The Pupa
A mealworm's life cycle lasts for a period that can range from 2 weeks to a few months. If the conditions are favorable and the temperature is warm, the pupa stage lasts for a few weeks. However, if it is very cold, this stage can last for a couple of months. The pupa doesn't eat anything during this stage and appears inactive. However, there are several changes going on inside it where it is actually growing into an adult. In the beginning, the pupa looks creamy-white in color, but slowly transforms to a brownish color. These pupae of mealworms look similar to the pupae of butterflies.
Stage IV - The Adult
After the pupa stage is over, a white-colored beetle with dark wings emerges from the pupa. It eventually turns brown in color. This is the most active phase of this insect, where it can run very quickly and also bite. So, avoid trying to catch a brown beetle. In the last phase of the adult beetle, it changes its color from brown to black. The total life span of the mealworm beetle is 1 year.
Interesting Facts About Mealworms
After the information about the life cycle of a mealworm, here is some more interesting information about it.
- The mealworm is bred in zoos to be used as food for birds, reptiles, and other animals.
- You can buy around 20 mealworms for USD 4. However, these are sometimes injected with hormones, so that they don't develop into beetles. Therefore, try to avoid feeding them to your pets.
- The yellow-colored mealworm can be found all around the world.
- A mealworm is used to make tequila-flavored candies.
- It is not a pest, and hence are not a threat to the cereal plants. However, it thrives on the flour made from any cereal.
- It can be eaten and is therefore the staple food in many reality shows like Survivor and Fear Factor. However, do not try to eat any at home.