One of the constant costs of owning reptiles is their food. Depending on the reptile and its dietary needs, this can get expensive. Thankfully there are ways to offset this cost and still provide everything your pet needs. If you have a green thumb, you can grow vegetables for your herbivore/omnivore. With the room and patience, it’s possible to raise mice for your snakes to eat. If you aren’t too squeamish about having insects in your house, there are a number that you can easily keep a colony of. Today I’m going to talk specifically about making your own mealworm farm. I created one to provide a constant supply for my four leopard geckos. It’s simple and easy, it just takes a bit of time on your part.
Pros & Cons of maintaining a Mealworm Farm
As with most things, there are ups and downs to creating your own mealworm farm. Let’s cover those before we dive into the different ways you can raise worms.
- Saves Money
- Barely any smell
- Easy to keep out of the way
- Simple Care Requirements
- Mealworm Frass can be used as a Fertilizer
- Can sell excess worms
- Take up a bit of time
- Mealworms are not the best feeder insects for a lot of reptiles
- Need to clear out dead worms once a week
A mealworm farm is perfect for me because I raise Leopard Geckos, which are one of the few reptiles that can use mealworms as the staple of their diet. This can be a major con depending on what reptiles you own. Most reptiles though can eat mealworms from time to time. Just as a note, the reason why mealworms are not good for certain reptiles is because of how much chitin they have. Not all reptiles can easily digest the chitin. If you still want to make a mealworm farm, there are a couple of different setups you can use.
Setup One: Three Containers
This is an easy and efficient method that utilizes three plastic containers. This method can save you time because it can separate the eggs and larvae from the beetles with only a bit of help from you.
- Three Plastic Containers – Two larger containers and one small enough to fit inside one of the larger containers.
- Screen Mesh
- Hot Glue Gun
Once you have your materials, it won’t take long to get everything ready. Just go through the following steps:
- Cut out a large ventilation hole in the lids of both larger containers.
- Measure and cut your window screen so you have two separate sheets to cover the holes you just made.
- Using a hot glue gun, adhere the window screens to the lids.
- Set the larger containers and lids to the side.
- Take your smaller container and do one of the following options:
- Poke holes towards the bottom of the container that’s big enough for the bedding to get through but small enough that the beetles can’t get out.
- Cut a hole out of the bottom and adhere window screen to it.
Now that everything is ready, it’s time to talk about what to do with your prepared containers.
What to do with the Worms
So you’ve got your containers and, hopefully, you have your worms. If you want to jumpstart your farm, try to buy some of the Darkling Beetles (Tenebrio Molitor) so you can go ahead and get eggs laid. If you start with worms, you will need to wait until they start to pupate and turn into Darkling Beetles. It is a good idea to start with around 1,000 mealworms.
To make this description easier, the small container will be referred to as container A while the larger containers will be containers B and C. You will keep your beetles inside of container A. Make sure to provide bran bedding and food for the adults, they will start to cannibalize each other if not given any food. Every few days, shake the bran out of container A into the container you leave it in, Container B. The eggs are small enough to get out of the container through the tiny holes or mesh. Refill the bran and food for the beetles as necessary.
After you have enough bran and eggs inside of container B, transfer the contents of it to Container C. Depending on the temperature you keep them at, it can take one to four weeks for the eggs to hatch. You must watch closely for this, they are very small when they are just hatched. During this “incubation” period, cover the bedding in container C with either a cloth or piece of newspaper. Lightly mist this with a bit of water daily just to provide some moisture.
During this time, keep shaking out container A’s contents into container B. If any of the beetles die, remove them as soon as you can. Also, keep in mind that the materials described above are specifically for farming. As you get your mealworms, you will need separate containers to keep them in. It would be a great idea to get another big container as well as a few smaller ones.
Setup Two: Three Drawer System
Similar to the three container system above, this is a very easy, compact setup. However, unlike the other system, you do not have to shake out the beetle container every few days. The eggs sort themselves!
- A Three Drawer System (Iris, Sterilite, etc.)
- Screen Mesh
- Hot Glue Gun
This takes a little bit less time than the previous method to get setup. Since it uses a drawer system, you don’t have to put wire mesh on each of the containers/drawers.
- Remove the top drawer from the system.
- Cut out the bottom of the drawer. Make sure you leave enough plastic on each side that you can glue the wire mesh down onto.
- Cut out a sheet of the wire mesh to fit over the hole you just cut out.
- Using the hot glue gun, glue the wire mesh onto the bottom of the drawer.
- Put the drawer back into the system after the glue has dried.
That’s all there is to it. It’s a very quick and simply setup. Optionally, if your system has clear drawers, you may want to either duct tape the outsides or tape something over the sides. Mealworms are sensitive to the light, so it can help to give them the darkness they need. This also has the benefit of hiding the mealworms from sight. Just be careful that whatever you put over the sides does not prevent the drawer from sliding in and out easily.
What to do with the worms
Basically, you are going to do almost exactly the same thing as with the previous system. The only real difference is that you do not need to shake out the eggs, they will fall on their own through the mesh – especially as you slide the drawer in and out to check on the beetles. It’s a great idea to pull out both the top and middle drawer when checking on the beetles by the way. You don’t want the bran to fall onto your floor.
The bottom drawer can be used for mealworms. Just be sure to check every couple of days to remove any pupa that you find. As with the last system, it is a good idea to also get a few other containers to keep your mealworms in as they hatch. It’s easiest if you can keep the nursery drawer in order by sorting the worms out from it.
Mealworms can multiply quickly, you can find yourself overwhelmed by the number of worms you have. To avoid having this happen, remove the worms you are going to use for food, put them in a separate container, and put that container in the fridge. Mealworms go into a state of hibernation if the temperature is cold enough. This can make them last for a couple of months. You need to remove them from the fridge once a week though. Feed them and let them sit out and eat for 24 hours before putting them back into the fridge.
Alternatively, you can sell your extra mealworms if you can find buyers in your area. People use mealworms for different things, not just for feeding reptiles. It can be a nice little side income if you can find buyers. Also, the mealworm frass (waste) can actually be used for fertilizer. It can be used when planting, but it’s recommended that the frass be composted beforehand for 1.5 weeks and then blend it with soil.
You’re Ready to start your own Mealworm Farm
Whichever method you choose from above will make things much easier when raising your worms. I personally use the drawer system method and it has worked out great for me. If you have the time, and patience, to raise mealworms, it’s a great project to have at home. It can save you money in the end, you’ll no longer have to purchase mealworms every month. If you have any questions about either of the methods, or mealworms in general, please leave a comment below!