DIY Mealworm Hotel

I had the hardest time titling this post and project. What would you call it? Mealworms don’t “grow” like a vegetable and you don’t really “raise” them either. Mostly, you throw them in a box and hope to god that they reproduce to the point that they become useful. In that sense, I suppose mealworms are some sort of creepy-crawly crop. Or at least they have the potential to save you a few bucks in chicken or quail treats.

That’s where I come in. Apparently, mealworms are quite easy to “grow” and make a great feast for chickens and other poultry and game birds. Mealworms are also high in protein. Your birds will thank you I’m sure. The best part is, however, that you can raise them in nothing more than a lidded box and some oatmeal.

Here’s what you’ll need to become a mealworm farmer:
• plastic box, tub, or drawer
• lid to the box you are using; it needs to fit tightly (we will be cutting this)
• fine mesh or screening (buy by the foot or use an old window screen)
• duct tape
• tall canister of oatmeal (opt for the cheap stuff)
• paper egg carton
• two carrots or a potato cut into large pieces
• 400 or more live mealworms (look at bait shops or pet shops as lizard food)

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Make sure the box or drawer you choose has a well-fitting lid. It doesn’t need to seal or anything since the worms and beetles we will be raising will not crawl that high, but it is nice to know that if they do, the creepy bugs won’t get out. I’ll be honest, this whole project creeps the bejesus out of me.

First, cut a decent size hole from the box lid.

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Cut your screen or fine wire mesh to fit over the hole, overlapping on all sides by about an inch or two. Many hardware stores sell window screening by the linear foot or if you have a random old window screen laying around, you could use that. Recycle folks!

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Now duct tape the screen onto the lid. I taped around all four sides both on the inside and outside of the lid. It helps me to sleep at night knowing that mealworms won’t be getting out of the box.

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Fill the box about 2-4 inches deep with oatmeal. I don’t usually purchase those large cardboard canisters of rolled quick oats, but I figured that the mealworms wouldn’t care much if the oats were organic or not and I just picked up whatever was on sale. I heard no complaints.

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Toss in a few hundred mealworms to get you started, lay some carrots and/or potato chunks around for them to eat, cover them up with an egg carton for some much preferred darkness, and you’re good to go!

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Once a week, check in on the mealworms and replace their oat bedding and food as needed. Mealworms do not need added water as they use the moisture from the foods you give them. The oats, oatmeal, or wheat bran, is used as a substrate for the mealworms to live and breed in. They may consume small quantities of the oatmeal so it does not need to be replaced or added to very often.

After about a month or so, you may notice that the mealworms have become a much darker brown. In another week, they will morph into small black beetles which will lay the next generation of eggs. The eggs will hatch into more, lighter colored mealworms within a week or two. The age of a mealworm is best estimated by its color.

Light mealworms are freshly hatched, a golden color is prime harvest age, dark brown is about to morph into a beetle, and then the beetles breed and lay the eggs. If you gauge your numbers just right, you can have a steady supply of mealworms ready to harvest for chicken snacks.

Mealworm beetles do not typically fly so don’t worry too much about escape. They also prefer cooler temperatures and are ideally raised in a basement or under a deck or porch. Just don’t forget about them! It is also important not to dispose of the oat or bran bedding once the beetles have matured, or else you will loose all of the very tiny mealworm eggs with it.

Try to start your little colony with at least 400 live mealworms. More mealworms means a faster turn around for harvest-ready larvae. Doesn’t it sound so appetizing when I say it like that? Larvae.

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18 thoughts on “DIY Mealworm Hotel

  1. Sarah,

    Its Roberta again with a few questions on this post. You say to harvest when mealworms are a golden color but it would be difficult to separate them. My plan is just to scoop them up and throw them to the chickens. If you have enough going, this should not be a problem. How many cups (or whatever measure you use) would be a good breakfast (along with fodder) for say 16 fowl?

    Thanks Roberta

    Sent from my iPad

    • I would be difficult to separate them and I usually don’t even bother. As long as you have the numbers, it should be fine. I know that some people move the beetles to a second bin and let them lay the eggs for the next generation there. I, personally, don’t have time for that.

      For 16 chickens, I would say 3-4 cups would be a great snack. Since they are so high in protein, you don’t need to feed mealworms everyday. Think of them more as a supplement. 🙂

  2. While working at an animal rehabilitation center, we used mealworms to feed all of the insect-eating birds. They really are almost maintenance-free once the colony gets started! We used bran instead of oats, and placed newspaper and old towels inside the boxes instead of egg cartons. This aids in collection since most of the mealworms would congregate under/on the towels and you can quickly scoop them off into a container for feeding. Tweezers also worked quite well in gathering for the squeamish 🙂 Also, I would add that it is important not to dispose of the bedding once the beetles have matured, or else you will loose all of the very tiny mealworm eggs with it!

    Love your blog!

  3. What happens to the beetles? Do they keep laying eggs or die or what? The Chicken Chick blog has a lot of good information about how much of the worms to feed chickens. Since they are so high in protein she says you have to limit the amount you give. Thanks for the tutorial! They are very expensive to buy unless you buy in bulk.

  4. How long after morphing into a beetle does it take for them to lay eggs? Could you feed the adults to your chicken after they lay eggs but before they die?

    Thanks!
    Beth

  5. Wow!! This is so helpful. I have a question, so the meal worms you start with r really the same ones you would feed chickens right? It’s just you are growing to maturity to reproduce? When you begin to feed chickens, which ones do you give them? The largest? But, not too many as those r the ones getting ready to become beetles and reproduce? Thanks!

    • Right. You can use the biggest larvae, but I just pulled out a scoop worth of all the stages of growth. That way I would consistently have larvae old enough to begin the beetle stage soon to lay more eggs. They ten to stay near the top anyway if you keep a couple overturned egg cartons in there.

  6. Hi. What a cool idea. My chickens would love it if we did this! I was a little confused, though, about how to change out the bedding/oats. How do you toss the bedding without tossing a lot of your mealworms?

    • You should very seldom need to change the bedding, if ever. There is almost no waste, but when there is, it sinks to the bottom. I just used a kitty litter scoop to take out anything gross and also to remove mealworms without dragging half the oats along with it.

  7. What a great informative post! Easy to follow and lots of chuckles. Thanks. I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to do this but it’s nice to know the “how to” is here!

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