What ARE Mealworms, Anyway?

Dec 03 , 2019

What ARE Mealworms, Anyway?

Did you know that Mealworms are not actually worms at all? Check out this blog for more cool facts about your chicken's favorite treats and how it arrives at your doorstep!

Mealworms are not actually worms at all! They are the larvae of the flightless Darkling Beetle, genus Tenebrio, which means they are classified as insects.

The darkling beetle is a holometabolic insect, which means it goes through a four-stage complete metamorphosis: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. They are prolific breeders and can lay up to 500 eggs at a time that hatch after about 19 days. Mealworms have exoskeletons, which are inflexible and do not stretch like skin, therefore must be shed as the larvae grow. This shedding is called molting and is required as the mealworms grow through their larval stage.

Because it feeds primarily on grains, Darkling Beetles can be a big problem in granaries, and as such, are often regarded as pests. More frequently, however, mealworms serve as a food source for many types of animals, including humans! They are high in protein and have a much lesser environmental impact than many other sources of protein. Mealworms are often used as food for wild birds, chickens, reptiles, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, and other small insectivorous animals.

When you buy mealworms, be aware of where they are sourced and how safe they are for consumption. The source itself matters less than the facility's food safety standards. Each lot of mealworms should be tested for moisture levels, metal, and microbials above all. Of the microbial testing, ideally you will see aerobic plate counts, salmonella, E.coli, Listeria m., Aflatoxins (particularly important if mixed with corn), and mold counts.

Mealworms can be grown in your home! They take up very little space. You'll need to buy some live mealworms, and give them a place that is dark, warm (about 80°F), and dry. Many different types of food sources can be used. A common, inexpensive one is wheat bran. Some people used a three-tiered container system, and others manage their mini mealworm farm using just one level.

Surprisingly, mealworms have been discovered to be able to degrade small amounts of plastic! Research at Stanford University found that mealworms can live on polystyrene (Styrofoam) alone, and the mealworms involved in the experiment were just as healthy as those on a grain-based diet. This could mean big things for the global pollution problem!

Did You Know?

Mealworms were among the first earthlings to reach the moon! A Russian spacecraft called Zond 5 carried two tortoises, wine flies, mealworms, plants, seeds, and bacteria into space to circle the moon in 1968. Though the return landing did not go as planned, all living things were alive and well when the craft was recovered.

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