Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sustainable Mealworms for Forever Bluebird!

If you don't know what they are...they are the pupae stage of the Darkling Beetles. Maybe you would be wondering why a vegetarian person raising these worms/insects? As you will see from title of this blog post, I am working on a small project called "Sustainable Mealworms for Forever Bluebird". My actual inspiration came from an ecolodge I stayed during my recent tour to Costa Rica.

I got 10 pupae as of the morning of 1/28/15 ..I have feeling that I will get more tonight!

Most eco hotels in Costa Rica have comfortable rooms surrounded by native trees, flowers and fruit plants. Because the things grown from ground provide food not only for human's consumption but also the food source, shelters and nesting materials for wildlife, insects and birds. I visited Los Pinols, an eco-friendly cabanas and gardens hotel located at Monteverde (near Santa Elena, Costa Rica in Decemeber. Besides vast wildlife and hummingbirds, another thing attracted my great attention was their hydroponic vegetable garden. With the usage of total 2500 square meters (or equal to 0.62 Ac) of greenhouse space, it provides fresh organic vegetables for local grocery stores and restaurants as well as the guests that stay at Los Pions. The things inspires me the most are its agro-eco tourism project initiated since 2000 and with the hydroponic vegetable gardens and the trails in conservation areas, property owners still try to build each of their individual cabana at least 75 meters apart. Their sustainable effort benefits 8 local families not to mention how many wildlife, insects and birds have benefited from. That sustainability inspired me to start my own mealworm project and hopefully, not only do all my backyard bluebirds have yummy, fresh and nutritious worms, many other birds such as chickadees, nuthatches, thrashes, woodpeckers and warblers name it, can also benefit from getting fresh worms :)

Hydroponic vegetable garden at Los Pinos. December 2014, Costa Rica
This place is a haven for veggie lovers. I was so amazed to know that this is actually an organic garden!

They don't use any herbicide or pesticide :)

I caught this when I came home today and I was so excited and snapped a shot right away.
...I call it "halfway" pupa, it is in the transformation from it's 2nd stage (worm) into the 3rd stage (pupa)! Amazing!

So when I returned home from my trip, Atlanta was in a deep winter. Here we seldom have snow but cold weather can drop temperature below freezing for days. For about a week, temperatures were 20 to 30 degree fahrenheit. All my backyard birds suffered from freezing weather not because the cold but because they could not find  any drinking water. Water was frozen everywhere. I thought about buying one heating bird bath. But for the purpose of energy conservation, I dropped that idea. I have noticed not every bird will drink after eating. Eastern Bluebirds are exceptional. They love to drink after picking up the "dry" mealworms. If I were a bird, I think I'd do the same. "How could I eat that dry mealworm jerky?" my bluebirds might ask if they could talk, lol. Like everyone else, I too also feed bluebirds with store purchased dry meal worms :( Another alternative way is to buy live mealworms, but I would not be able to afford them for too long. So the idea of raising mealworms came to my mind one day. "What if I raise my own mealworms, bluebirds and many other birds would benefit from fresh, nutritious food with less water consumption!". But how? I had no idea and didn't know any single person in my life who raises mealworms! Wait! I just remembered my bother who lives oversea with his family had experience raising mealworms for their pet lizard. I immediately called him and he knew exactly what to do and gave me a clear instruction. Next thing I knew I got 100 live mealworms in my shoe box!

When I first brought these babies home, they were cold, freezing non-moving. Can you believe store keeping them in a refrigerator, omg! I knew that was the best way not to feed them, yet kept them alive :(  Alas! " So cruel", I thought. How can I judge others? Because my ultimate purpose is to raise them to feed my beloved birds. As soon as I bought them home, I "thawed" them out and kept them in an organic rolled oats medium. For the water supply, I feed them with organic carrots. Why I feed these mealworms everything organic?, you might ask. There is a story behind this. Once my brother's family visited my aunt who lives in a rural country side. He brought home with few green silk worms from my aunt's organic vegetable garden because I told him they will either become moth or butterfly (sorry I was and I am still not the expert in moth and butterfly). But after few days, they all dies because all he fed them were the vegetables he bought from local supermarket ...full of pesticides! Pesticides killed those little lives. :( So I learnt my lesson that I needed to feed my mealworm babies with the most clean food possibly I can.

I kept them in the warmest part of my home, next to the hot water heater. I mean "near" the hot water heater. You know why? I am guessing warmer temperature will keep them more active and hopefully they will be healthy and eating and soon will "metamorphosis" into beautiful adults. You might ask why I want them to become adults...don't they fly away? Oh, no, I studied a little bit about the life cycle of Darkling Beetles, not only do they not fly away, they will lay up to 500 eggs per female and then die :( I don't know if I have some females in these 100 babies but I am willing to take my chances :)

Follow the arrows to find pupae ...Click photo to enlarge

Some of my questions:
1. How long will take from an egg (stage one of life cycle) to hatch into a larva, or the mealworm (stage two)?
2. How long does a mealworm live before transforming into a pupa?
Since I bought my first patch from the store and not sure what or how company fed them so I have no answer for myself. My discover my first pupa after 14 days
3. How long will take a pupa "Metamorphosis" into an adult (4th or final stage of life cycle)?
I know it might be case by case. But I will find out in three to four weeks :)
4. Does a female beetle lay eggs all at once and then die? Or they re-mate?
5. Does a male mate with more than one females?
6. Will a female devour that male after mating?
7. How long will an adult beetle live?
I read somewhere that adults will eat their own eggs so I have to separate all three stages from worms, pupae and adults.
8. How many live worms a bluebird might consume in a day?
I am guessing that since live mealworms are huge and moist, birds might eat less. I hope to find out soon :) .......................

I don't know when I will get my first 500 eggs but I will be patient, very patient, lol. More update will be followed. Happy Birding! -- Linda

2/1/2015 Update 1
2/7/2015 Update 2: As of today, I got 72 pupae, Yeah! 9 mealworms did not make it to the pupa stage.


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  1. I once briefly raised mealworms. They seemed to do well with oatmeal (I tried to give them the 'plainest' oatmeal I could find - no instant, salted, etc. For moisture, I used either sliced apple or potato. They seemed to do fine with either. I never thought about insecticides. I guess I was lucky, since my worms seemed to do fine. I didn't worry about separating different stages and always had new worms, so I don't know if they eat their own eggs or not, but enough survived to keep the colony going. I don't know about keeping them warm. Each species has a temperature at which they do best - the enzymes they produce to live have an optimal range of temperatures (usually a very narrow range) and the animal tries to keep body temperature within that range. Mealworm beetles are of Mediterranean origin and so would probably do well in the average temperatures of Mediterranean countries. Since you live in Georgia, the climate is probably similar to Mediterranean climates and so the beetles would probably do best at room temperature and would probably be fine (although inactive, as you have mentioned) in near-freezing temperatures. They may be stressed if kept too warm, although they would reproduce more rapidly, which would be important if you want to build up the size of your colony rapidly. I kept my colony in a big plastic jar. I used a dark plastic jar as the beetles prefer the dark and I think they were happier and less stressed that way. It had a lid that I usually kept open so they had enough air. I was afraid they would suffocate if I left the lid on, although it was handy to be able to screw it on tight briefly if I had to transport the colony. Periodically, as the frass and dead insects build up in your colony, you need to strain out the live insects, toss out everything else and put the insects in a jar with a fresh batch of oatmeal and sliced carrots. The frass (insect feces) looks like very small particles compared to the oatmeal, so if you see a lot of powder in there, it is probably time to clean out the colony. If it doesn't look too powdery, you can probably just put in more oatmeal from time to time. Good luck with your mealworms!

  2. If you check the 'Mealworm' article on Wikipedia, it answers some of your questions. There are also links to websites that might answer more questions.


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