Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sustainable Mealworm for Forever Bluebird - update 1

After posting my initiative for "Sustainable mealworms for Forever Bluebird", I got many responses and replies from readers with good guidance and encouragement. I want to post this quick note to thank you and also want to give everyone a short update:

1. Some one replied that she got tired of buying live mealworms and from time to time, she will start a farm.
My response is that you really need to have a "great" patient and dedication is the key, Actually dedication is the key to any thing we want to do in life to be successful.
The first 10 pupae I got from my first post

I have moved all my pupae into its own container. The bottom left photo is the first ten pupae after 6 days. The bottom right photo is a close-up photograph to show you one pupa (7 days in pupa stage) has become much darker, an adult soon  perhaps? Pupae don't eat but I put rolled oats underneath them to make sure newly emerged adults have food. I do check them few times throughout the day.

2. Another person told me that he rose his own mealworms few years ago but his partner did not support his idea and nagged about it constantly and he dropped his project and did not continue. My response is that it's nice to have support from friends and family. If not, you just need to follow your heart and see what is the things matter to you the most. You will not get any significant amount of mealworms in a short period of time, I mean in a year or so. There are four stages of Darkling beetles, from egg, larva (mealworm), pupa and adult. I've been trying to find some articles to see how long will it take for each life cycle so to further prepare myself for my own expectation and experiment. Unfortunately I am not able to find any reliable information other than individual's opinion and experience, accurate or not so accurate. I had a long discussion with my brother who keeps a good amount of live mealworms for his pet lizard. He told me during his first year, he only got 3 adults, they did not lay any eggs and all died. I suspected, they are all males :) Second year as of today, he is having 100+ pupae and 23 adults, non of them lay any egg. I read somewhere that adults will eat their own eggs. So my conclusion is for the safe side, must separate all stages into different containers. Nice thing is that adults don't fly away :)

3. One lady replied to my post and told me she gave her mealworms a slice apple or potato for the water source. I did a quick experiment with different vegetables, I found out organic carrot is the best choice. I never even eat apples unless it is organic because farmers here spread over ten times of pesticide to apples especially. For the things I don't eat, how will I feed my baby worms with them? My theory behind this is that commercial chemicals and pesticide might alter mealworms's genes more quickly if these chemicals are not strong enough to kill them in time. Human body is much bigger and can tolerate pesticides and preservatives much longer than a one inch long mealworm. If you can not get organic carrot at where you live, you may give them potato. But put a small piece paper towel underneath the potato slice to separate it from the growing medium to avoid mold issue. 

4. Some people told me they have been raising mealworms for years and they keep small amount of live mealworms and birds go crazy about them :) I AM SURE! I'm so glad to hear what you have achieved because that's my ultimate goal - happy bird, happy me and happy world :) One birder told me he is not sure about the timing because he did not pay much attention to it as long as it works. My conclusion is that we must separate four stages of life form and supply worms and adults with naturally grown food in order to have a healthy and successful outcome. Plus, create a suitable "habitat" for adults to lay eggs is the key to a sustainable mealworm farm, that will be in my future blog post :)

Newly formed pupa (to the left) is white in color and smoother in appearance. Click image to enlarge

5. Should I keep mealworms in dark? I watched some online videos and read here and there from people who have been growing them for years, some people just leave mealworms in containers with food and good air supply, some recommended put mealworms in dark to keep them "calmer", though I don't know if this is important or not. But I don't keep mine in a dark area. The comparison can be done when I have more mealworms that hatch from my project. I include someone's comment for your review purpose only:

  "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!"

Thanks for reading and support my idea of raising my own mealworms. I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to leave me a comment here or subscribe my blog for all future updates! Happy Birding! --Linda

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

Update 3: after three weeks, the first pupa hatched into an adult beetle. Most beetles came out in the same week and they constantly mate. Hopefully, I soon will see some eggs :)

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