It may appear that I’m suggesting you keep maggots as pets (mealworms do look quite similar) but mealworms are quite different, provide educational value, are harmless and they’re super fun to play with!
I understand they may not be quite appealing for many parents but children love the opportunity to keep mealworms as pets.
Kids especially adore that they wriggle and jiggle in their hands
What are mealworms?
Mealworms are the larval stage of a black beetle, Tenebrio molitor, a species of darkling beetle. The larvae can measure from 1.5 cm while young and usually grow to around 2.5 cm at their largest state. They’re more typically known and used as a food source for reptiles, birds and captive mammals.
You may also have seen them featured on fear factor shows, where an unsuspecting person was required to put their head into a bucket of squirming mealworm larvae to win the major prize. They really aren’t that scary though.
Why keep Mealworms as Pets?
A meal worm set-up isn’t just for your average household, they are perfect for classrooms too! There are lots of positive reasons why mealworms make great pets. Here’s why:
- Mealworms go through four life stages: egg, larvae, pupa and adult. It only takes two to three months for the mealworms to go through the full cycle so it’s a perfect opportunity to introduce life cycles and metamorphosis to children. Let them see it first hand!
- Mealworms can be safely handled during all life stages (except as eggs) and provide a great sensory activity for children. Holding a heap of wriggling and jiggling mealworms in your hand, between your fingers is nothing you’ve ever felt before and most children love it. The pupa and adult beetle can be handled to. We love getting hands on! Make sure you wash your hands after touching them though.
- They are a very low maintenance pet. See how to keep them below.
How to Keep Mealworms
What you’ll need:
- A plastic fish tank like this one
- Natural bran
- Live meal worms – easy to buy!
- Food for moisture (carrot, bananas)
Where to buy mealworms?
It’s easy to get your hands on mealworms, they are most commonly found at your local pet shop
The mealworm set up
Set up your mealworm enclosure by tipping the bran into the container and then gently tipping in the mealworms. Mealworms not only live and move around in the bran but they eat it too. They do need some water, so adding in a bit of a banana peel or carrot here and there gives them that moisture without creating mould in the bran. Do keep an eye on the food though, if it’s quite damp it can still create some mould and you want to get it out of the enclosure as soon as possible.
Within a month your mealworms with become pupa and then transform into little black beetles. It really is intriguing for children and adults alike.
Would you keep mealworms as pet? Have you ever touched mealworms before?
Once upon a time, I might have felt squeamish at the very thought of this, but since keeping a Rhino Beetle for five months, I don’t feel so put off by it. I can see how this would be a great learning experience for a science class. Informative and interesting post, Penny. Hope you are well. xx
Hey Shelly! I was thinking about you the other day. Are you going Pblogger? I’d love to catch up with you there! And it’s so awesome that you’re not squeamish about mealworms, I’m impressed!
Alas, I’ve become a ‘slow’ blogger and have only really been posting photos on Wordless Wednesday (nature photos, you’d probably like them!), so I couldn’t really justify it to myself to spend the money on a plane trip and weekend away. Have a good time though! x
I’ve been wanting to grow mealworms for chook food. You make it look so easy. I’m keen to give it a go. Thank you 🙂
Chooks LOVE mealworms but don’t feed them too many because they can be quite fattening. Although, before you feed them out to the chickens, put the mealworms into a bucket of chook vitamins and minerals for a day. The mealworms will usually eat the vitamin and mineral mix and it’s a easy way to get the mix into the chickens (we call that gut loading). I hope to see your children playing with mealworms on IG soon! I’m sure I’ll also see some very happy chickens!
Danya Banya says
I have to say this creeps me out – but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t get them as pets for the kids though! I think as a parent it’s important to try to look past your own squirmishness. But I might wait til my littlest one is out of the “mouthing’ phase before we rush out to get some. 🙂
I’m torn between wanting my kids to keep a cool box of worms they can watch grow and develop and my fear of creepy crawlies – I always squash them straight away (sorry!). This is so interesting & thanks for sharing. What do you do with the fully grown bugs (since you couldn’t squash a pet)? Will the pet shop buy them back?
What an interesting and simple pet! They look like a great way to study a life cycle and much easier to source and keep than butterflies or frogs… I must remember this for when I go back to teaching!
Nae Peters says
We’ve always had these kept in the fridge to feed to the lizards we’ve homed over the years. I’ve got to say though, I have never know what type of beetle they are and their life cycle- Pretty interesting.
I had a laugh when you mentioned maggots 🙂 looks can be deceiving lol
Ness @ One Perfect Day says
Mr 5 would LOVE this. We tried an earth worm farm recently but he was disappointed because he couldn’t really observe the worms. He’s also fascinated with life cycles of bugs. Silly question, but what do you do with the beetles once they’ve grown?
Hello! I have raised mealworms for years. Once you have beetles you can simply release them if you no longer want them. They pose no harm or you can continue to keep them. If they have food they will not take flight. Nothing to worry about 🙂
Kate_Laughing Kids Learn says
I have to say that I’m usually a bit squeemy when it comes to anything that wiggles but you make these sound so easy to look after. I think I could probably do it! I had no idea these became a black beetle! Love your posts Penny.
I am learning SO much from your blog, Penny. Great ideas – pinning to my homeschool folder for future use!!
Thanks for this marvelous idea and information. All your photos are so helpful as well. My kindy teacher daughter loves it!
[email protected] Blue says
really love this – would be fun to feed the chooks too
This is the BEST way to attract Eastern Blue birds. Once they start nesting in my bird house, they will devour them. Dad and mom BB see me twice a day and they litterly can’t wait to be fed. My 5 year old granddaughter loves to feed them to. Great project!
Penny Whitehouse says
That’s so wonderful that your having such a heart-warming wildlife interaction with Eastern Blue Birds. Mealworms are quite fattening, so don’t give them too much. You can gut load the mealworms by feeding them fresh veggies like banana peels and carrots to make them slightly more healthy for animals but ultimately they are like lollies and you don’t want them to fill up on lollies and get no nutrients in their diet.
I bet your 5 year old Granddaughter will remember that wildlife experience forever!
I used to keep mealworms and breed them for a pet hedgehog I had years ago. They aren’t as gross as one would think once you get past holding them and getting them on your hands. I enjoy fishing with them too now. They are a great source of protein for tons of animals.
I recently learned that mealworms are the only creature on the planet to be able to eat styrofoam. My daughter wants to get some!
I know that I probably need to keep some adults for breeding, but I was curious what to do with the rest of the adults. I saw a few others ask but no answer. Are they okay to be released outside? Fed to chickens?
Penny Whitehouse says
Yes, they can be fed to chickens and lizards. Lots of animal eat them actually. Just be careful of feeding them too much. They’re not very healthy in large doses and can make animals quite overweight.
in second grade I owned some of these cuties and I would love to grow a beetle army once more! I just don’t know what type of bedding to use. 🙁 last time I just used some expired cornmeal that was meant for cooking. (i still have that bag and its not empty btw) do I use that? I love your blogs penny they helped me care for my three snail babies! (snabies lol)