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Optimal Tray Size / Beetle Count Per Tray & Self Introduction :)

edited March 2017 in Bug Farming Questions

Hello OBF Family,

My name is Cyrus and I'm relatively new to the community. I've been on and off reading the forums for years now but have only just officially joined 3/30/17. I live in San Jose, CA (SF Bay Area) and for the last 5 years, I've been a chef and owner of a catering company here. I've been fascinated with Entomology for as long as I can remember, and I can't even remember the last time I passed a bug on a sidewalk without turning for a second look :). Only recently, Entomophagy has became a greater part of my life and I'm now beginning to incorporate insects into our menus at my catering company.

I've recently made the decision to begin a farming operation for Tenebrio Molitar to incorporate into our catering operations for human consumption. We're a bit strict on our standards & guidelines here and so, therefore we decided that by farming our own supply, we can better control and monitor it's quality upon harvest and I'm very happy to announce that our colony is thriving from a humble beginning of 7000 to over 100,000. We're using the basic stacked plastic container setup on shelving units as seen on many commercial rearing facilities. They are fed on an all organic/non-gmo grain diet (currently searching for a non-gluten alternative) as non-gluten is a big thing over here in the SF Bay Area. Organic potatoes and cacti (genus: opuntia) are added as moisture source. Temperature is kept at a strict 80°F-85°F with relative humidity (R.H.) of 70%.

Now, after having a setup that provides decent accommodations for our little friends, we are on the search for rearing methods that can help us better evaluate the outcome of a harvest based on weight measurements. We've come to learn that there are certain techniques that can further optimize gestation and larval growth rates based on high/low density growing environments. We're currently experimenting with:

Tray Sizes: 1'x1.5' / 100 adults 1.5'x2' / 200 adults 2.5'x4' / 300 adults

Has anyone here in the community conducted any research on this? or are using specific tray sizes with a monitored population of breeding adults?. What are your tray sizes? beetle counts? and harvest weights?

How long until you rotate the adults to a new laying tray? we are currently rotating every 2 weeks.

Thank you in advance.



  • Welcome to the forum! I am super interested in what you've got going on, I am just getting off the ground with a small/local focused business model for mealworms and non-human uses...long term I'd love to branch out into human consumption.

    How, or who, did you have to engage about laws and health codes? Are you able/willing to share your setup via pictures and details on how you handle or what your process is for feeding, changing buckets, etc? I am in the midwest US.

    I have several threads that hit on your question, and the main site (i.e. non-mobile) has a search button you dont see on mobile, that's a great tool that may help you find older threads.

  • Hi CyrusP, - Have you found the Forum search bar, it is on the "version:Web" at bottom left page?

    Optimal breeding span of adults & density of larval, etc. as related to different parameters' outcome has been discussed in the Forum. I don't currently have the opportunity to organize those today.

    Gluten fed to insects is not going to subsequently be a source of ingested gluten (or epitopes of gluten residuals) when that insect is later consumed. Mealworm larva are getting protein they will use by eating any grain gluten. Although if you don't allow time between them having eaten & their slaughter there may be residual gluten still in their gut.

    Issues of definitive negative human reaction to insect consumption would be more likely in those with shell-fish allergy. Also discussed somewhat in Forum.

  • As @gringojay mentioned in a previous thread, 14 beetles per 100cm2 yields the most progeny per beetle.

    However, I don't think we should focus on this number as the standard. Several factors play a role, including costs of substrate/food, overall storage space, and man-hour requirements.

    For example (using loosely made up numbers): if 14 beetles each yield 200 eggs, but 30 beetles each only yield 120, then having more beetles per square centimeter ultimately yield more eggs per container (2800 vs 3600 in this case), not to mention saving space, man-hours, and costs especially in large-scale facilities.

    Squeezing large numbers of beetles into the same container - while the egg-per-beetle numbers might drop - is still the most efficient method for mealworm farming. The biggest question might be How Many is Too Many. At what point does their birthrate drop to inefficient levels? At what point do beetles begin to die due to overcrowding/competition?

  • Perhaps these two images (taken from the cited research article) may help answer some quesitons:

    treatment descriptions

    density treatment

  • @oskizzle That is great! Looks like I am not the only beginner here phew!. The feed industry is massive here in the states, so I have no doubt you'll do just fine. For us, being in the food for humans industry for so long, we couldn't risk branching out to the animal feed industry as we know nothing about it, unfortunately. Entomophagy is catching on pretty quickly here in CA and we love it. We'd like to be a part of the movement by helping our community understand the health and environmental advantages of eating these little critters. We have several large scale events and food shows that we'll be attending this year and have plans on introducing Entomophagy cuisine to the professional industry as well because just our company alone won't be enough to stimulate everyone. As for regulations, we've only dealt with our county Environmental Health Dept. as we're not considered a large scale operation yet with our mealworms. Our customers are still considered "private customers" as our events are private events, however if we decide to open up a booth on the sidewalk and serve to the general public, then we fall into another category. It's all somewhat mind boggling how unorganized our regulatory agencies are here, have you experienced this in your area? However, we have been warned that once our operation grows and is considered large scale, we would need to contact the FSIS of the USDA for overall regulating. I have not heard anything about the FDA being involved in such an operation. Have you?

    @gringojay Thank you, I found it! it's nice to meet you finally. Over the past while, we have read many of your posts that have a lot of informative content that we've applied to our own operations here, thank you so much. Keep em' comin' :). As for the residual gluten, that is what we're concerned about, we'll need to do a lot more experimenting to fully understand this. How long after they've fed will the mealworms be free of it? Do we need to cleanse them for exterior residuals as well? and then there's Lectins, Gluten's ugly cousin. We've run into situations with this guy before and had no idea what it was!. From what we know, Lectins are just as bad as gluten if not worse and there's this thing called "Chitin-Binding Lectins", "chitins" are long polymers of n-acetyl-glucosamine, the primary binding target of wheat lectin. Wheat lectin and "chitin-binding lectin" therefore share functional similarities. These chitin-binding lectin containing foods can wreak havoc on the digestive systems which poses a very high risk on a legal perspective for us. Do you know anything about this? Gluten was already bad enough and now he has a cousin!. Oh NO!.

    @Moofisilla That is great information, thank you so much! It seems that our experimenting trays are roughly the same sizes as those depicted in the charts, however it seems we are allowing WAY to many beetles in that same space. We'll continue our current experiments, but will now add a few more trays to the batch with less breeding adults to see if there is a large difference in outcome. "How many is to many" is still the question of the year!

  • Hi CyrusP, - Mealworm larval digestive tract takes 12 to 24 hours (maximum) from ingestion to the residuals' excretion. A diet with at least 6% fiber aids insects' digestive tract transit.

    Concievably gluten might come to rest onto insect exo-skeletons as one of multiple components that comprises a unit (grain fleck) of feed ingredient in their substrate. It seems likely that any of those clinging pieces/particles would be washed off when go to clean the larvae prior to preparation for human consumption.

    Chitin binding lectins are not in insects, rather are produced by plants as part of a plant defense against both fungal & insect attack. These plant lectins target the chitin of an insect or the chitin of a fungus resulting in negative impact on those kinds of plant threats.

  • @CyrusP - welcome to the forum!

    Regarding gluten, you can probably purge your mealworms with a gluten free diet (e.g. corn meal) for a few days before harvest and end up with a gluten free product. The best thing to do (if you are otherwise having trouble formulating an appropriate gluten free diet for raising the worms) would be to try a pre-harvest purge, thoroughly wash the harvested bugs, and then dry roast a sample and send for lab testing. This would be an easy and definitive way to determine if you have to use a completely gluten free diet or if you can use wheatbran in their feed (which they love and thrive on) and simply purge before harvest.

    BTW, exciting to have another Bay Area enthusiast bringing insects to menus. Tiny Farms is based up in San Leandro and I'd love to connect and see if there's opportunity to collaborate to get bugs out onto people's plates here!

  • @CyrusP

    It's all somewhat mind boggling how unorganized our regulatory agencies are here, have you experienced this in your area? However, we have been warned that once our operation grows and is considered large scale, we would need to contact the FSIS of the USDA for overall regulating. I have not heard anything about the FDA being involved in such an operation. Have you?

    I haven't yet broached the mealworm topic with any of my local agencies. I have been privy to watch my neighbor deal with them regarding his fermentation of pickles/cabbage. They seem very behind in understanding technology and are resistant to change...I'm envisioning an interesting conversation when I ask them "what do I need to do/abide by to sell mealworms for human consumption".

    I haven't yet gotten to that stage, I'm trying to get my raising/harvesting schedule and process down first, but my inclination is to start with the health departments very soon as I presume it will take a lot of time to get them on board. I would not be shocked to be 'deferred' to the FDA. As I move forward I'll try to post to the forum about my experiences.

  • If an end product has no more than 100 mg gluten per kilogram this is analytically considered "gluten free" (marketed products are not always 100% free of trace amounts of gluten); some countries (Switzerland?) peg the limit as 200 mg gluten per kilogram (200ppm). For more & supporting biopsy data see Collin, et al. (2004) "The safe threshold for gluten contamination in gluten-free products. Can trace amounts be accepted in the treatment if coeliac disease?"; free full text available on-line

    Bear in mind some coeliac patients produce antibodies (react) to corn pro-laminin (corn "gluten"), which otherwise normal individuals do not.

  • edited April 2017

    @Andrew We were thinking of the same thing. Our current feed formula consists of Wheat 'middlings', corn meal, flax grinds and amaranth powder (flax and amaranth for a boost of calcium). We'll probably be taking out the corn meal and replacing the feed with it a week prior to harvest for the purge. We also have a 3 step liquid cleansing process we use to cleanse for any exterior contaminants (inspectors are big on this). And, I'd love to collaborate with you. Any events coming up? I'll send out an invite to everyone here when we have one of our official tasting events, not sure when it'll happen but eventually...Are there others in or around the bay?

    @oskizzle That's a great idea!. From what we've learned the federal agencies are far more accepting and have somewhat of an idea on what to do, it's the local agencies that will have a harder time grasping this. We're currently looking into getting a Nutritional Analysis label from the FDA for one of our products. Here's a sample "FDA Compliant Label" that was just approved by the FDA at another farm here in CA. This label represents nutritional values for mealworms.


    @gringojay I did not know of that. Thank you. Now there's another one?! Laminin?! Oh boy...Looks like there is a lot more we need to look into. You are a wealth of knowledge. May I ask if you have any professional training or credentials in this field? I would be surprised if you said "no". :)

  • @CyrusP is that label for fresh or dried mealworms? Protein seems very low if they are dried

    Shoot me an email and I'll let you know about any events we have as they come up!

  • @Andrew that label is for fresh mealworms, that would probably be why the protein content was so low. I believe when mealworms are dried, the protein content per weight is increased if im not mistaken.

  • @CyrusP that makes sense - I'd expect it closer to 60% dried.

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