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Ultra Cheap Mealworm Production



  • @Allan, thanks for that info. I guess I will have to look at a cheap solar panel and battery setup from Maplin so I can power this cheaply.
  • We should have an idea of the energy costs. I am thinking in using some camping tricks and gadgets to heat my colony. I will try something, and see how it goes. Then I will post the results here.
  • edited February 2014
    HEAT MATS. @Yichong, Compare the watt or volts value listed on the packaging or mat and compare it to a light globe. It just gives an idea of what it will cost to run. Always my main thought is - is it in a safe environment, will anything burn? I prefer to play it too safe than not safe enough - so I can sleep well. I have put me mat in a bottom plastic drawer but on top of four glass coffee cup casters. I just used a cheap heat mat from the pet shop about a hand-span with and length. 10 watts... but I wonder if it's going to be warm enough in our winter which goes down to about 6 degrees Celsius as it's just warm enough in our summer (HOT!). I might get one twice the size for winter. Get a heat probe (again from pet store) and check it lots at the start. *-:)
  • My crickets are crowding into the warmer corner... they like 80 + F.
  • @kerri, crickets like it even warmer than mealworms, their optimal temp is around 86F for most of their lifecycle, and some species like the tropicals like it up above 90 - provided the humidity is high enough. It's always a balance to keep the humidity up when the temperature is higher because the insects lose moisture faster at the higher temperature and can desiccate and die (especially smaller/younger ones)
  • @Allan and @yichong - I'm excited to see what you come up with for a heating solution - Tiny Farms is looking at different options that would be easy add-ons to our kits - definitely share when you rig something up!
  • Cheap heat mat alternative is white indoor/outdoor all weather Christmas lights. They can give 85*Farenheit, come in 50 to 100 bulb bunches & use minimal electricity.
    For more even heat put Christmas lights in 2 - 3 inches of sand below mealworm bins. If can't get uniform clean sand or it is more convenient then use standard cat litter to place the light strands in.
  • On the issue of separating frass from the rest of the bedding. When using a finer source of bedding, one that actually looks like sand and has about the same consistency, how would one go about separating frass? Mind you I do not know what mealworm frass looks like, but if it looks like the bedding/feed, how do you know how much frass there is vs bedding/feed? I saw a video on YouTube in which the person farming the worms primairily utilized oat meal (like Quaker oats) to feed her worms. Her farm was healthy looking and the worms were very active. She had found the need to expand to 2 drawer units from her original 1.

    On another note, are there severe differences in the nutritional content of regular mealworms vs. superworms? Are there differing farming techniques? The superworms are actually a different variation of darkling beatle, so hence my questions in that direction.

    I have actually not started the farm yet, I am just trying to gather research before I begin.
  • @HeatherSayyah mealworms (Tenebrio molitor)are a different species from superworms (Zophobas morio). So they must differ in some raising aspects, such as temperature or humidity optimal conditions. But I am not sure, I do not raise superworms, but I think they can be raised almost the same way as mealworms. But do not take my word for it, do your research and/or wait until someone with experience with superworms to answer your questions more accurately.

    @Jena as soon as I figure it out how to heat the colony using other things besides heat mats I will be glad to share.

    @gringojay Christmas lights are not dangerous to use for heating?
  • Hey Heather! Mealworm frass is like really fine sand. It's a little denser than most mealworm feed (wheat bran, corn meal, etc.) - it tends to naturally sink to the bottom of whatever they're housed in. If you use a fine enough mesh you can usually filter it out separately from feed; you might lose a bit of dust, but I think particles of feed that small might be difficult for mealworms to eat, anyway.

    We don't have any experience with superworms - it might make a good experiment!
  • @Allan @gringojay - I think the christmas lights are a great idea - at least the US variety that run on 120V. The indoor/outdoor ones should be quite safe, they're designed to be left on through a rainstorm. @gringojay, do you have experience burying them in sand? I love the concept and my only concern is that the bulbs could build up enough heat to burn themselves out.
  • @Kerri & @Allan, thanks for the info guys, much appreciated
  • A standard plant propagation tray heat mat puts out 20 watts.To use Christmas lights & try to get close to that ratio of watts per square area.
    There are different wattage incandescent Christmas lights, but all incandescents only "lose" 2% of wattage consumed as light & shed 98% as heat. LED's , although cooler will also put out heat if no ventilation/fan to dissipate their heat.
    There is no problem to shallow bury indoor/outdoor Christmas lights for extended period of time; if use cat litter avoid the clumping type (as well as any with diatomaceous earth that could contaminate the herd ). The tactic is to compensate for them operating in a steady state within the space they are put.
    Thus I use a scant 2 inches of burial, which mostly serves to stabilize the lights where you want them & makes a layout easy to modify. You can also tack down the lights to a structural feature that goes below &/or above &/or around the area - this would be the best design for the pre-made kits.
    You may need to periodically intervene to prevent excessive heat build up & this can be manual shut off or ventilating at set times for less cost/low tech projects. More practical (yet an additional outlay) is to put a multiple setting timer in line (lights plug into timer & timer plugs into electric source) to periodically switch off the lights . There are AC current tab dial timers for about US$ 6 or digital timers for about US$25; both can turn off & back on multiple times in 24 hours. .
    Also rope lights, both incandescent & LED can come close to matching that heat mat ratio/area all coiled around underneath. For example Walmart brand LED 120 volt Christmas rope light put out about 3 watts per foot using 1/4W bulb per inch. Some others sell rope lights work out to 6 watts per foot.
    Furthermore, these type of products can be found that run on various voltages. The 12 volt rope lights would solve off grid operations since a DC charged car battery (or two 6 volt deep cycle batteries) can run them.
  • Thanks @gringojay, this is really useful. We've experimented with a lot of different heating methods but have yet to find anything we're really satisfied with for home use - things are either too complex, too expensive or too potentially dangerous. It seems like christmas lighting could fit the sweet spot very well.
  • I've just added an Equipment Guides section to the wiki, the first page of which reproduces what you've shared regarding Christmas lights (I hope you don't mind - I included an attribution :)

    This is already turning into a useful resource!
  • @gringojay - really good point to bring up about the diatomaceous earth. for those not familiar, it is widely used as an insecticide. Here's the blurb from wikipedia:
    Diatomite is used as an insecticide, due to its abrasive and physico-sorptive properties.[8] The fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. Arthropods die as a result of the water pressure deficiency, based on Fick's law of diffusion. This also works against gastropods and is commonly employed in gardening to defeat slugs.
    Although it's also fairly widely used in food processing and industrial applications, and is very dangerous to inhale (comprised mostly of silicon, hence the high risk of contributing to silicosis). It's a great moisture absorber and so might be found in various cat litter type products.

  • edited February 2014
    @Dansitu, Thank you for the information regarding frass.
    @ Allan, thank you for your info too. :)
    I had a feed specific question as well -- for anyone who can answer. There are two sites here in my town that offer grain and animal feed. What exactly do you feed mealworms? I was considering using mostly generic brand Quaker Oatmeal, but it could prove to be expensive in the long-run. So What do I feed them. I think that I would be able to purchase larger quantities of feed from the mills/farm center shops in my town. I need to be able to get the most for my money, because money is extremely tight.
  • We generally feed ours with organic wheat bran and carrots! You might be able to find wheat bran at a farm supply store; ours actually comes from a health store since we're in a very urban environment :)
  • DEATHS on my farm:... I already had many deaths, but then made 2 changes. I increased the depth from 2 cm to 4 cm and I changed the bedding from oat meal to full sized oats thinking less waste and more aeration. I'm going to change these things back again to see if they come lively again. Will keep you posted. I have fed them some fish food and calcium powder in the meantime. also laid down some green leaves. They look awfully quiet yet very few are turning into pupae at this stage. This may be an excellent lesson in what NOT to do!
  • In my experience, they often look very still just before they molt or pupate... You may just see a whole lot of pupae very soon!
  • Oh Lawdy above, I so hope you are right! @dansu, I'm rushing of to the supermarket to get oatmeal to add to the whole oats right now just to be sure... [-O<
  • In terms of sustaining mealworm larvae alive until feed them to something bran is good. Most bran is low in calcium to begin with.
    Bran's high phytic acid level binds calcium up as phytate, making limited calcium bioavailable to what eats the larvae. However, be aware that too elevated calcium in the larval gut is progressively unappealing to the larvae itself & can become a metabolic problem.
    The selection of substrate should be considered in the context of what one intends to feed their mealworms to. For example bran fed mealworms are less than ideal for poultry/avian optimal development, in part because poultry don't have the enzyme phytase . (For example see: "Increasing the Calcium Content of Mealworms to Improve Their Nutritional Value for Bone Mineralization of Growing Chicks").
    Substrates without phytate are those milled to remove the seed endosperm coat; oat has more phytates than wheat & a grain with least phytates is millet. Phytic acid can bind up substrate's phosphorus in the phytate, stymie bioavailability of iron & limit protein absorption unless supplement with phytase enzyme .
    Millet strains may be worth identifying that could be the cheapest worldwide substrate; they are short growing cycled & a drought tolerant crop. In developed countries some varieties of millet are sold as bird feed.
    The millets are "Broom millet" = Sorghum bicolor, "Pearl/Bulrus/bajra millet" = Pennisetum americanum, "Finger millet, bulrush = Eleusine coracana, "Foxtail millet= Setaria italica, Japanese millet = Echinochloa esculenta & "Proso millet =Panicum miliaceum. But before jump to conclusion there are some millets that unmilled may interfere with the mealworm's ability to breakdown the substrate, due to factors in the seed.
    An Indian finger millet has an inhibitor of insect's alpha amylase enzyme which is how mealworm cleaves substrate carbon (carbohydrate/starch). Sorghum I recall also has some inhibitors (like trypsin).
    Of course there are alpha amylase inhibitors in other grains, like wheat,rye, barley & rice endosperm as well; yet these are used by hobby mealworm breeders. Inhibitors is why mealworms that get into stored grains initially go for the seed germ - meaning wheat germ is a great mealworm substrate ammendment & hobby breeders can afford to mix it in.
    (For technical evaluation see: "A novel strategy for inhibition of alpha-amylases: yellow meal worm alpha-amylase in complex with the Ragi bifunctional inhibitor at 2.5 Å resolution."
    Try free full text at the link or others =
  • Good safe larval calcium supplement guideline by volume is 0.25 cup powdered calcium carbonate for 4.5 cup grain/bran blend. If want to measure calcium by weight & know how much of calcium exactly experimenting with there are 500 mg of calcium in 1,250 mg (1.25 grams) of calcium carbonate. If collard greens are available they generally have 84 mg calcium per 36 grams fresh weight - but they (or other greens used for calcium) must not have pesticides.
    When mealworms go inactive it is related to how they use their absorptive calcium channel for transport of both sodium & calcium. Their muscle activation needs electrical potential, but without calcium they still can use sodium boost the action potential.
    (for technical see: "Sodium inward currents through calcium channels in mealworm muscle fibers" & also "Permeation of sodium through calcium channels of an insect muscle membrane")
    On a technical note the restoration of calcium (Ca) to the mealworm will prioritize the calcium channel to take up the Ca ++ divalent ion. When there is low calcium that channel re-orientates & modifies to favor passage of single + monovalent charged ions (like sodium +, but can be other + ions that are less desirable in large influx if substrate ). (see; "Two ion-selecting filters in the calcium channel of the somatic membrane of mollusc neurons"
  • @gringojay do youo think that using eggshells' powder would be a good way to supplement calcium to mealworms?
    It surely would be ultra cheap.
  • Eggshells and also cleaned sea shells calcium carbonate can be extracted for bioavailable calcium. Soak +/- 50 gr by dry weight in 1 liter of 5% white vinegar for 24 hours, then gently boil the blend for about 1 hour & filter out the solid residue to yield a solution of calcium acetate.
    Take this reduced fluid and add back to it enough water to reconstitute the total volume to 1 fluid liter again. The calcium in this finished product will be about 15 gr calcium (technically 16.7 gr Ca per liter).
    Spray it lightly onto grain substrate but don't saturate bed & until your set up proves ammenable only spray a portion of the substrate so the mealworms can avoid it if need be. Different feed substrates can interact differently to the pH & of course you can then
    fine tune the calcium acetate pH down if need to.
    Ion transport into the larvae are selected when + cations induce conformational changes in both the ion carriers or membrane structures. Polyvalent cations (many + charges on a single mineral) & calcium alter surface groups of membranes & change their selective surface properties; + cations bind to a carrier reactive site & reconform the carrier's surface protein.
    Calcium reduces competition between sodium (Na) & potassium (K), likewise between magnesium (Mg) & potassium (K) & generally increases K uptake.q
  • Pretty cool tip @gringojay!
  • cut off....
    Eggshell powder calcium carbonate may, although usually not, react with phosphorus (P) in the feed substrate & form calcium phosphate. This can happen where the mealworms water supply puts them in solution & calcium phosphate is less easily taken up at ion transport sites.
    Calcium acetate reacts like the organic acids malate & citrate (potatoes based on how stored post-harvest have different ratios of malic & citric acid) do with phosphorus.
    Acids act via enzymatic cleaving of calcium phosphate. This raises the pH even though the white vinegar of calcium acetate was acidic.
    That reaction leads to some calcium phosphate forming up as apatite/hydroxylapatite/Ca5(PO4)3OH) & apatite is the bone's (& tooth) mineral for whatever eats the mealworm. Be aware that some inert minerals formed into a small atomic mass can dehydrate insects, yet large atomic mass minerals does not. (see: "Inert dust insecticides: Part II")
  • edited August 2015

    Hi @edepro53, - this may answer one of your questions. Figure that 76% of the calcium in mealworm larvae can be used (biologically available) by a growing chicken

    The following is a guideline for mealworm larvae that weighed about 135 mg. each when analized. Without any calcium carbonate supplement those size larvae will contain ~ 0.25 gr. calcium/Kg.

    Give them calcium at the proportion of 20 gram calcium calcium/Kg of the feed & those larvae will contain ~0.75 gr. calcium/Kg; feed with 40 gr. calcium/Kg & get larvae with ~ 1.5 gr. calcium/Kg, feed with 60 gr. calcium/Kg & get larvae with ~ 2.0 gr. calcium/Kg & feed with 80 gr. calcium/Kg & get larvae with ~2.25 gr calcium/Kg.

    Data above is from: (2003) "Gut Loading to Enhance the Nutrient Content of Insects As Food for Reptiles: A Mathematical Approach"; published in Zoo Biology 22

    There are some differences in calcium requirements for different chicken growth stages. (2004) "Calcium supplementation of breeding birds: directions for future research" may be good orientation; but not specific to chickens. Free full text =

  • spelling correction: 2nd paragraph should read - "analyzed" - ending 1st sentence.

  • Hi edepro53, - The previous data of how much calcium supplement fed mealworm larvae resulted in how much calcium those larvae contained also pointed out that their phosphorus content still was 3.2- 3.3 grams of phosphorus/Kg.

    For "eating" classification (broilers, not breeding stock or egg producers/layer) of chickens there are trade offs in just aiming for maximum calcium. (1990) "Effects of dietary calcium:available phosphorus ratio on calcium tolerance of broiler chickens"; gives one dynamic; below is taken from that report.

    It is one thing to get an increased rate of utilization (feed conversion ratio) from what feed broiler chickens & it is still another to get this to actually result in more growth. For example (as per above study): ramp calcium content of diet up to 30 gram calcium/Kg (of feed) & they grow less even though assimilate what ate more. And if fed only 10.6 gr calcium/Kg of total feed while simultaneously increase the metabolically "available" phosphorus to 10 grams phosphorus/Kg of feed you get that same paradox of exceptional feed conversion yet less than would expect growth.

    A ratio of 2.5 parts by weight calcium to 1 part by weight of phosphorus seems to get past the issue of unsatisfactory growth despite a good feed utilization. In other words: a lot of what they ate might be inside them, but the relevant issue is where inside them (this also is different for males or females).

    Author's concluded that up to 21 grams/Kg of calcium can be fed chickens but then you need to formulate the feed so there is more phosphorus in it as well (ie: 8.4 gr/Kg phosphorus if give them 21 gr/Kg calcium); and your mealworm larvae alone (ie: 3.3 gr/Kg phosphorus) wouldn't provide enough to assure you get full benefit of the growth for the investment you made in feed.

    Look back at previous comment's data note & you will see that without adding calcium the mealworm larvae only had ~0.25 gram calcium/Kg. Yet they have 3+ gram phosphorus/Kg & so these 2 minerals have a ratio that is not this (above) report's ideal for actual growth.

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