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The mealworm, the meal of reptiles

Who is the mealworm ?

The mealworm - Tenebrio molitorLatin name : Tenebrio molitor
Order : Coleoptera
Family : Tenebrionidae
Size : 13 to 18 mm
Location : kitchen and attic
Period : all year round

What you need to know about mealworm

Originally, the larva fed on animal dung, but it has adapted to our foodstuffs. Feeding mainly on decomposing cereals (but also eating bread, feathers, dead insects, meat, dried fruit, nuts and biscuits), the mealworm is rarely found in the home unless you breed it to feed your reptiles! (If you breed them, this species can be cannibalistic). 

It is the biggest insect pest of whole and ground cereals. Males are generally smaller and more slender than females.

The mealworm are beetles. They have one pair of wings to protect them and a second pair to enable them to fly.

These insects develop in the same way as butterflies, i.e. the larvae do not resemble adults and go through a complete metamorphosis of their bodies to become adults. This stage is called the chrysalis in butterflies and the pupa in beetles. 

In the wild, adults appear in early summer and mate rapidly. The female lays an average of 400 to 500 eggs, either singly or in small masses. The white, shiny eggs hatch after 4 to 18 days. The larvae that emerge measure around 2 mm. Initially white, they turn golden yellow as they grow. In an unheated environment, the larval stage can last from six to nine months, and even up to a year. The insect overwinters in this form.

The larva undergoes 10 to 16 moults during its development. It reaches an average length of 30 mm before transforming into a pupa. Its white colour becomes yellowish over time. The insect spends two to three weeks in this stage before emerging as a winged adult. The adult dies after two to three months. Depending on environmental conditions, the complete cycle of the mealworm can last between four months and two years. 

The mealworm - Tenebrio molitor

The mealworm be eaten ?

In their larval state, mealworms are generally used as pet food for reptiles, fish and birds in captivity. They are also fed to wild birds in bird feeders, particularly during the nesting season. Mealworms are useful for their high protein content. They are also used as fishing bait.

They are commercially available in bulk and are generally available in containers with bran or oatmeal for food.

What about us humans ?
Mealworms are edible for humans and are processed into a number of insect foods available in food retail outlets such as insect burgers.

Mealworms have always been consumed in many Asian countries, particularly in South-East Asia. There, they are commonly found in food markets and sold as street food alongside other edible insects. Baked or fried mealworms have been marketed as a healthy snack in recent history, although mealworm consumption dates back centuries.

In May 2017, mealworms were approved as a food in Switzerland. In June 2021, dried mealworms were authorised as a novel food in the European Union, after the European Food Safety Authority assessed the larvae as safe for human consumption.

Mealworm larvae are high in nutrients. Every 100 grams of raw mealworm larvae contains 206 kilocalories and between 14 and 25 grams of protein. Mealworm larvae contain levels of potassium, copper, sodium, selenium, iron and zinc that rival those of beef. Mealworms also contain essential linoleic acids. They also have a higher vitamin content by weight than beef, excluding B12. 

Mealworms can be easily reared on fresh oats, wheat bran or cereals, with potato slices, carrots or apples as a source of moisture. The small amount of space required to rear mealworms has made them suitable for industrialised mass production.

Signs of presence and preventive action


Signs of presence

You can quickly detect the presence of mealworm by :

1 - Cuticles and small skins in foodstuffs
2 - Larval exuviae following moulting
3 - White grubs crawling in flour

The mealworm are particularly fond of dark, damp corners of food stores. It is rare to see them in the wild, as they frequent the bark of dead trees. They are also rarely seen in houses, except in cases of insalubrity. In fact, unkempt homes, where there is a certain lack of hygiene and food lying around, can give rise to an infestation of mealworm.


Preventive actions

1 - Clean food cupboards, behind hobs, fridges, etc.
2 - Throw away packets of food that have expired
3 - Vacuum all corners and behind cupboards and seal bags tightly to prevent the spread of vermin
4 - Boil contaminated food to bring up the larvae and kill them
5 - Avoid leaving your dog or cat's bowl out for too long
6 - If you have birds, clean their cage and the surrounding area 

How do I get rid of mealworm ?

The mealworm - Tenebrio molitor

1 - Start by eliminating the source of organic matter and removing all waste that could serve as food.
2 - Place a few cockroach traps in infested areas.

3 - Spray our pyrethrum-based insecticide All Insects Aries directly onto the visible insects.

4 - Sprinkle our diatomaceous earth over all infested or frequented areas. For action in the tiniest nooks and crannies, small holes and hard-to-reach gaps, choose diatomaceous earth in aerosol form.

The products you need to combat mealworm

All Insects Natural Insecticide Aerosol -...

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This is what the mealworm looks like in motion