Mealworms

mealwormsGeneral: Mealworms are not actually worms. They are the larval stage of darkling beetles (Tenebrio molitor). Both darkling beetles and mealworms are nocturnal but are also active during the day. They prefer temperate areas (~75°F) that have dark and moist places to hide in. The more humid it is the faster they will reproduce. The beetles can fly but they typically don't. Sugar gliders love to eat mealworms but not the beetles.

Life Cycle: The darkling beetle undergoes complete metamorphosis which consists of four stages: eggs, larvae, pupa, and adult. The beetles are prolific breeders that lay hundreds of tiny eggs underground which hatch in about 1-4 weeks into tiny mealworms. The mealworms eat a ton of food and molt (shed their exoskeleton) as they get bigger. Recently molted mealworms are soft and white. Mealworms range in size from ¼”-1” in size. After they get about 1” (8-10 weeks later) they enter the pupal stage where they transform into an adult beetle which takes about 1-3 weeks. During this stage they do not eat and are relatively helpless because all they can do is wiggle. Afterwards they come out as a white darkling beetle and will gradually darken to black over the next few days. Darkling beetles live 1-3 months during which they can breed and lay eggs. The entire life cycle takes about a year.

Diet: Both the adults and the larvae are scavengers that get their water from their food. They eat grains, fruits, vegetables, and decaying material. The darkling beetles will also eat any of the previous life stages so all of the stages should be separated. Mealworms eat substrate such as oats, wheat bran, oatmeal, flour, and cornmeal. The beetles do not eat substrate. However, they still need the substrate so they have something to resemble dirt that they can burrow into to lay their eggs. Mealworms are big eaters so they need at least an inch of substrate in the container. Mealworms primarily get their water from their food so you should put slices of fruits and vegetables in the container on the substrate. Personally I put slices of fruits and vegetables in about every 1-2 days and remove the old slices to prevent mold from growing so that I don’t have to clean their container too often. Remember! What you feed the mealworms is the nutrition that your sugar gliders will be eating! Therefore, focus on feeding them calcium rich foods or you can just mix the calcium dust straight into the substrate.

Mealworm Approximate Nutritional Values
  Live Dried
Protein 20% 53%
Fat 13% 28%
Fiber 2% 6%
Water 62% 5%

Breeding Mealworms: Mealworms are fairly easy and inexpensive to breed. It will take a while to get started but after that you will have a constant supply of mealworms for your pets. It is recommended to start with at least 100 mealworms. All you have to do is buy some mealworms and put them in the container with food. They will eat and grow until they hit the pupal stage. At this point remove the pupae and put them in a separate container until they develop into beetles. Put the beetles in a separate container from the mealworms and pupae and they will breed and lay eggs. When you clean their container put the substrate with the eggs and tiny mealworm hatchlings into another container to allow them to eat and grow until they are bigger. At that point you can feed the mealworms to your sugar glider. It is recommended to let some of the worms continue to the pupal stage and continue the cycle for a continuous supply of mealworms.

boxesContainer: Anything plastic such as a terrarium, plastic box, or Sterilite container will work. Do not use wood or cardboard because they can chew through it. The container should be long and wide but doesn’t need to be more than a few inches higher than the substrate. The substrate should be about 1-2 inches deep so a 3-4 inch container height minimum will be required. There should also be good airflow for the container to prevent other bugs such as knats and fruit flies from getting in. It also helps to keep the humidity down and reduce mold growth. Screened lids work well for this purpose.

Maintenance: So long as you regularly remove dead beetles, pupae, and worms and keep mold from growing you only really have to clean them out once a month. If the container starts to smell funny or grows mold you will need to remove the insects and clean it with soap and water. I personally keep the life stages separated into different containers to reduce cannibalization and make finding big mealworms easier. The container with beetles will have eggs or hatched larvae in it and so long as it is clean you can just dump it into another container, add more substrate, and add food slices. The beetles and pupae can be removed using your fingers or tweezers. The worms are easier to separate from the substrate using a sifter. After you clean the containers put at least an inch of substrate back in with some fruit/veggie slices.

Crickets

crickets

General: Crickets (Achetus domesticus) are nocturnal but can be active during the day. They can be found under rocks and logs as well as in fields, grasslands, and meadows. They can jump about 1-3 feet high. The males will make chirping sounds to attract mates by rubbing their forewings together. They thrive in temperatures between 80-90°F. Crickets are noisy and clever escape artists. They can also have a distinct smell but with proper maintenance this should be kept to a minimum.

Life Cycle: Crickets undergo incomplete metamorphosis and only have 3 life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The females use their ovipositor (center prong at the back of the abdomen) to deposit eggs into the soil. The female can lay about 100-200 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs look like little grains of rice. After about 14 days the eggs will hatch and you will have a nymph. Nymphs look like smaller adults but lack ovipositors and wings. They do not develop these until after about a month. They will molt 8-10 times during this stage as they get bigger. After they have matured and grown wings they are considered adults and will begin to reproduce. The adults can live for over 6 weeks. The entire life cycle takes about 2-3 months.

Diet: Crickets are omnivores meaning they eat both plants and other animals/insects. They also require a high protein diet. Therefore the larger crickets will eat smaller crickets so keep the life stages separated into different containers to reduce cannibalization. You will need food and water dishes/bowls. The food dish should be a couple of inches deep. You can use organic wheat grains, oatmeal, bran, wheat germ, as well as fruit and vegetable pieces to make sure that they get a good balance of diverse nutrients. You can also put calcium dust in there to increase their calcium levels. For their protein requirement use boiled eggs (white part has protein, yellow part has fat), cooked meat, nuts or seeds. DO NOT use the dry cat/dog food recipe!! REMEMBER!! What you feed your crickets will be passed on to your pets when they eat them. Dry cat/dog food is not even healthy for cats and dogs let alone being healthy for your gliders. Therefore it shouldn’t be fed to your crickets either. Crickets also need a source of water. A chick waterer with marbles or a sponge in it to prevent drowning will work. You can also do the same thing with a water dish or water bottle; just make sure you use marbles, screen, or a sponge so that they don’t drown.

Cricket Approximate Nutritional Values
  Live Dried
Protein 21% 53%
Fat 6% 4.8%
Fiber 23% 2.8%
Water 69% 8.9%

Breeding: Crickets are fairly easy to breed but require a little more work that mealworms. After your container is set up buy at least 50 crickets to start. The optimal breeding temperature is 86°F. They will start to breed and lay eggs in the nesting container on their own. Just make sure that the soil is always damp. If the soil dries out so will the eggs. You can use a spray bottle or add a little bit of water into the nesting container every day. Every 1-1.5 weeks remove the nesting container and dump all of its contents into an empty container to hatch into nymphs. Make sure to still maintain the soil dampness and temperature until all of the eggs hatch. Put more damp soil in the nesting container, cover it in mesh, and put it back into the adult’s container. After they hatch into nymphs they can be put in the nymph container. After they get big enough to develop wings move them to the adult container.

boxes2Container: You will need at least 3 containers for each stage. You will need a small, short container for the eggs, a medium to large container for nymphs, and a large container for the adults. I would recommend a 14-16.5 gallon plastic container or a 10-20 gallon aquarium for the adults. These can hold about 500 crickets. The larger the colony the larger the containers need to be. You can separate them into smaller colonies using more containers. Overcrowding can result in increased cannibalization. The container needs to have plenty of ventilation so use or put in a metal mesh/screen for the top. boxes3The nesting container should only be a few inches high and filled with damp, pesticide-free soil. There also needs to be a removable mesh put over it. This allows the female to still be able to insert her ovipositor through the mesh into the soil to lay her eggs but prevents the other adults from digging up and eating the eggs. Both the adult and nymph containers need to have lots of hiding places. You can use egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, plastic tunnels, etc. The floor doesn’t need a substrate but you can use oatmeal instead of vermiculite to keep the container dry. Another alternative to keep cleaning easy is to put wire mesh at the bottom of the plastic container and have it suspended over a tray so that the droppings fall through. This can also help reduce bacteria and mold growth hence also reducing odor buildup. You will also need heat lamps to keep the temperature over 80°F for optimal breeding conditions.

Maintenance: Crickets do have an odor but with proper maintenance it should be minimal. Keep the containers and dishes clean from bacteria and mold buildup by keeping it dry and clean. Always remove fruit and vegetable pieces on a regular basis so they don’t mold. Move all of the crickets to a separate container and clean it out with soap and water every 1-2 months. Throw out any soiled pieces such as egg cartons or other cardboard pieces.