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The Ins and Outs of Mealworm for Birds

June 8, 2015
Mealworms are an increasingly popular form of food for wild garden birds, especially during the breeding and fledgling seasons when considerable competition exists among birds for local natural resources such as earthworms. This demand can be offset by human intervention i.e. the feeding of mealworms, which are readily available to buy online, in either fresh or dried formats. Considered as a ‘luxury’ form of wild bird food, mealworms are especially useful for providing a complementary diet rich in essential proteins and fats. Read on...

A bowl of mealworms

A bowl of mealworms
© Pengo, available under public license

Mealworm facts

  • Binomial nomenclature: Tenerbio molitor

  • Kingdom: Animalia

  • Phylum: Arthropoda

  • Class: Insecta

  • Order: Coleoptera

  • Family: Tenebrionidae

  • Genus: Tenebrio

  • Species: T. Molitor

  • What are mealworms?

    Mealworms come from the beetle Tenbrio molitor, which is a species of darkling beetle. There is a common lifecycle, or series of four stages, through which mealworms go before entering adulthood. These are: 1) egg, 2) larva, 3) pupa, 4) adult.

    Tenebrio molitor is a prolific breeder, and can lay up to 500 eggs at a time. This number is necessary due to external pressures from predators; mealworms are commons target for numerous species, including reptiles. Depending on the environment in which the larvae lives, it can take anywhere between three and thirty days for the mealworm to emerge as a beetle.

    The mealworm beetle: “Tenerbio molitor”

    © Didier Descouens, available under public license

    Dried mealworms for wild birds

    Dried Mealworms, available from 100g and up to 5kg bags

    Different variations of mealworm food for birds

    There are two principle types of commercially available mealworm for wild garden birds: dried mealworms and live mealworms. Dried mealworms typically come in bag sizes of between 100g and 5kg. Extremely useful for storing away, dried mealworms can easily be soaked in warm water overnight in order to rehydrate them for an extra ‘juicy’ bird treat. They are also useful for scattering on bird tables and over the ground.

    Live mealworms are the obvious choice for the freshest wild bird treat. These can be ordered online and can be kept for up to several weeks (of course, this all depends upon the environment in which the mealworms are kept). Click to see further details on the live mealworm page here.

    Which garden birds eat mealworms?

    It's common to hear that blue tits are the main species of garden bird that feed on mealworms; however, there are many species that enjoy mealworms as part of their diet, including wrens, wookpeckers, nuthatches and robins.

    Can I breed my own mealworms?

    Of course you can. There's lots of advice out there on how to breed your own mealworms, especially if you're on a tight budget and/or have the time and patience for doing.

    Take a look at this useful wiki page on breeding your very own wild bird mealworms in nine simple steps

    Where can I buy mealworms for birds?

    You can buy them from Garden Wildlife Direct. We have a selection of fresh live mealworms and dried mealworms available on our online store

    Author Attribution

    The image can be attributed to © Brian Gratwicke, available under the followingpublic license

    Robin eating a live mealworm

    A robin eating a live mealworm
    © Philip Heron, available under public license

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    1. These articles were extremely helpful to me as an elementary school English teacher to Japanese children. Mealworms are easy to keep,
      cheap – each child can raise their own group, and the study provides ongoing language learning. Children in my class kept journals
      and experimented with their feeding. There were discussions even outside class about the best food, the mix of oatmeal, corn grits
      and depth of each bed layer.

      Now the project is ended. and I am left with a lot of mealworms and beetles. As I am pro-life (my own personal belief), I don’t want to
      give them to the birds. What should I do with them? In what kind of environment should I free them? The side of a mountain road?
      My Yard? Raise the worms to beetles and then let them go? Advice please ! I did not think far enough ahead and can’t find any
      information on the net. Freeing their worm or beetle colonies will be a valuable part of the next course.

      1. Hi Jay, It’s great to hear you’ve found our information useful!

        Normally we’d advise just feeding them to the birds, as they would eat them naturally in the wild. However if that’s not an option then mealworms typically like moist dark places. So you would be best finding something like an old rotten log and freeing them near that. Please be careful if you are stopping by the side of a mountain road though!