How To Keep Your Mealworms Alive: Storing For Maximum Use

mealworm storage

Many reptile owners are often confused as to how to store and keep mealworms alive. Being so inexpensive, it’s easy to buy more than your animals will eat.

Sadly lots of the feeders purchased end up being wasted due to improper storage techniques. Other times, you just can’t pass up on that great one time deal on 10,000 worms even though you only have one mouth to feed.

To store mealworms for the long haul or 2-3 months at a time, I recommend placing them in the refrigerator in small deli-cups or smooth sided plastic containers. Be sure to keep them between temps of 40-50F and add a tiny bit of bedding like oats or bran in the containers.

For short-term keeping, I like to place them in the same containers but kept at room temperature between 65-70F. This way, the worms are still active yet not growing at such a rapid rate that they get too large to be fed off.

With my methods, you’ll have the liveliest and healthiest larvae for the longest amount of time. You won’t need to worry about constantly buying and replenishing your stock. Lastly you’ll save more money and time while getting the most life out of your feeders.

How long can mealworms live?

On the internet there is a lot of conflicting information. In my experience, mealies go from egg to beetle stage living for roughly 4 months at ambient temperatures of 78F. Most keepers need the worm or “larvae” form which lasts about 10-11 weeks.

With the methods below, the larvae will last longer, typically around 16 to 22 weeks if followed properly. The optimum temperature for growing normally is 78F but if you drop the temps, they will grow much more slowly.

Supplies needed:

I personally believe it’s far easier to store than it is to breed mealworms as you only need a couple things to get started.

#1 Housing

mealworm housing

I advise you use smooth sided plastic Tupperware for your larvae. Things like sterilite, Rubbermaid, Karat, critter keepers, and plastic deli cups all work great. Just remember to place a lid with holes for ventilation. If you can’t find ways to create holes for ventilation, you can always take off the lid every day to exchange air flow. This is important as feeders will die from stagnant air or poor oxygen flow.

#2 Bedding/Substrate

mealworm substrate

Most people use rolled oats however I found that wheat bran is much easier to sift through when it comes time to feeding them off. The amount of bedding will depend on the amount of mealies but generally I’ll put about a ½” of bedding per 1,000 count.

Place enough to cover them about 80%, making sure not to bury them. You can always use baby cereal, chicken mash, rabbit pellets, and rolled oats if you prefer. Whatever you decide to use, make sure to keep it as dry as possible.

High humidity and wet or moist habitats usually promote mold or bacterial growth which is detrimental to your critters.

I also recommend you bake the substrate for 20-30 minutes prior to using as this will kill off any parasites, mites, and eggs left behind.

#3 Refrigerator

This will only be necessary if you want to keep your mealies for the long haul. They will survive in a dormant state at temps of 40F-50F for about 2 months. The cooler temperatures will delay the process of pupation which stops them from turning into beetles.

This is one of the advantages it has compared to superworms.

Any colder and the mealies will not survive so be sure to keep it within that range. The crisper section is usually a good spot for placing your containers.

#4 Live Mealworms

storing live mealworms

Lastly you want to place your worms in the bedding. If you’re planning to immediately feed off your stock do not place them in the fridge. Make sure to “water” them by placing a carrot or potato once a week to keep them hydrated.

Replace left over vegetables after 24-48 hours to avoid mold growth. For long term dormant storage, make sure to give them veggies 24 hours prior to cooling/refrigerating. This will give them adequate nutrition and hydration to stay healthy while dormant.

I also take the containers out and re-hydrate by adding fresh vegetables once a month. In our experience, mealworms last much longer this way sometimes adding a month of two to their shelf life.

Hydration

mealworm hydration

Remember, these bugs cannot be given standing water for the potential of drowning and mold growth. So the only other option is to provide a water source like potatoes or carrots where they will replenish themselves.

Extra Tips

Naturally, the bugs will lose some nutritional value after staying dormant for more than a month. I recommend you gutload and dust them prior to offering. To do so, remove them from the fridge and allow them to “warm up” at room temperature for 24 hours. Feed veggies and wheat bran for the next 24 hours. Be sure to feed off within a day of gutloading for maximum nutrition. Your herps will reap the benefits if you follow these tips.

Burrowing

Since this species naturally likes to burrow, I recommend bowl feeding. This will help keep them contained and escape-proof. Make sure to use one that’s deep enough for them but not so deep that your herps cannot reach.

I like the ceramic type dishes due to their weight and depth which holds enough insects without the risk of tipping or spilling over. You can also use glass for better visibility.

Containing them is vital since the bugs can harass or even stress out your reptiles.

Conclusion

I hope you found this article beneficial in answering your questions on how to store and keep live mealworms. If you follow the methods provided in this article, I am sure you can replicate the success I’ve had with my feeders.

If there are any other questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to email me or comment in the section below and I will do our best to answer promptly. Thanks again! Cheers!

12 Responses to “How To Keep Your Mealworms Alive: Storing For Maximum Use

  • Johnny Keyton
    10 months ago

    Do the containers with the live worms be kept in a dark room or would an outside shed be not completely dark thanks

  • Roxanna Propes
    10 months ago

    Love the article. I feed my hamster these meal worms. Do you suggest feeding them live or dead?
    I have heard that if feed alive the mealworms can and do bite the eater. My hamster loves them, but if they are dangerous live, then maybe I should by yhe freeze dried ones. Any suggestions?

    • thegutload
      6 months ago

      Hi, I suggest feeding them live but try to keep them contained in a bowl or cup. This way they aren’t disturbing your hamsters. I would offer live for the best nutritional value.

  • Thank you for this! Very informative. My batch of mealworms barely lasted a week.

  • LooBud Hall
    4 months ago

    Hi, very good article, have read many and yours is by far best! Very easy to understand even for an old fart!

  • Just the information I needed
    I’m in the UK and just started with life mealworms after nearly a 10 year break.

  • Great article! I learned a lot about what sort of bedding to use, how to keep them hydrated and refrigerated! Don’t wish to have them turn to beetles!
    THANK YOU!

  • How deep should the oats be? And how many meal worms fit in each container?

  • Very helpful article! I noticed you said they will lose nutrition after a month of going into dormant stage. Does that mean if they’re gut loaded before going into the fridge, and taken out within a week or 2 weeks, they don’t need to be loaded again before feeding to reptile?

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