Superworm Care and Breeding

As some of us find ourselves having more mouths to feed than we care to at times and with the current state of the economy, what better way to save money on sub-adult / adult dragons’ feeding. One of the easiest insects to breed would be that of the Zophobas morio, or as the dragon world knows them as the Superworm.

Some precautions and things to keep in mind when feeding these to your dragons are that of common sense. These are some general guidelines that you should follow as a rule of thumb, however there are always exceptions. Proceed outside of these guidelines at your own risk.

1. Do not feed to your dragon unless over 15 inches, however most agree on 16 inches in length from the nose to tip of tail.
2. They can pose an impaction risk to under-sized dragons, due to a kink in their digestive tract that does not straighten out until they reach the above length.
3. I advise against introducing them to your dragon’s diet in a rapid fashion.
4. Instead introduce them slowly, as with any change in their diet.
5. This is to ensure that your dragon is able to process them in the correct fashion.
6. Watch for undigested pieces of worms. If this happens, check your basking temps and reduce the number of worms that are being fed.


Quick facts about Superworms:

1. These can be a staple insect for your dragon.
2. They contain less hard Chitin than meal worms and are therefore more desirable and nutritious.
3. They contain more protein than crickets, however they do have a slightly higher fat content.
4. They have very little odor and cannot climb glass, plastic, etc.

PROS:

1. After one generation of morphed worms, you will be free from having to buy feeders. As little as 3 dozen worms can be enough to feed several beardies.
2. It’s so easy, just time consuming.
3. You will be able to control what your beardie is eating, you will know how the feeders were cared for and what they were fed. No more wondering about how your feeders were previously handled or raised.
4. If you have too much time on your hands, this will give you something to do.
5. If you love to fish, or feed the birds you will have an endless supply of feeders for both.
6. Last but not least, your beardies will love you for it!

CONS:

1. It will be rather time consuming, taking the first generation about 4 months to go from worms to pupa, to beetles, back to adult size worms.
2. I started in December with isolated worms, and currently have about 80 beetles and an entire batch that is near adult size, this is going on about 3 months.
3. Time. . . . .
4. Did I mention, Time???

So you still want to breed Superworms?

There are a few things that you will/might need to purchase.
1. An initial supply of Supers.
2. Substrate – This will be covered later.
3. Side cups or Film Containers – also will be covered later.
4. Screen to cover your vents.
5. Various sized containers to store beetles, worms, pupa. I use 6.5 quart shoe box containers from Home Depot at 99 cents a piece.

Superworm Life Stages:

Superworms (Zophobas Morio) have 4 life stages:
Egg, Larva, Pupa, and Beetle.

Superworm Eggs:

These are extremely tiny (about 1/20″). Once laid, the eggs will hatch in about 7 – 10 days.

Superworm Larva:

These are the “worm” stage and are what we feed our animals. They begin as very tiny and difficult to see and grow quickly up to 2 – 2 1/2″ long. They are white worms with a brown banded exoskeleton called ‘chitin’. Superworm larva live in this stage for about a year when well cared for, but can be forced to pupate as soon as 4 months or when they reach at least 2″ in length.

Superworm Pupa:

These are at the stage between larva and beetle and are commonly referred to as Aliens. This stage lasts 14 – 20 days before the pupa become beetles. Pupa don’t eat or move (they will wiggle if bothered), and all energy is spent on the metamorphosis. Some may become dark brown and others will begin to turn a reddish color. The brown ones are dead or dying, and if they do not wiggle around when disturbed, discard them. The reddish ones are very close to turning into  beetles.

Superworm Beetles:

These begin their life as white, shortly thereafter they turn red, and then darken to black within 24 hours of becoming beetles. They are relatively large beetles at about 1″ long. Female beetles are larger than the males and lay approx. 500 eggs in a lifetime – of which around 50 will hatch. The beetles will live for 4 – 5 months and breed continuously. The pregnant female has a large abdomen which forces the wings slightly open, making pregnant females easy to spot. Beetles prefer dark areas and will spend the majority of their time hiding, unless they are looking for food or mating.

A WORD OF CAUTION!!!
Superworm beetles do have a defense odor and therefore it is not recommended to bother them unless you have to transfer them into another tub for more breeding. The smell is not overpowering, however it is slightly uncomfortable and will not come off of your hands for a long while.

Substrate:

This is rather important in the breeding and raising of your soon to be feeders. I use whole oats that are run through the blender, wheat bran, corn meal, baby cereal, and some soy bean powder I found at Trader Joe’s. This mixture seems to work rather well and I do not seem to have any problems and a decently quick growth rate.

About 2 inches+ of substrate I believe is adequate for most amounts of worms; the more worms, the more substrate.

*note* you can use brewers yeast to speed up the growth of your worms but I believe this is not healthy and leads to die-offs. I say this as I believe that the supers I had received from a local supplier were raised in this fashion and I experienced massive die-offs. You will also need to change out the substrate about every 3 months or when/if it begins to smell bad.

Some other food items that have been used, that I have heard of:
• Wheat germ
• Cheerios
• Baby cereal
• Almost anything organic that lacks a pesticide
• Non-medicated Chicken Egg Laying mash bought from a local feedstore

Size:

The size of the worm is also very important, since they do need the energy stores to make it successfully through their metamorphosis. The proper size range for this seems to be about 2inches+ and ones that look healthy, fat, and very active.

Moisture source:
These worms need a moisture source at all times, otherwise they will start to eat each other and as a result you will be overrun with dead bodies. To do this is rather simple; all you need to do is provide them with some carrots cut in half  lengthwise and chopped into about 2 inch pieces. These pieces should be placed directly onto the substrate since they do like to pull their food into the substrate to eat it.

Other moisture sources that I have heard of are potatoes, water crystals and fruits and vegetables.

Housing:

They can be housed in anything that is plastic or anything they are unable to chew through. I use small shoebox containers made of plastic, and smaller 5 and 15 gallon tanks that I had lying around. These need to be well ventilated and screened to ensure that no mold can grow.

Superworms breeding/feeding bin

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Heat:

These worms generally do not need heat, but they seem to thrive around 85* and no lower then 60*. They should not be stored in the fridge since the cold temps will kill them.
This is my superwarming container, it has some heat cable that runs across the bottom and a door that I can close if I choose to.

superworm, breeding

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Superworm breeding

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Morphing:

Now for the good part, since you already have your worms picked out, the biggest and fattest of the bunch. They need to be isolated in order for them to morph into beetles. Some people use those little side cups from a restaurant, others use film containers. They also need to be kept from all food and moisture sources in order to force then to pupate. They need to be stressed in order to do so. Whatever route you choose to go is completely up to you, but they do need a few holes poked into the top of the container so they do not suffocate.

The deli cup used to pupate the Superworms

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Superworms pupating

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Once in the containers, if temperatures are kept warm, around 85* but no higher then 90* they should begin to curl and morph into aliens in about 10 days.

After they morph into aliens, they should morph into beetles around 10-15 days later. The whole process can be completed in about a month.

Superworm pupa

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Beetles:

Now that you have managed to morph them into beetles you’re almost done. All you need to do now is sit back and wait it out. I change out my beetles every 3 weeks by moving them into a new container thus allowing the worms to live on without interruption, and also giving the beetles a place to live that is free of kids that want to eat them.

At this stage they do need a moisture source at all times, this includes the beetles, as well as the substrate that may seem to be void of life. The baby worms are extremely small and are very hard to see until they are about 2 weeks old. However, you may see the substrate moving as early as 2-3 weeks.

Also provide them with a place to crawl on and hide under, such as an egg crate or paper towel tubes.

Superworm beetle

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Superworms beetles

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Separation anxiety
So now you have successfully completed the entire metamorphosis from worm, to beetle, to egg, and now you have little superworms that are barely visible. These worms will not stay this way for very long, for once they reach about a half inch in length there is no stopping them. The best way to separate your worms from your substrate is to use a colander with decently sized holes in them.

Separating the superworms

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Place your substrate into the colander and give it a shake over a larger tub and you should be left with all larger size worms. These can be moved into a larger container if you wish, or left alone with the rest of them. Soon you will be overrun with worms and won’t know what to do with them.

The finished product, Superworms

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A word of caution:

Do not leave your supers uncovered without a screen; this can lead to a grain mite infestation, which looks similar to what a small super worm would look like. They have a white body, with a tiny red head. These will destroy your batch of supers and some symptoms to look for would be a clumping of the substrate or a silk type substance around the upper edges of the container.

Now how do I combat this threat to my worms?

Some simple things can be done to limit the possibility of an infestation, such as microwaving your substrate before you place your worms into them. I microwave mine for about 30 seconds to a minute depending on how much substrate I’m heating up. You must allow this to cool fully before you place anything into it, since it does get fairly hot and can possibly cook your worms or beetles.

However, a screen is not a completely fool proof way to avoid a grain mite infestation. If any condensation is apparent on the sides or top of the container, the lid should be removed in order to drop the humidity down to acceptable levels.

***Note*** Do not microwave baby cereal, it will clump and get really nasty.

Cliff Notes:

1. Only morph the biggest worms of the bunch, the smaller the worm, the lower the chance of success.
2. They will not morph unless isolated and kept from food and moisture.
3. The whole process should take around a month.
4. Keep temps consistent around 85*
5. Move beetles into a new container every 2 to 3 weeks.
6. Keep a moisture source in the tubs at all times.
7. Keep superworm bins covered with a screen of some sort.

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