Superworms aren't worms at all. In fact, they are the larval (pl. = larvae) stage of the Morio Beetle. (Zophobas morio) The morio beetle and its larvae are often discussed on various reptile forums in terms to care and breeding.
Unlike mealworms, superworms are extremely active and draw attention to themselves with their movement when they are placed inside a reptiles tank. As a result of their active nature, many species of reptiles will readily consume this prey.
Superworms are also noted as having less chitin than mealworms. This being the case, superworms are easier to digest.
When feeding superworms to your reptile, be sure to feed appropriately sized insects for the species the insects are being provided to.
Mealworms and superworms are 2 different species and do have some slightly different care requirements. Though there are similarities in their care, this article will explain the differences, and how you can breed your own superworm cultures.
The largest difference between the 2 species is heating. Mealworms do very well at room temperature (around 70° F) whereas superworms do better when temperatures are maintained in the high 70 - low 80° F range. When these insects are kept at cooler temperatures, they often will not reproduce, and eggs/larvae will die. Temperature is one of the keys to keep in mind when you will be breeding these insects!
Unlike the mealworm, superworms won't pupate while in the enclosure. (It's rare when they do.) They do better when isolated, and this will be explained further down.
At 75° F - 80° F - , these are the expected time frames you will be looking at:
Eggs - 1 - 2 weeks
Larvae - 8 -10 weeks
Pupae - 2 - 4 weeks
Adult - 2 - 4 Months
In the beginning, it will take some time for your culture to "start up". Once established however, the time frames above will seem incomprehensible, as it will appear that you have an endless supply of supers. If maintained properly, this can and will appear to be true.
The morio beetle has 4 stages of life that they will go through. You have the Egg, Larvae, Pupae, and Beetle. Its during the larval stage that we feed these insects, and this is the stage that we aim to produce.
This is how it will work. The superworms you start with will eat the substrate that you will provide as described below. As they eat and grow, they will shed their exoskeleton and increase in size. The shed exoskeleton will be visible and often sits on the top of the substrate. When the larval stage is complete or when you decide that the worms are large enough, you will want to move them. This is covered in the "isolation" section of this article.
During isolation, the worm will become dormant and will often be found semi curled in the container on the surface. This is a sign that it is preparing to pupate. Once pupated, it will be about 2-4 weeks before they emerge into beetles.
Once the pupae has matured, and the beetle has emerged, you will be presented with the only stage of this critters life that can reproduce. These beetles can often be seen breeding in plain site but will also be found hiding beneath whatever structures you provide.
Once copulation has transpired, the female will lay eggs in the substrate or on "cage furniture" that you may have provided. The female will lay hundreds of eggs during her lifetime, but they are extremely difficult to see as they normally become consumed within the substrate.
Once the eggs hatch, super tiny superworms will consume the enclosure. When first hatched, they are unbelievably difficult to see and it may take 1-2 weeks before you notice that you have an infestation of baby supers. If given appropriate moisture, and the diet below, they will grow readily. The life cycle will repeat indefinitely if you maintain your colonies.
Supplies - Breeding Superworms
* The instructions depicted here are how I rear my cultures. You can modify them to suit what you have available. *
The first thing I do when I am starting a new culture is wash everything thoroughly. I would hate to think that if I didn't, I may possibly contaminate the colony before it is even created!
Once cleaned, I add a mixture of the substrate described below in a layer on the bottom of the tank that is roughly 3"-4" thick / high. This will act as the food source for my colony.
I then place my mesh screening over to one end of the tank, and place a piece of broken up carrot slices on it.
I like to add a "half log" to the tank as well. The superworms and beetles seem to enjoy this, and use it readily as a station to breed and deposit eggs. Egg crates are a cheaper resource and will serve the same basic function as the half log does.
I toss the superworms on top of the mesh, and I place the cover on! The rest is just time, maintenance, and watching.
There are several techniques for heating your superworm tanks. I have used everything from Under Tank heaters (UTH) to overhead heating devices. I have found that a single human heating pad works extremely well though and that has become my preferred heating device.
I place the heating pad on a surface (shelves for me) and place 2 ten gallon tanks on it splitting the difference of the heat pad. I turn the heat pad on "medium" and it maintains a nice heated surface temperature on the substrate. I place the mesh and moisture sources on the opposite end of the tanks so they do not dry out rapidly.
Make sure you elevate the tanks slightly so they do not sit directly on the pads. You want to have some air circulation. I use cardboard for this by placing 2 pieces of cardboard together, and then tape them that way. This creates a 1/4" spacer that I place under all 4 corners of the tanks. In total, there is almost no space between the pad and the tanks, but they are not resting directly on it and this does allow for circulation and also prevents "crimping" which can cause fires!
Substrate - Breeding Superworms
I use a mixture consisting of powdered milk, multi grain (dry) baby food , oatmeal, and cornmeal. Optionally, you can use chicken mash from a feed store for added protein. I use this bedding for both mealworm and superworms. It has worked well for me. I don't just toss them in. Instead, I prefer to blend it all into a fine powder with a blender. This is not a required step, but retrieving the superworms is MUCH easier when I do this. I will explain this further down.
The items I use for my substrate are not what you NEED to use. Instead, any variety of bran flakes, cornmeal, chicken mash, etc. can be used. You want to make sure that the supers have a substrate that contains grains, as this is a normal diet for them, and it also provides a valuable amount of nutrition. Whatever you feed, make sure it will benefit your reptile since they will be eating the supers!
In addition to grains, superworms will also eat cabbage leaves. If you happen to have some in the home, feel free to give your supers a different treat by placing a single "leaf" in the enclosure.
Moisture - Breeding Superworms
Moisture is provided by the carrot pieces that I use. I use carrots by preference, but potato slices, apples slices, etc. can be used instead. Whatever you use, you need to monitor it for mold. Carrots don't normally mold unless your house is very humid. Instead, they dry out and shrivel up. This is why I prefer to use them.
Its best to keep your moisture source off of the substrate. This is why a mesh bag, or piece of burlap is a great addition. Not only does it provide a means for keeping the moisture source off the substrate, but it also provides an easy way to retrieve superworms. (Explained further down)
Isolation - Breeding Superworms
Unlike mealworms, superworms will not "normally" pupate into beetles in the tank they are housed in. (Not in a timely manner anyways. It will take much longer!) So what most of us have learned is that isolating them is the way to go.
To do this, you will need some sort of "mini" containment units. I prefer to use spice containers like the ones in the image below. These work great for me.
You can also use nut/bolt containers, film containers, etc. Just about anything will work.
Whatever you use, add a small amount of the substrate to the bottom of it and toss in a single adult superworm. Place the cover on, making sure air can get in, and place it in a warm dark area. Closets work well as do a shelf in your herp room. Regardless of where you put them, it needs to be dark and warm. (75° F - 80° F). They will curl up in the middle, which is a sign that they are preparing to pupate. After 2-4 weeks, the pupae will transform into a beetle. You should then move the beetle into a breeding tank and place them on one of the moisture sources. They will often remain in that area for several days rehydrating themselves before they begin to breed.
The containers I like to use are made of glass, stands 3 3/4 inches tall, and are "pre"- vented. (Spice containers.) Since the top is vented, I have no use for the screw top and recycled them by using them as calcium dishes with my hatchling Leopard Geckos.
I will add 1" of substrate to the container and add a single superworm to it. The height and fact that this container is made of glass allows me to rest assured that when the beetle emerges, he won't be capable of escape.
The glass also allows me the ability to view the pupae without having to open the container. When you have 50+ containers going, this is an absolute time saver!
I will normally line the bottom of a ten gallon tank or sterilite container (depending which is available at the time) and use 2 over head "night" view bulbs (black or red heat emitting bulbs) as a means of keeping them warm. This works very well for me and increases the speed in which it takes for them to pupate.
Maintenance - Breeding Superworms
Over time the tanks will require cleaning. There will be an excess amount of shed exoskeletons on the surface as well as a build up of "frass". Frass is the waste product of a superworm. Within this frass you will also find eggs, even though they are not visible. So, what you need to do is separate everyone!
About once a month, remove all of the superworms that you may have in the tank and transfer them to a clean tank. Since you will be keeping the beetles, supers, and pupae separate, you should follow the instructions below for cleaning out the "beetles" tank.
First remove all of the beetles and place them in a clean container with fresh substrate. Then add a moisture source to the empty tank, and wait about 2-3 weeks. Any eggs that were present within the "dirty" tank will have hatched and can now be sifted out and moved to a cleaned tank with fresh substrate. (This is why it is a good idea to have several tanks handy!)
When I breed supers, my setup consists of 3 tanks with one empty tank that I use for cleaning transfers. One tank contains beetles, another my "feeder" supers, and one small critter keeper is used for transfers. As the pupae morph into beetles, they are moved into a fresh tank. The 4th tank is used for transferring everyone around when tank cleanings transpire. (It's the "clean" tank that they move into.)
You always want to keep a breeding colony going. You don't want to start using supers from the breeding colony as eventually you WILL run out! If you have one tank dedicated to beetles, you will always have a steady flow of babies hatching.
Gathering - Feeding - Breeding Superworms
The biggest obstacle I have faced with my colonies was retrieving supers out of the substrate. Since the supers burrow, and I use them in all sizes, I found it very difficult to separate superworm sizes for retrieval. (With the exception of adults, which are rather large.) This is why I started blending the substrate into a powder/chopped form. I now use a screen strainer and "scoop" up a nice pile of substrate. Since the substrate is powdered, it easily falls through the 1/16" openings of the strainer and all I am left with are the superworms and exoskeletons! I remove the supers and toss the exoskeletons. This keeps the tank clean, and also provides easy access to the supers for separation.
The mesh or burlap is also another means in which I retrieve my supers. If you pick up the mesh piece/bag , you will find that supers are attached all over it. I prefer to use a mesh bag as they also burrow inside of it. So I simply pick up the mesh bag which is folded up on one side of the tank and I shake it into a critter keeper. Everyone that was hanging on is deposited into the critter keeper and I separate them by size for feeding to the Leos and Dragons!
Superworms are not like mealworms and CAN'T be placed in the refrigerator. They will die in the low temps. If you want to slow down production, simple decrease the temps they are maintained at to the low 70's. Do not go below 70 degrees though as you could potentially destroy your colony!