How to Breed Waxworms
Reptile owners and fishermen both know the value of waxworms. After all, it's written right there on the price tag! Skip the weekly trip to the pet store by breeding them yourself. It's not difficult, and you get to watch the whole life cycle play out every few weeks.
Setting Up the Container
Choose a glass, metal, or hard plastic container.A 1-gallon jar or 5-gallon tank has plenty of room for about 50 waxworms.Do not use a container made from soft plastic, wood, or cardboard, since waxworm larvae can chew through these materials.
Mix your own waxworm bedding.Start with enough bran, wheat germ, or uncooked oatmeal to cover the base of your container to 1 inch (2.5 cm) depth. Put this in a large bowl and pour in honey. Mix it by hand (wear a disposable glove if you like) until you have a soft, thick, crumbly paste, sticky but not dripping honey.
- To save money, you can replace up to 90% of the honey with corn syrup, a cheaper but less effective food source.
- Optionally, mix in glycerin a spoonful at a time until the mixture turns dark.This helps keep the bedding warm and damp, and encourages rapid, healthy breeding.
Let the bedding dry.Spoon out the mixture onto the waxy side of wax paper.Leave it in a spot with good ventilation to dry.
Move the bedding to the container.Once the bedding has hardened, break it into clumps and use it cover the base of the container with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the bedding. This is the material the wax worms will live in (a substrate), as well as the food they will eat.
- The bedding should still feel sticky, but if it is too soft to break into clumps, it needs more drying time.
Drop in crumpled wax paper into the container.Small balls of crumpled wax paper give the waxworms a place to spin cocoons. This will make them easy to transfer to a second container later.
- You can use pieces of egg cartons instead.
Line the sides with newspaper (optional).If you plan to breed large numbers of waxworms, their breathing can cause water droplets to condense on the sides. Strips of newspaper help to absorb this and prevent the bedding from becoming too damp for the larvae to use.Leave some of the sides clear so you can see what's happening inside.
Put in the waxworms.You can buy waxworms online or from a vivarium. The healthiest larvae are a cream color with no dark discolorations.Transfer these to the container, keeping out dark larvae and dead larvae.
- A large jar or tank can hold at least 50 waxworms, but the exact number isn't too important for a home project. For an efficient breeding setup, use about 75–100 waxworms for each 100 grams (3.5 oz by weight) of bedding.
Cover the container top with cheesecloth or mesh.Block all openings with a double layer of cheesecloth or very fine (20 mesh / 0.85mm) wire screen so air can pass through.Hold it in place with a rubber band or hot glue.
- If you are using a tank that comes with a mesh lid, tape the edges of the lid to make sure it stays in place.
Caring for Waxworm Larvae
Keep your waxworms in a ventilated area.Put the container in a room with decent air flow, so moisture can evaporate before it condenses on the container walls.The waxworms aren't affected much by humidity, but they may have trouble moving and feeding if the substrate gets damp and mushy.
Warm the container.Waxworms breed much faster in temperatures between 28 and 32ºC (82 to 90ºF).If you can't keep a room close to this temperature, warm the container with a heat mat or heat lamp from a pet store.
- You can breed waxworms at room temperature, but this can add months to each breeding cycle. You may prefer this if you are breeding them for your own use and don't need large quantities.
- Do not let the temperature reach 40ºC (104ºF). At this temperature, many of the adult moths will die before they finish laying eggs.
Keep the container dark.Waxworms thrive in dark environments. Put the container in a paper bag, or wrap a tube of dark paper around the jar.
Remove dead larvae.Open the container occasionally and search through the substrate for black, shriveled larvae. Throw these away before they rot to discourage disease.
Wait for the larvae to pupate.The larvae should tunnel through the substrate, eat it, and grow bigger, molting their skins several times along the way. The larvae usually pupate once they are six or seven weeks old, if kept at a warm temperature. They will either spin cocoons, or (at lower temperatures) enclose themselves in a hard, dark shell.
- A greater waxworm larvae usually reaches about 20mm (¾ inch) before it molts.The lesser waxworm species is almost as long, but has a narrow body.
- If you have a dense population, you may need to add more of the edible bedding before they pupate. Greater waxworm larvae can eat very quickly, so check on them daily.
Breeding a New Generation
Transfer the pupa to a new container.Hopefully, your larvae spun cocoons onto the wax paper balls, so all you need to do is pick those up. If not, move the cocoons carefully with tweezers or your fingers. Just as before, add bedding, and seal it with a ventilated lid.
- Cocoons usually take at least two days to spin, sometimes more. Don't move them until the outside feels fairly hard.
Drop in wax paper for egg laying.Fold strips of wax paper accordion-style.Drop these into the new container. Once the worms hatch into wax moths, they will lay their eggs on the wax paper.
- You can use pieces of plastic straws instead.
Wait for the moths to hatch.At warm temperatures, an adult moth could emerge from the cocoon in as few as ten days after spinning. Don't be surprised if it takes a couple weeks (or up to 40 days for lesser waxworms). At room temperature, you may have to wait as long as 60 days.
- The larvae goes through dramatic changes to become a pupa in the first 4–7 days. The rest of the time is spent becoming a moth.
Watch the moths mate and lay eggs.Within a few hours of leaving the cocoons, the females will fan their wings at the males, then mate with them. After that, the female will look for a nook to lay her eggs — hopefully on the objects you dropped in.
- The moths do not eat, but will still live for at least a few days after emerging. The females will die after about 7 days (lesser wax moths) or 12 days (greater), while the males will last about 13 days (lesser) or 21 days (greater).
Start a new generation.In ideal conditions, the eggs can hatch in just 3 days (greater waxworms) or 7 days (lesser waxworms). At lower temperatures, this can take up to 30 days.You can leave them in the same container as the moths, or move them to a fresh one set up the same way. (Leaving them in the same container as the dead moths is usually fine, but the moths can get smelly, and may increase risk of disease.)
- Don't let the moths escape into the wild, or they may lay more eggs and devastate local beehives. Before opening the container, cool it down a little to slow the moths. Open it in a closed closet so you can catch any moths that fly out during the transfer.
- Newly hatched waxworms can climb up glass and chew or squeeze through almost anything. During this stage of the waxworm life cycle, place the container in a shallow pan of water to prevent escape.
QuestionHow can I make my wax worms grow larger in diameter?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe less crowded the waxworms are, the larger they can grow. This won't usually make a huge difference, though. Make sure you bought greater waxworms (Galleria mellonella), not lesser waxworms (Achroia grisella).Thanks!
QuestionWho discovered that wax worms eat plastic?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerScientists at Stamford University have found out that waxworms can eat polyethylene (the plastic in carrier bags).Thanks!
QuestionCan adult wax worms fly?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, wax moths can fly.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can you feed them?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe waxworms do not need any food besides the "bedding" described in the article.Thanks!
QuestionDo the worms need an additional source of moisture for drinking?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, not really.Thanks!
QuestionMy kit came with a breeder block for laying eggs, but the block has a fine tan fuzz on it. What is this and what do I do about it?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThis is probably mold. If the moths haven't emerged yet, remove the block and consider transferring the cocoons to a fresh container. If the eggs are already on the block, line the sides of the container with several sheets of newspaper to absorb moisture (which mold loves).Thanks!
QuestionHow do I stop them from spinning so I can sell them?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you keep the larva you wish to sell in the refrigerator they will not pupate.Thanks!
QuestionHow do waxworms get water if they're in dry bedding?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHoney has water in it. The oats may feel dry to us, but basically anything edible has a small content of water in it. The moths get all of the moisture they need from the bedding.Thanks!
QuestionHow long should/does it take for the bedding to harden? I left it in a ventilated spot, but it hasn't hardened after a few days.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLocal conditions like humidity and air pressure matter. Use a dehumidifier or blow dryer to speed up the process.Thanks!
QuestionWhen I checked on my worms this morning, it looked as if all of them were dead. Only one moved when I poked it. I think I might have suffocated them, but I'm not sure. Any suggestions?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf all of them are dead, you might have to start over with the breeding process and get new wax worms.Thanks!
Starting with 50 waxworms, how many waxworms should one expect at the end of one breeding cycle (if all goes as expected)?
I keep getting moths, but they are not laying eggs. They seem to die first. What may be the problem?
To breed waxworms, start by covering the bottom of a glass or metal container with an inch of bran or uncooked oatmeal mixed with honey. Then, drop crumpled pieces of wax paper into the container for the waxworms to spin their cocoons around. Next, put the waxworms in the container and cover it with cheese cloth. To speed up the breeding, put the container in a well-ventilated area and heat it to between 80 and 90 degrees F. Finally, wait on the larvae to pupate.
- Before reusing a container for a new batch of insects, sterilize it by boiling in hot water. This reduces the risk of spreading diseases that kill waxworms. If using a plastic container, consider throwing it away and starting with a fresh one.
- Some beekeepers collect waxworms that attack their hives. They might give you these worms for free, or sell them for a lower price than pet stores.
- A little pollen, grated beeswax, or piece of old honeycomb can increase breeding rates in some waxworm populations.
- If you need to delay the breeding, store the pupae (cocoons) at 15.5ºC (60ºF) and 60% relative humidity for up to two months.
- Zookeepers and other professionals may use more complicated substrates to guarantee good results. Here's one example, using a very large batch:
- Mix 100g dried brewer's years, 100g wheat germ, 200g milk powder, 200g whole wheat flour, and 400g bran.
- Mix 300 mL clear honey and 400 mL glycerine. Blend this into the first mixture.
- Mix in vitamin and mineral powders recommended for the animals that will eat the waxworms.
- Top with grated beeswax.
- Do not release waxworms into the wild. They can disrupt the local environment, especially beehives.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after handling waxworms to prevent spreading diseases to humans and pets.
Video: Easy way to breed insects (Wax worms)
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