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Care Guide: Darkling Beetle

Living Care Information

Zophobas morio

commonly known as
darkling beetles (larval stages are known as superworms, king worms, or morio worms)

Quick Start Information

  • Darkling Beetles are the adult stage of over 20,000 species; however, we use the term, darkling beetle to refer to the adult life stage of the superworm (Zophobas morio).

  • The larval stage of Zophobas is known as the superworm. For a shipment of larvae, begin with the instructions under Larvae.

  • For the care of adults, refer to the instructions under Beetles.

About the Organism

  • Darkling beetles are native to the tropical regions of Central and South America but can now be found across the world.
  • Adults can fly, but rarely do so unless they are dispersing or malnourished and seeking new sources of food.
  • Zophobas larvae are raised around the world as a source of food for insectivorous pets.
  • The adult beetles emit a foul odor when disturbed.
  • There are 1,300 species of darkling beetles in North America alone.
  • Domain: Eukarya
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Coleoptera
  • Family: Tenebrionidae
  • Genus: Zophobas
  • Species: morio

Preparation

Larvae

To prevent escape, keep the superworms in a container with smooth sides. Maintain a constant temperature of 21 to 27° C (70 to 80° F). Do not let the temperature drop below 16° C (60° F) or rise above 29° C (84° F). Do not refrigerate superworms.

Beetles

You will need a housing container for your beetles. Make sure that the container is high enough so that the beetles cannot climb out. Usually tubs with 5-inch sides are high enough. Keep the beetles in an environment between 70 to 75° F (21 to 24° C).

Housing

Larvae

Add 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 in) of substrate material (peat moss, oat bran, bran cereal, etc.) to your housing container. Mist the substrate every other day to maintain humidity. (Too much moisture will kill the superworms, while too little moisture may cause cannibalism.)

Beetles

A terrarium makes a good habitat for this beetle. The terrarium should provide enough space for the beetles to move around. Put 1 ½ to 2” of potting soil in the bottom of the terrarium. Cover the surface with paper towels, leaf litter, or bran meal/oat flakes. Darkling beetle adults prefer places that are dark, cool, and dry.

Feeding

Larvae

Fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, apples, and carrots, are good sources of nutrition and moisture. Feed superworms a diet of oats, wheat bran, or chicken meal (sold commercially by Purina as Layena®). As an added benefit, Layena is fortified with vitamins and minerals, which add to the superworm’s nutritional value.

Beetles

Adult darkling beetles are scavengers that eat both fresh and decaying vegetation. In nature, they feed on dried or rotting plant matter. In captivity, they feed on bran meal, apples, oranges, potatoes, cucumber, romaine lettuce, and pears. Remove uneaten food before it molds.

Maintaining and culturing

Larvae

In crowded conditions, larvae produce a hormone that prevents pupation. If you want pupae or adult beetles, you will have to force the superworms to pupate. First, separate the larvae into pupation chambers, such as black film canisters or vials. Punch some holes in the lid for ventilation. Place some wheat bran or oatmeal to serve as a substrate and as a source of nutrition. Add a carrot slice to provide some moisture for them.

Beetles

These beetles extract water from their food. Additionally, their hard carapace is covered with a wax-like substance that prevents water from evaporating from their bodies. If you wish to give supplemental water, place a moistened sponge or cotton wick into the habitat.

Darkling beetles are active both during the day and at night. With simple care, they can live from three months to over a year.

Disposal

Darkling beetles are considered an agricultural pest and should not be released under any circumstances. We strongly recommend giving any unwanted organisms to another individual if you do not wish to keep them. As a last resort, place unwanted organisms in a sealed container and freeze for 48 hours. Dispose of the organisms in the regular solid waste.

Biosafety

Wash your hands with soap and water before and after working with any living organism.

Video

No video available for this organism.

FAQs

What are some uses of superworms?

In addition to their use as live food, superworms (larvae) are interesting subjects for behavioral studies. They respond to a variety of stimuli: light and dark, touch, etc. Their relatively large size, ease of maintenance, and the ability to control pupation, make them interesting organisms for life cycle studies.

Can these beetles or larvae bite?

If handled roughly, the larvae may pinch. However, their jaws cannot break through human skin. Their only defense mechanism is to release a mildly offensive odor.

Can darkling beetles be held in a refrigerator?

No, temperatures below 15.5° C (60° F) may kill the beetles.

Can these beetles be released?

No, they are native to South and Central America. They have the potential to survive and establish themselves in the wild in the southern United States. Unwanted darkling beetles should be frozen or fed to a pet reptile or amphibian.

I have tried to culture superworms, but the cultures have not responded well.

Separate superworms into individual chambers to get pupae and produce adults. They are also sensitive to airborne substances such as tobacco smoke, incense, perfumes, and chemical fumes. If you have the culture set up in a stockroom, you may have to move it.

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