Mealworms. Blarg.

So, let it be known that the universe has a sense of humor. I’m not a big “creepy crawly” person. I despise snakes and am not a big fan of worms, either. So, when my husband sent me this link about exploring mealworms in a homeschool environment, I knew I was going to need to put on my big girl shoes…

On Saturday morning, while I was getting a haircut, my child and husband went to the pet store and came home with a container of 100 mealworms. Really? 100? 5 wouldn’t have been enough?

We began by exploring the mealworms. We carefully took out two of them and placed them on a cookie sheet. I used plastic tweezers to move them gently. I was not about to touch them!

L observed the following things right away:

  • they’re about one inch long
  • they have six legs, all at the front
  • they’re brown and look like they have segments
  • one of the mealworms is molting
  • they make a scratchy sound when they move

She also made sense of the difference between mealworms and worms in the following ways:

  • “They are not really worms. They are insect worms because they’ll be beetles. Beetles are insects. When are we going to have beetles?”
  • They’re like beetle caterpillars!
  • “They only have six legs on their body. Caterpillars have lots more legs. They only have some.”

We then decided to look at mealworms and foods. We began by putting a pile of dry oatmeal on one side of the cookie sheet and banana slices on the other side of the cookie sheet. We had the end of the banana standing upright. L promptly named it “Banana Mountain”.

Bananas, oatmeal, and mealworms

Bananas, oatmeal, and mealworms

L then began asking about more mealworms. And more mealworms. AND MORE MEALWORMS. I began by seeing if 6 would be enough. It would be, for about a minute. Then we needed more and more. Eventually (you guessed it), we had most of the 100 mealworms on the cookie sheet. Shudder.

Many of the mealworms were still when we moved them onto the cookie sheet. She decided that the dead mealworms should be placed into the tanks for our aquatic frogs. Yum yum! We gave each mealworm a few minutes to move then gently poked it with the tweezers. If it moved on its own or after being poked, L yelled out, “Mealworm! You have been saved!!” and we let it go on with itself. If it still showed no signs of life, into a tank it went.

We added some additional foods to the cookie sheet and began placing the mealworms on the foods. We wanted to see if the mealworms would stay on the foods, move off the foods, or possibly congregate at one of the food choices. Their buffet included banana, dry oatmeal, tomato, carrot, apple, and kale. The mealworms showed no interest in the carrot or kale (not surprising, I suppose, since they were fresh and crunchy. The carrots and kale, I mean, though I suppose the mealworms were, too.).

After L got bored with the food part of the experiment, we decided to look at light and dark. We used a drying rack and magazines to create shade over one half of the cookie sheet.

A nice shady space

A nice shady space

We then placed all the mealworms in the center of the cookie sheet just in the light. We spread out the oatmeal to make sure that the oatmeal wasn’t contributing to where they wanted to be. Then we watched. And waited. And watched. And waited. Lots of them were slow movers! Eventually, a majority of them congregated under the shade. We decided that the shade made them feel safer because it was less likely a predator would be able to find and eat them.

Finally, we prepared a mealworm habitat. We moved some of the banana and tomato pieces, along with the lid of the original container filled with oatmeal, and placed it all in the bottom of an insect habitat. It was time to introduce the mealworms to their new home.

It should be noted that through this entire process, I did not touch a mealworm. I used the plastic tweezers to move all mealworms. I also stifled squeaks and squeals as best I could. I told L that I loved that she loved the mealworms, but they made me feel very uncomfortable in my belly. She accepted that and did not torment me with them. However, she LOVES the mealworms. She picked them up. She crooned at them. She placed her face inches from them. I was convinced I’d need to dip her in disinfectant, but I contained myself. The following photos show her in her element. Picture this with her little voice crooning softly to the mealworm in her hand, “Ok, little guy! You’re going to go into your new home now! What a good little mealworm you are!!”

Home, sweet home

Home, sweet home

In her bare hand

In her bare hand

There is one more photo showing her look of utter delight – had we not decided to keep her face off this blog, it would be here, too. It’s one of the “light shining out of a kid’s face” shots. With a mealworm wrapped around her finger.

All in all, a good day with mealworms. They’re still in my kitchen, by the way. So is the deer jaw bone from the museum center. But that’s a subject for another day.

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