Basics of mealworms production.

At this level, we will explore the benefits of raising mealworms, including their nutritional, environmental, and economic benefits. Also, it's essential to know the basics of why doing it at home or on a small scale to produce high-quality feed for us or our pets.

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The demand for animal food is expected to rise by as much as 80% by 2050. Now the livestock sector uses about 70% of all agricultural land. Producing 15% of all-human generated greenhouse gases. Expanding agricultural acreage by land clearing is a significant source of GHG emissions. 

Last revision: May 10th 2023

1. Introduction to Raising Mealworms.

What are Mealworms?

Contrary to what their name might suggest, Mealworms are not worms. They are the larval stage of the darkling beetle, scientifically known as Tenebrio molitor. The term "mealworm" is derived from their worm-like appearance during the larval stage and their diet, which often consists of grain meal.

Mealworms are typically golden in colour with a hard, segmented exoskeleton. They have six small, jointed legs and a pair of tiny, black antennae. Mealworms can range in size but generally grow to about 2.5 cm (or about 1 inch) in length.

These creatures are incredibly hardy and can thrive in various environments, though they prefer dark, calm, and moist areas. They are often found in stored grain products, which has earned them a reputation as pests. However, mealworms also play an essential role in the ecosystem as decomposers, breaking down dead plant matter and recycling nutrients back into the soil.

Mealworms are a popular food source for pets such as reptiles, birds, and fish. They are also becoming increasingly popular as a sustainable protein source for humans due to their many benefits.

But they are far more than that because bugs produce high-quality protein and fat without creating waste. Raising other animals is more complicated because they have internal structures, skin, etc. And in opposition to insects, they don't thrive when they grow in high density. With mealworms, 100% of animals produce valuable input materials for food, drugs, cosmetics, and animal feed.

That's why they are best processed with other ingredients and can be consumed alive or processed, for example, as a powder.

We understand that negative perceptions of bugs remain strong despite their clear and undeniable health benefits. Still, we are confident to change this by educating and letting people know not to be afraid. For example, lobster was considered not so long ago "the cockroach of the ocean" and went from being the food for the poor, servants, and prisoners to a soldier's staple in the first world war and, with clever rebranding and understanding of their tangible benefits, to be today considered by everybody a delicacy.

In this chapter, we will introduce you to the world of mealworms and explore the benefits of raising them on a small scale at home.

A. Why Raise Mealworms?

Raising mealworms can be a fun and rewarding hobby. Not only can you provide a nutritious food source for your pets, but you can also help reduce your carbon footprint by producing your food in a circular economy way. Additionally, mealworms are relatively easy to raise and require little space or equipment.

Find out more in this article: 5 reasons why eating insects could reduce Climate change

1 Possible usages of insects. Insect as the missing link: ecology designs a circular economy (Van Huis et al., 2013).  

B. The importance of high-quality proteins.

Protein is essential for good health and proper body function for humans and animals, and producing enough to feed animals is causing significant environmental issues. The livestock sector uses 70% of all agricultural land and makes 15% of all human-generated greenhouse gases. This problem will only worsen as animal food demand is projected to increase by 80% by 2050. Additionally, there are systemic inefficiencies in creating high-quality animal protein globally and in the UK, as feed competes with human edible food.

In the UK, our closest competitors are our pets. Pet ownership is rising, with an estimated 62% of households having one or more pets. This trend adds to the economic and environmental burden of producing animal protein and strains the resources needed to feed and care for these animals. The ongoing cost of this problem includes the cost o building and transporting pet food and the environmental impact of the associated land and energy use. And the financial stress created for this many households.

C. His place in a circular economy system.

Additionally, mealworm farming can be part of a circular economy, where organic waste products can be used to feed the mealworms, which can be used as a food source for animals or humans. This can reduce waste and contribute to a more sustainable food system.

Figure 1. Enhancing of Circular Economy via insects farming. (A) and (B) represents the strengthening of the circular economy via edible insect farming. Source: Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor): Potential and Challenges to Promote Circular Economy

The PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturer's Association) organisation, now renamed as UK Pet ood, estimates that 62% of households in the UK have one or more pets with a total market size of 3.3 billion pounds per year in the UK and Worldwide of £101.60bn. The market of exotic pet owners size is 12.2% of total UK households (31.9 million households), and fish owners in tanks and ponds with another 14.5 million families with an average spending of £28.5 PCM.

The energy used to feed, store, transport and produce this amount of feed produce high levels of contamination.

Source: UK Pet Food has been commissioning research looking at the UK’s pet population for over 15 years. Almost 9000 households answer our survey.  We aim to provide our members, the public, the media and the broader pet industry with valuable statistics.  Annually, we also ak a smaller group of around 2500 people questions about acquisition, habits, cost of living and relinquishment.

D. Space and equipment requirement.

Traditional farm animals like pigs, cattle, sheep, chickens, ducks and others require much space to be raised. And struggle to cope with intensive farming. Insects, especially the Darkling Beetle (Yellow Mealworm), thrive in dense populations and don’t require intensive monitoring. This makes raising mealworms an activity that requires very little space and equipment to get things done.

Raising Tenebrio Molitor mealworms requires much less space than raising traditional farm animals such as cattle or chickens. Mealworms can be presented in a plastic bin or wooden box, making them an ideal option for those with limited space. Additionally, mealworms make almost no waste because their manure it’s an excellent organic fertiliser. Other livestock requires the waste to be managed and treated, adding more complexity to the process. Mealworms can also be fed on organic waste products, contributing to a more sustainable food system or circular economy.

Plenty of examples of farms created in minimal spaces, on a house corner or in a small room. It all depends on your needs for proteins.

Space is not a limitation! This picture shows early Entolab's proof of concept HQ running from a living room with a very low-cost tray system created with IKEA pieces of furniture.

A simple comparison: Cattle vs Mealworms.

Let’s compare to cattle; cows require large pastures to graze and roam, consume a lot of water and produce a lot of emissions. They also need time to grow and develop to commercial sizes and require, in many cases, a complex industrial process to reach our table. And their protein content it’s not comparable to insects due to bones, skin and other parts that lack proteins.

One of the more efficient animal farms, the chickens also require less space than cattle but still need considerable outdoor space to peck and scratch.

On the other hand, mealworms can be raised in a small area indoors, like a shelf or a small corner of a room, making them an excellent option for urban farmers or those with limited outdoor space and with suitable temperature and humidity which can have a complete lifecycle every three months rather than years.

Moreover, raising mealworms requires very little equipment. A simple container, substrate, feed, and very little water are all needed to start a mealworm farm. This simplicity makes it an attractive option for those who want to produce food but have limited resources.

This graphic shows how much farmland it’s required per gram of protein in livestock vs insect farming as of 2018 by species (in square meters)

E. Advantages of Raising Mealworms.

There are several advantages to raising mealworms. First, they are a nutritious food source for pets and humans alike. Second, mealworm farming requires little space and equipment, making it an ideal hobby for those with limited resources. Finally, raising mealworms at home can help reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the need for commercially produced animal feed.

F. Common Uses for Mealworms.

Mealworms are commonly used as a food source for pets such as reptiles, birds, and fish. However, they are also becoming increasingly popular as a human food source due to their high protein content and sustainability. Mealworms can be used in various recipes, including baked goods, smoothies, and stir-fried dishes. Note that segment share varies depending on energy prices and market conditions.

This statistic depicts the distribution of the edible insect industry worldwide as of the 2016, y segment. According to the report, processors of edible insects as a food held about a 60% share of the edible insect industry worldwide. Source: Wageningen University & Research.

G. Conclusion.

In conclusion, raising mealworms is an excellent option for those who want to produce food but have limited space and resources. Compared to traditional farm animals such as cattle and chickens, mealworms require very little space, making them an ideal option for urban farmers or those with limited outdoor space. Additionally, mealworm farming can contribute to a more sustainable food system by reducing waste and providing a nutritious protein source.

Documentation Last revision: 17 May 2023 By 01Entolab

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2. Benefits of Raising Mealworms

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