Cooler than Caterpillars

Watching live caterpillars transform into butterflies is a regular part of LGS student activities in the spring. The life cycle of a butterfly—including egg, larva, pupal, and adult stage—is an example of a complete metamorphosis, when one thing changes into something completely different.

Mrs. Hoffman’s students, however, have been learning about another example of a complete metamorphosis: that of the mealworm and how it is affected by its habitat.

The mealworm is not a worm but the larvae of darkling beetles, just like a caterpillar is the larva of a butterfly. But to undergo its metamorphosis, it needs the ideal habitat including food, water, shelter, and air. Wheat bran or rolled oats are preferred food options, slices of sweet potato or carrot provide ample moisture, and a plastic container with holes can provide shelter and air.

The complete life cycle from mealworm to beetle typically takes three to four months. A bit of apple provides extra moisture for the mealworms and seems to stimulate rapid growth. As the temperature increases, so does the rate at which mealworms advance through their life cycle. Conversely, cold slows the growth process; mealworms can be put into the refrigerator for periods of time to stop metamorphosis almost to the point of suspended animation.

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