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ZOPHOBAS BEETLE (Superworm Beetles)
Zophobas is often sold in pet stores in the larval stage as live
food for reptiles and birds. The brown-banded larvae (4-5 cm long)
are similar in appearance to the smaller golden mealworm, the
larval stage of Tenebrio beetles, and their care is very similar.
The large Zophobas larvae, however, can remain in the larval stage
for 6-12 months, which makes them appealing as reptile food. In
Diversity of Life, however, students will study the adult stage.
Zophobas beetles are members of the order Coleoptera. This is
the largest order of insects and includes all beetles. In fact,
there are more species of beetles than all other organisms combined.
Beetles are found on every continent except Antarctica.
Beetles have two sets of wings. The forewings (elytra) are hard
and cover the more delicate hind wings. They form the smooth,
hard back of the beetle. During ight, the elytra open wide enough
for the hind wings to extend. Most beetles have chewing mouthparts.
The body of a beetle may appear to have only two parts, but there
are three-the head, the thorax, and the abdomen.
The Zophobas beetle is about 2.5 cm long, which is smaller than
a hissing cockroach. It is matte black. Males and females look
the same, so telling them apart can't be part of the investigation
as it is with hissing cockroaches (Diversity of Life Course,
Part 2, Step 5). Beetles don't make hissing sounds like the cockroaches
do (Part 2, Step 6). The beetles are easy to handle and do not
bite. They can be picked up by placing your thumb and first finger
on the sides of the body, or you can just let them crawl into
your hand. They are active, but don't move too fast. Like all
beetles, they have two sets of wings, but these beetles don't
seem to use them to fly.
Life cycle. Zophobas undergoes complete metamorphosis
with egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages. It is possible to "force"
the larvae to pupate by isolating them and keeping them in a warm,
dark environment. There are several ways to isolate them. You
can put them in individual small plastic cups or containers with
lids or use a divided plastic tackle box. With the sharp point
of a pencil compass or a nail, make a small hole in each container
lid for air circulation. There should be enough air circulation
in the tackle box without making holes. Place a small amount of
wheat bran and one Zophobas larva in each container. Keep the
larvae at a constant, warm temperature of 28-29°C (82-84°F)
in the dark.
After about 10-14 days the larvae should begin to metamorphose
into pupae. Pupae don't move unless touched, and then they will
wiggle a little. The pupae can be moved to a common container
with a substrate of wheat bran. (If a pupa is motionless and straight,
it has died and should be discarded.)
After another week or two, the pupae will develop into adult
beetles. They are a creamy white at first. After a few hours they
will be brownish orange. In a few days, they will be the characteristic
matte black. Adults will live for 2-3 months. About a month later,
you may notice tiny, wiggling worms in the bottom of the container.
These are the larvae that will develop into your next batch of
adult Zophobas beetles. The adults can be moved to another container.
Do not discard the substrate in the larva container. There may
be many more eggs and larvae too small to see.
In 2-3 months, the larvae will be large enough to pupate, but
they probably won't unless they are isolated. With food and water,
they will remain larvae for 6-12 months. Unlike Tenebrio larvae,
Zophobas larvae should not be refrigerated. If you choose not
to maintain the colony, at the end of the course, you can probably
find a colleague that has a lizard that will gladly take the larvae.
If you are left with no alternative, the most humane way to dispose
of the colony is to bag and label the colony and substrate, and
place it in a freezer for a couple of days. Zophobas beetles or
larvae should never be released into the environment.
What to do when they arrive. Upon arrival, remove
paper towel from shipping container, and mist with spring water
to provide moisture for the beetles. Transfer beetles to a terrarium,
adding a small sprinkling of oatmeal or bran and slices of potato,
carrot, cucumber, or lettuce for food. Superworm beetles must
be kept at temperatures between 65 and 85ºF and prefer a dark
environment. While they have a short life span, they will reproduce
if provided with a substrate of oatmeal or bran into which they
can burrow and lay their eggs. Do not mist the container if using
a substrate of oatmeal or bran as it will quickly mold. Provide
water by placing a damp sponge or cotton balls in a shallow dish.
Caring for Zophobas Beetles. Zophobas larvae
and adults need food, moisture, warmth, and substrate. Use a 6-liter
plastic terrarium with a lid as the habitat.
- Cover the bottom of the terrarium about 1-2 cm deep with a
substrate of wheat bran. Add material for the adults to crawl
into and under for cover. Paper-towel tubes, paper egg cartons,
chunks of tree bark, and the like will work. A piece of wood
is good, as they will lay their eggs on it. The larvae burrow
in the bran.
- Small pieces of vegetable or fruit (carrot, potato, apple,
squash) will provide food and moisture for the larvae and adults.
Adults will eat dry pet food as well. Replace the food every
few days and remove moldy food or substrate immediately.
- Place the terrarium in a warm location. If the temperature
is likely to drop below 20°C (68°F), keep a low-wattage
lamp at one end of the terrarium.
Zophobas beetle adults can be obtained from Delta Education
(part 270-4463, 12/package). The larvae can be obtained at pet
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