Image by 'C Joe V' (flickr)
Waxworms (Galleria Mellonella) make great live food. They a nutritious, cheap and easy to culture. Waxworms should be used as treats though, as they are fatty and somewhat addictive (think of it like giving children sweets).
Many people have trouble growing waxworms as live food, but it is very simple once you know how. The most important factor is the culture medium, this is where most people fail, alot of people overcomplicate things.
Here I am going to give a method that has been very successful for me, and I have reared literally thousands of waxworms using this method. I can't however take full credit for it, its one that I have been given, but I altered it and simplified it so anybody can do it.
When you culture your own waxworms, you will find there are a few differences between the ones you grow and the ones you buy from the shop. Most importantly, home grown waxworms get huge (I've had some more than an inch long, although this is uncommon), they also produce a sticky silk like substance from their abdomen much like that of silkworms. A very handy difference is their speed, homegrown waxworms move very fast in comparison to shop bought ones, this means they attract attention from the reptile and they actually get the reptiles to chase them.
- A tall jar, such as a sweet jar like these (please note, that is not my picture). Any tall jar with a good lid will work however.
- Net curtains/tights/mesh to replace the lid.
- The culture medium (see the next section).
- Corrugated card (please note, that is not my picture)
- A tub of shop bought waxworms
This section is the most essential part, and one which most people over complicate. I've found a very simple recipe which will yield hundreds of waxworms in a short space of time.
- Weetabix (just get a cheap supermarket brand, its all the same to waxworms)
- Glycerine (a cake making ingredient, available from most supermarkets) this probably isn't necessary, but I find it keeps the medium softer for longer so I use it anyway
- Calcium powder and vitamin powder (optional)
To mix the medium, simply crush up some weetabix, I usually crush up 6 of them for one batch of medium. Remember you can always make more up and add it to the culture at a later date if food runs low. Make sure you get it nice and fine (so the little bits of wheat which make them up are seperated and it resembles wheatgerm). Put this in a bowl and add the calcium and vitamin powder if you are choosing to use it, I personally always use it for its gut loading properties. If you are using it, only add a small ammount, a few pinches of each. Add a few drops of glycerine to this if you are choosing to use it. Then warm the honey up so its very runny (I sit it in hot water) you want to add this bit by bit mixing the whole thing up until you reach the right consistancy. The consistancy your looking for is moist but crumbly, when squeezed together in your hand it should stay in shape, but it should crumble easily. Once you have this, your finished, it can be stored in the fridge until you want to use it, or you can, like me, just use it all at once.
You want to add the culture medium to the base of the tub, so its about 2-3inches deep (it doesn't matter if its more or less, you'll be topping it up after anyway).
The cardboard will act as an egg laying site for the moths. To get the most out of it, you want to tear one of the sides away (when you look at it, its a curvey piece sandwiched between two pieces, your trying to remove one of the pieces so your left with an exposed curvy bit). You want to do these to a few tall thin pieces. You can then place these in the culture, do it so they are verticle, sitting on the floor and resting on the side.
To give you an idea, I've rather cruedly drawn a picture of what you should hope to achive in paint:
Use an elastic band to secure the mesh over the top of it, ventilation is relatively important and stops mould growth. You will inevitably get a few adventurous youngsters who decide freedom is for them. This is easily sorted by sitting the culture in a tray with about an inch of water in the bottom to keep them from escaping.
You then want to add about 20 of the waxworms from the tub into the culture, making sure you don't get any sawdust in there. Your all set now.
Here is a picture of one of my cultures at the moth stage:
Image copyright to Daniel Maney
Now you've just got to be patient. Sit the waxworm culture in a warm dark place, and forget about it for a few months (make sure you let air in every few weeks though). When you go back to it it should be teaming with waxworms.
To give you a rough idea of when to expect what, here is a rough timeline of events:
Start: Waxworms added
Week 2-3: Waxmoths emerge, breed, lay eggs and die off
Week 4-6 - Medium teaming with small to medium waxworms
Week 8 onwards: The waxworms will be getting huge now. You can harvest them when they reach the size you want.
Please bare in mind these timings are based in a culture sat on a warm vivarium so the developing waxworms are being gently heated. Times will vary quite alot.
So long as there is food available you don't need to do anything with the culture really. Waxworms don't need any moisture. Make sure once all of the moths have died you remove them (don't try to remove them as you go along, you'll just end up letting other moths escape).
I haven't found a way to sustain the culture for a long time, I find you have to harvest it, then start over.
So, you've checked and its packed full of the size waxworms you want, what do you do now? Collect all the old waxworm tubs and other similar sized tubs you can find, your going to need quite a few of them. you want to take the waxworm medium culture out and spread it out onto a flat surface (it will be clumped together and sticky from all the string/silk the waxies make). Be warned, these waxworms will move alot faster than the ones you get from the shop, they move very quickly. You then want to tub these waxworms up into the tubs you've collected, surrounding them with shavings like the shops do. Once your happy you've collected all of the ones of the right size, store these tubs in the fridge. The waxworms will keep for ages in the fridge (in excess of 3-4months) and you can just use them as and when you need them.
I tend to find that not all of the waxworms will be at the same size at the same time. Because of this I tend to do harvests once or twice a week until there are none left.
I would recomend keeping one tub of waxworms out of the fridge, and chucking them into a new culture (starting from scratch) then you repeat the process.
When you've made the culture a few times, you'll be able to figure out an ammount of medium and starter moths that means by the time you've used the ones in the frudge, it'll be harvest time again.
To use waxworms from this culture, just pack them up with sawdust and leave them somewhere warm for them to pupate. Depending on their age/size and the temperatures this could be days or weeks, just keep checking on them.
Ah, sweet sweet success...
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