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Answers to Kids' Questions About Mealworms and Beetles

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

The following questions were answered by zoo biologist Ellen Dierenfeld and entomologists John VanDyk and Steve Kutcher.

Q: How many types of beetles are there?
A: There are more kinds of beetles on earth than kinds of anything else! Someone has estimated that there are over 350,000 kinds of beetles. Oxford University Professor Robert M. May, in an October 1992 article in Scientific American titled "How Many Species Inhabit the Earth?" estimates that beetles account for at least a million of the earth's six million animal species. Only four thousand species of mammals have been identified, with only two species of elephants on this side of extinction. That means there are at least 1,500 types of beetles for every type of mammal (like elephants, humans, mice, and so on), prompting the British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane to remark that the Creator has "an inordinate fondness for beetles."

Q: Where do mealworms live mostly?
A: They live in a lot of places, most of them cool and damp. Unfortunately, they also like to live in your cupboards! They can also be pesty in stored grain. The mealworm is really the larval stage of a black beetle.

Q: What eats mealworms?
A: Well, YOU do if you're not paying attention and fail to see them in the cornmeal when you're making cornbread! Otherwise, lots of things can prey on the tender larval stage. Two examples are birds and other insects. Mealworms may also be sold in pet stores to feed to lizards and other pets.

Q: How are mealworms born?
A: Mealworms, like most insects, hatch from eggs. The adult female mealworm lays about 275 eggs, which hatch in one to two weeks. And out pop tiny mealworms!

Q: How long do mealworms live?
A: Mealworms can live for over two years. They spend either one or two years as larvae and then turn into beetles.

Q: How does a mealworm turn into a beetle?
A: Beetles can be a lot like butterflies. They have a larval stage, a pupal stage, and an adult stage. In butterflies we usually call those stages "caterpillar," "chrysalis," and "butterfly." In beetles we usually call them "grub" (or larva), "pupa" and "beetle." So after a year or two as a mealworm, the mealworm will form a pupa and after a few weeks will emerge as an adult beetle. Marvelous!

Q: Why it is called the Colorado potato beetle when it comes from Mexico and is found all over the United States?
A: Science is filled with misnomers, and this may be one of them. There is some disagreement among scholars about where this beetle was discovered (some say Iowa, some say the Colorado-Nebraska border), but all agree that the beetle did not used to be a pest on potatoes. In fact, it fed on what we usually call "weeds," such as nightshade. When pioneers brought the potato into the area, the beetles found the potato plants much tastier than their regular fare. So the beetle became a pest, and was transported with potatoes all through the land. It is now a problem overseas, as well.

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