Darkling beetles are typically called scavengers and decomposers, but they eat a wide variety of different foods. The Darkling beetle serves a vital role in its ecosystem, from live plants and insects to mushrooms and dead organic matter.
As they process food via digestion, Darklings break it down into reusable nutrients for the soil. What does the Darkling beetle eat?
Darkling beetles are scavengers and feed on virtually every type of organic material including fresh, live plant matter, decomposing plants and leaves, along with rotting wood and animal matter. They can even eat fungi and cannibalize their pupae if they get hungry or are kept together in captivity. They process it and return the available nutrients to the earth when they poop.
What Do Darkling Beetles Eat In The Wild
Darkling beetles in the wild tend to eat foods based on what is available in their area. There are many species of beetles under the Darkling umbrella.
As the Oxford Languages points out, Darkling beetles are “…(any) dark-colored nocturnal beetle, typically with reduced or absent wings.” As a result, there are Darklings all over the world.
What Insects Do Darkling Beetles Eat
Darkling beetles eat two notable types of insects. First, and most disturbingly, they will eat their own larvae if you don’t separate the adults in captivity.
Plus, they may eat them anyhow if the beetles are hungry enough and larvae are readily available.
Just as macabre and only slightly less creepy than cannibalism, Darkling beetles will eat dead insects. They aren’t picky eaters and care little about the species. However, they do prefer most of their bug meals dead.
Do Darkling Beetles Eat Mealworms
Darkling beetles will happily eat mealworms alive. The freshly hatched, small, young mealworms are an easy meal for Darkling beetles, but it’s so much more sinister than it sounds at first, which is pretty bad considering they’re already eating babies.
The Darkling beetles know precisely where to find the new mealworms and pupas.
The species of Darkling beetle most likely to eat mealworms are the ones that are mealworms but grown-up.
While other Darklings don’t shy away from this nutritious meal if they find it when they’re hungry, former mealworm Darklings are the ones laying the eggs that become mealworms.
Sometimes they stay in the area and end up cannibalizing their descendants.
Do Darkling Beetles Eat Grass
Both the mature Darkling beetles and their larval companions will eat grasses. All plant matter, especially once it’s dried or rotting, is fair game for these insects.
They will even chow down on sticks and twigs or fallen trees.
If not for these beetles eating grasses, the world would be covered in dead grass accumulated over millions of years that had no way to break down and return their minerals to the soil thoroughly.
As small as they are, beetles like Darklings occupy a vital niche as decomposers.
Do Darkling Beetles Eat Wood
Darkling beetles eat wood. The diet of the Darklings is so varied that there’s very little they can’t eat. Darklings have even been known to eat home insulation. Unfortunately, that means people classify them as pests, and rightly so.
An infestation of Darkling beetles can do vast amounts of damage to the plant matter in an area and even some inorganics.
Farmers loathe these pests because they can destroy grain supplies and poultry houses. Anywhere there’s something to eat and enough moisture for beetles to stay hydrated, they make themselves at home.
It’s challenging to get rid of these tenacious bugs. A female beetle can lay a hundred or more eggs every time she mates.
Since they can live eight to twelve weeks as mature egg layers, this can add up to over five hundred eggs per female beetle in just a couple of months.
Those eggs will hatch in four to nineteen days. The larvas will eat, shed and grow for six to twenty-four days, doing their own damage to the organic matter in the area, and then typically spend about ten weeks as pupas, expanding into more mature beetles who will eat and breed again.
Why Are My Darkling Beetles Eating Each Other
If you are raising Darkling beetles, especially mealworms, as many people do for feeder insects, you must separate the adults as soon as they emerge.
Having slept two and a half months, newly mature adult beetles will be ravenous. Resultantly, it’s pretty standard for them to eat any larvae or pupas they find.
While it may disturb you and decrease the number of mealworms you end up with, it’s just part of life for the beetles. These opportunistic scavengers aren’t above eating most things they can get their mouth around.
Doubtless, after such a long period of inactivity and growth, the whole world looks like a buffet to the hungry, newly made beetles.
Helpful Tips To Know About What A Darkling Beetle Eats
There’s not much a Darkling beetle won’t eat if they encounter it in the wild. In fact, the only thing they probably won’t eat is a much larger live animal since they aren’t equipped to hunt them.
Here are a few more helpful tips to know about what a Darkling beetle eats.
- Darkling beetles aren’t a species. Instead, this is a name for members of the Tenebrionidae family. According to Brittanica, they are, “…any of approximately 20,000 species of insects in the order Coleoptera so named because of their nocturnal habits. These beetles tend to be short and dark; some, however, have bright markings. Although found on every continent, they are more common in warm, dry climates.”
- Captive Darkling beetles do well on a bran diet and a handful of fruits and vegetables. They enjoy pears, romaine lettuce, potatoes, cucumbers, and apple. Best of all, you don’t need to worry as much about removing rotted fruits and veggies since Darklings naturally eat decayed organic matter.
- Mealworms are probably the best-known species of Darkling beetles. Many people mistakenly believe that the mealworm is the adult stage of the insect, but it’s not. Mealworms stay in their larval form until it gets cold enough to trigger hibernation, which causes them to become pupae. As pupae, they don’t move around much and will stay in this unmoving state for roughly ninety to a hundred forty days as they slowly mature. Eventually, they emerge from their hibernating state as adult beetles.
- The weirdest thing that Darklings can eat is styrofoam. In 2015, researchers at Stanford University discovered that mealworms can eat this non-biodegradable substance, which means they may be a solution to the styrofoam waste problem.
Darkling beetles are voracious eaters, but the world would be a lot messier without them. With over twenty thousand different species there are hundreds of millions of these hard-working beetles scattered around the globe.
If decomposers like Darkling beetles weren’t eating plant and animal matter, the world would fill up with dead organics.
Eventually, life would cease completely because of the lack of available minerals and nutrients. Destructive as they are, darling beetles also help provide the building blocks of life.