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Life of bugs

By Pat, 8 November 2012 Activity

Nail in plastic container lid.

Use the nail to poke some holes in the lid of the container so your bugs can breathe.

Have you ever wondered about a bug’s life cycle? grow some mealworms and see their entire lives unfold right before your eyes!

You will need

  • Live mealworms (from pet shops)
  • Potato pieces
  • Plastic container with a lid
  • Nail
  • Oats or bran

What to do

Potato and oats in a container.

Half fill the container with oats or bran. Add some potato and the mealworms.

  1. Use the nail to poke some holes in the lid of the container.
  2. Half fill the container with oats or bran and add a piece or two of potato.
  3. Add the mealworms to the container.
  4. Put the lid on the container.
  5. Check on the mealworms every day for 3 to 4 weeks. How do they change?
  6. If your mealworms start to smell bad or their food is mouldy, throw them out.

What’s happening?

Many insects have a life cycle that consists of distinct stages. The mealworms you start with are the larval stage of this cycle, which hatch from eggs. As the larvae grow, they shed their hard exoskeleton when it no longer fits. Eventually, instead of just shedding their exoskeleton, the larvae turn into pupae.

Pupae are largely inactive – at this stage the insects don’t feed or move around much. After a period ranging from days to weeks to months, the adult beetles emerge from the pupae. The adult beetles look very different from the larvae and the pupae.

This process where the insect goes through four life stages is called holometabolous metamorphosis. The insect looks very different at different life stages, and in many species they also exhibit different behaviour, eat different foods and live in different habitats at different times. Many insects, including butterflies, flies and beetles undergo this type of metamorphosis.

Real-life science

Some insects, such as bees, are beneficial to agriculture as they pollinate a number of food crops. Others, such as fruit flies, are considered a pest as they cause damage to fruit and vegetables. By understanding the different stages of the insect life cycle methods can be tailored to effectively eliminate and manage pests.

An example of this is Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). In SIT for fruit fly, pupae are typically treated with radiation. The radiation is not strong enough to kill the pupae, so they hatch as normal. However, the irradiated male fruit flies are infertile (sterile) and cannot produce offspring.

Female fruit flies only mate once during their lifetimes. If a female fruit fly mates with a sterile male, her eggs will be unable to develop. By releasing large numbers of sterile males into areas infested with fruit flies, enough females are prevented from reproducing, thus controlling the infestation.

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