Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University


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Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?





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Raising Insects for Fun or Profit

The idea of raising insects is not something that appeals to most folks. Humans, in general, try to discourage insect populations, not pamper them. There are exceptions. A few people have been interested enough in insects to attempt to raise a caterpillar or two in hopes of having a butterfly or moth. But, mostly, we aren't interested in growing insects the way we do cattle, horses and pigs.

But, like everything else in this world, if there is a demand for a product, someone will supply it. So it is with insects. Insects are produced for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the reason is to acquire a beautiful butterfly. These hand-raised butterflies are used to populate butterfly houses or released at events, such as weddings. Sometimes, such butterflies end up as pinned specimen in collections or incorporated into artistic works.

The history of humans raising insects goes back several thousand years. This was when sericulture, the process of raising silkworms for the purpose of producing silk, was founded in the Orient. Silk is a valuable natural fiber, and its production is still a major industry. Of course, silk production would not exist if we were unable to raise silkworms.

Several other types of insects are produced. These insects are raised for the purpose of killing pest insects. For example, many species of parasitic wasps are produced in rearing facilities to serve as insect killers. Insects, such as ladybugs, praying mantids and lacewings, also are sometimes raised because they are predators on unwanted insects. The use of parasites and predators for control of insects is known as biological control.

Another major reason for producing insects is to have food for insect-eating creatures. Anyone with exotic insectivorous pets, such as tarantulas, some snakes, frogs, lizards or some birds, needs food insects. So do fishing enthusiasts, who use insects as bait. Some people who feed birds provide food insects to their fine-feathered moochers.

A few people who need food insects for their animals or as fishing bait raise the insects, but most prefer to purchase the food. Pet stores or bait shops handle such items. You can order the food insects directly from any number of insect-producing companies found on the Web. Such companies will have the insects shipped straight to your door by a package-delivery service.

There are three types of insects that are mass-produced to supply the market for food insects. The first of these three is the mealworm. Mealworms are larvae of a beetle with the scientific name Tenebrio molitor. These insects have the common name mealworm because they feed on grain meal.

The second of the common food insects is called a wax worm. Wax worms are immature moths. These insects are named Galleria mellonella, and the larvae feed on wax as their name suggests. These larvae can be pests in bee hives or of stored bee wax.

The third of the big three of food insects are crickets. Most food crickets are the brown house cricket Acheta domesticus. Crickets have an incomplete life cycle, so they look like crickets throughout their life. The tiny, newly hatched crickets are called pin heads and are suitable for small animals, such as newly hatched tarantulas.

There are many companies that produce food insects, and many have descriptive names. Some examples include Bassetts Cricket Ranch,, Grubco, New York Worms, Silkworms,ca and Fluker Farms.

One of the oldest and largest suppliers of food insects is Rainbow Mealworms of Compton, Calif. Rainbow Mealworms was founded by owner Fred Rhyne. Rhyne had grown up in Minnesota where, as a youth, he raised and sold earthworms to the fishermen plying some of the 10,000 lakes of his home state. After serving in World War II, Rhyne settled in California and started Rainbow Mealworms and Crickets in his garage. The company now produces mealworms, crickets, wax worms and Madagascar cockroaches, and is one of the largest wholesale suppliers of these insects in the world.

Rainbow has also supplied insects to some of the companies that have expanded insect eating to humans, by roasting mealworms and embedding crickets in candy suckers. Rhyne's secret to success: "I would lay awake at night thinking, "If I were a mealworm, what would it take to make me happy?" Not the kind of testimonial that many companies would want to claim!



Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox