Mealworms for Science

Friday after school Kiki came to the car grinning from ear to ear. She was very carefully carrying a little yogurt container with a snap on lid. There were holes punched in the lid. Since I was pretty sure that yogurt had no need for oxygen I asked “What’s in the can?” Kiki’s grin got wider
“My mealworm!” I suddenly vaguely remembered her chattering about the mealworms that I had assumed were to be an in-class project. No, the mealworm was to be an at home project. Kiki was bringing crawly bugs home in a little jar and was ecstatic about it. “Want to see mom?” Not really, but I dutifully peeked into the opened container. Sitting on top of a layer of oatmeal was a two inch long mealworm. As I pondered the large size of this crawly critter, the oatmeal underneath it began to move. Kiki had brought home mealworms, not just a single worm, but three. This is probably wisdom on the part of the teacher who knows that small critters are apt to die in the care of a child.

I handed the cup back to Kiki who replaced the lid. I figured I could deal with a little science project for a week or so. “So how long do you have the worms for?”
“Oh, until they turn into beetles.” Beetles. Worms are small and slow, beetles…scurry. Mealworms eat oatmeal, but what do beetles eat? And what kind of beetles will they be? These thoughts whized through my head as I calmly asked
“And how long does it take them to turn into beetles?”
“Oh, a week or two I think. I have to keep them at home until January 3. Then I take them back. I have a paper on mealworm care.” A month. She has mealworms as pets for a month. The paper on mealworm care also had the outlines of her assginment. She is to care for these mealworms until Jan 3. Every day she is to get them out and take notes on them. She is to try to teach them how to go quickly through a maze for food and record her observations.

Kiki loves this assignment. She loves her mealworms. She’s already given them all names. (Lazy, Sleepy, & Workout) She even constructed a playground out of construction paper. The playground is elaborate, it includes a maze, a pipe-cleaner jungle gym, and a tunnel. She plans to let her mealworms out to play every day.

I know that mealworms are harmless. I know that if these mealworms escape the worst thing that will happen will be that they crawl into some odd corner to die. But I grew up in California where finding mealworms meant that it was time to throw out the flour, or oatmeal, or breakfast cereal. I have memories of pouring myself a bowl of cereal only to discover crawly things in it. I’m not afraid of Kiki’s mealworms I actually find them morbidly fascinating, but they’re bugs. In my house. On purpose. That just feels wrong somehow. Hopefully this experiment will go well.