Culturing Flour Beetles (Tribolium confusum)

Confused Flour Beetles, also known as Rice Flour Beetles or simply Flour Beetles, produce small, soft-bodied larvae that are easy to culture. These larvae make a great live food for small to medium-sized aquarium fish, small amphibians such as dart frogs, and small reptiles and invertebrates. They are a very easy, low-maintenance live food culture.

Obtaining Confused Flour Beetles

These beetles exist worldwide. They can be obtained from dart frog suppliers, as well as from dart frog and/or aquarium hobbyists who breed them for their own fish. I sell starter cultures as well. Contact me if you would like to purchase some.

Supplies for a Flour Beetle Culture

You will need a culture container. A plastic food saver container with a tight-fitting lid will work well:

You can also repurpose a yogurt or cottage cheese container.

You may poke or drill a few small holes for ventilation, but this is not strictly necessary if you open the lid every week or two.

Now for the culture medium. Flour beetles can live, thrive, and breed on a wide variety of foods. Flours of various sorts can serve as the main ingredient of the culture medium. I often use brown rice flour as my main ingredient:

Just put a few cups (about 2 inches deep) on the bottom of the container. Brown rice flour can, in fact, be use as the only ingredient if you wish. However, I prefer to add a few other ingredients to improve the nutritional profile of the medium in the hopes that it is passed on to my pets. I usually add a few teaspoons green pea powder, a teaspoon or so of spirulina powder, and a couple of teaspoons of nutritional yeast:

Now add your starter culture, which probably consists of adult beetles, larvae, and pupae.

Now you can set the culture aside in a dry place, and wait for about six weeks. (These beetles really do not require a lot of time or attention!) By that time, some new larvae should have appeared.

Harvesting Flour Beetles

Flour beetles are so simple to care for that harvesting flour beetles is by far the most difficult part of dealing with them, and it’s really not that hard. The first step is to use an appropriately sized metal tea strainer, something like these:

You may want to do this outside, or over a layer of newspaper, so you don’t get flour on the floor or table. You can sift the flour back into the culture container or into a separate plastic container to pour into the culture container when you are done.

Once you have winnowed away the flour, will have a strainer containing beetles, larvae, pupae, and shed skins. Pour/shake/tap them out into a separate container. At this point, you need to separate the skins and beetles from the larvae and pupae. To separate the skins, I usually step outside and blow lightly over the insects. The skins are light, and most will float away if you blow a few times.

There are many ways to separate the larvae from the foul-tasting beetles. Here is my preferred method: put all of the larvae, pupae, and beetles into a shallow lid, such as a bottle cap, and set that into a deeper container. Leave them there for a about fifteen to thirty minutes. The beetles, being more active and agile, will crawl out f the shallow lid and into the deeper container, while most of the larvae will remain in the shallow lid.

You may need to remove a few straggling beetles by hand. Now the larvae (and pupae) are ready to be fed out.

There are a lot of space her methods out there, if you are curious.

Flour Beetle Culture Maintenance

There is very little effort to maintaining a flour beetle culture, especially if you put some pinholes in the lid for ventilation. Try to keep 2-3 cultures going at once. About every 2-3 months, strain out a couple of teaspoons of beetles, larvae, and pupae from a thriving culture.. Add them to a new container with fresh culture medium and as little of the old medium as possible. Discard cultures older than about 3 months. This will help keep your cultures healthy and thriving.

If you’re a visual learner, check out my video on culturing flour beetles:

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