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Black Soldier Fly larvae (grubs) have become a hot topic in the last few years due to their astounding ability to consume 95% of food wastes naturally (faster than any known microbes can), and the superior nutritional values of its larvae as a live feeder insect.

Here in Canada the grubs have been hard to get, and expensive too  - since they are not indigenous, and very difficult to raise here in our cooler climates (except in greenhouses) - and could only be purchased from a few US based producers.

Black Soldier Fly laying eggs

About the Black Soldier Fly ... Most of us are annoyed and repelled by “flies”.  House flies buzz into the house and onto our food, possibly carrying disease-causing microbes.  Horse flies bite.  Blow flies lay their eggs in carrion, and the larvae rid the world of dead carcasses - an essential ecological service for which we are grateful, even if we are repelled by the process as “just too gross!”


Adult Soldier Fly

But none of us within its range are either annoyed or repelled by the Black Soldier Fly, Hermetia illucens -since most of us have probably never even noticed this innocuous flying insect.  Why?  They look nothing like the flies we find annoying.  They do not “buzz” us or come inside the house.  They do not bite (they have no mouth).  A resting adult looks like a slender black wasp (but without the sting) - actually quite pretty.

The life cycle of the Black Soldier could be a textbook example of the most common insect life-cycle: egg, larva, pupa, adult.

Like countless other essential decomposers, the work of Hermetia illucens in the world is the conversion of organic debris into residues that feed the soil food web, and into new individuals who carry that work into the future.  More poetically, decomposers turn death back into life.  In the case of the Black Soldier, the cycle starts with eggs laid by the female near a concentrated deposit of moist, nutrient-dense organic refuse such as succulent vegetable matter and manures.

The eggs incubate for four days to three weeks, then hatch into larvae, legless and wingless grubs, that are “all throughput”: busily feeding mouth on one end, extraction of all nutrients usable for vigorous growth in the digestive system, and ejection of undigestible feed components out the other end.  The grubs molt (shed) their skins, to allow for their rapid growth, in five successive phases called instars.

Under ideal conditions, the larvae mature in 10 days.  Their tissues are now developed enough, and they have stored energy reserves enough, to support the next phase: the miracle of metamorphosis, the transformation into a completely different insect form. Pupation does not take place within the feeding medium, however.  When they are ready, the prepupal grubs have the instinct to leave the food source and find a place to burrow into the earth and initiate metamorphosis.  After ten days or so, they emerge as winged adults.

As is the case with many species of butterfly, the adult phase is exclusively sexual: The winged phase is solely about mating, and, for the female, finding the best possible place to lay her eggs.  They do not feed at all (no mouth or digestive system) in this phase, which lasts only five to eight days.  Death quickly ensues for both male and female adults, once fertile eggs have been laid to start the cycle anew.

black soldier fly Life-Cycle
Hermetia Illucens life-cycle in 44 day
BSF pre-pupae, fly, and larva
BSF production graph

 Home growing of the Black Soldier Grub ...

We've had a lot of interest from hobbyists, and some farmers too (hens, hogs and fish), in growing their own colonies of this amazing live feeder grub for their animals.  This is an astonishing insect that can break down food waste faster than microbes.  Black Soldier Fly grubs make a high fat, high protein, calcium rich source of nourishment, while turning what is usually waste into a valuable live feeder for your animals.  These black soldier fly grubs have a voracious appetite and will consume up to 95% of bio-degradable food s (not leaves or seeds, cellulose or woody veggie stems) ... 10 pounds of food waste can produce 2 pounds of these lively, wriggly grubs that your animals will just love!

In our search for an ideal bioconversion unit for decomposing waste, we do not have to go far to find what we are looking for.   Nature freely gives us a voracious grub that is by far the preeminent recycler of fresh putrescent waste generated by human activity.

All that this fascinating grub asks of us is to provide an appropriate apparatus and environment to do its job.

Black Soldier Fly Pre-Pupa Larvae

Black Soldier Fly Larvae 

 With Soldier Fly technology ... gone are the garbage bins filled with food wastes rotting away and stinking within a residence.  No more garbage bins by the curbside serving as magnets for flies, rodents and stray dogs.  Gone also the garbage trucks reeking of rotting foods, and gone also will be the methane and odiferous gasses generated at landfills.

In our efforts to efficiently dispose of putrescent wastes we need to take the cue which nature offers us.

With Soldier Fly Technology all of this nonsense can come to and end.

 Here is a fun video showing a banana (61 grams) being totally consumed by a small quantity of BSFL (only 61 grams of larvae)

Black Soldier Fly (BSF) Larvae vs. A Banana

One entrepreneur in Ohio makes the news with BSFL 

... and you can now use your food waste as a feedstock for Black Soldier Fly larvae (hermetia illucens).  The larvae feed off and bioconvert the material.  By doing so, the frass — the waste product created by insects after digesting the feedstock — becomes a high protein, low fat feedstuff for omnivorous species such as tilapia, freshwater prawns, catfish.  The material is also beneficial as a protein source for poultry, swine and cattle.  The frass is also beneficial as a natural, animal-safe fertilizer.  The N-P-K value (nitrogen – phosphorous – potassium) level is 5% – 3% – 2%, and as such is ideal for vegetable growth. 

sourced from: http://www.enviroflight.net/our-process/

 Published on Apr 1, 2014

Go behind the scenes at an innovative "bug farm" in Yellow Springs Ohio, where engineer and entrepreneur Glen Courtright harnesses the power of flies to turn food waste into sustainable fish feed ... and eventually agricultural feedstock.

Glen Courtright is the Founder of EnviroFlight, located in Yellow Springs Ohio USA 

an other interesting article by Bernhard Warner, contributing writer at www.inc.com magazine

Much of the traditional livestock feed produced by the $370 billion global industry is composed of crops such as corn and soybeans, which are expensive and compete for resources with human food.  Livestock feed accounts for 60 percent to 70 percent of food production costs.  Even fishmeal, a fish-based ingredient used for farmed fish, pigs, and chickens, can be costly.  In the past 10 years, the price has increased by 200 percent, according to World Bank data.  "It takes three tons of fishmeal to raise one ton of fish," says Paul Jones, who scouts for agriculture innovations at Mars, a $35 billion food company that is also the world's largest manufacturer of pet food. "The economics don't make sense long term."

Replacing this feed with one made from insects would be cheaper and more sustainable. "Even if we were to get 100,000 tons of additional fish food supply from insects" (or less than 1 percent of global demand), says Jones, "that would be a fantastic thing.

It might also be a partial fix to an impending food shortage: In order to feed the world in the year 2050, food production levels will need to rise by roughly 70 percent. Today's food industry can't handle the load. If insects were to enter the global food chain as feed, it could have a meaningful impact on food prices. That's why the U.S. Department of Agriculture, large farming corporations, and even the United Nations are all paying extraordinary attention to Courtright's little company in Ohio.

sourced from: http://www.inc.com/magazine/201406/bernhard-warner/enviroflight-turns-black-soldier-fly-larvae-into-food.html

So we, at The Worm Lady, are making available to you a seven part video series recently created, by Karl Warkomski, Director of Conservation with ProtaCulture,LLC, and Living Web Farms.com USA (Published from Dec 3, 2014 to April 6, 2015), that covers all you need to know about Black Soldier Fly grub Production, all in one place to make it easier for you to get going!.

This is the definitive authority on what you need in order to start and successfully maintain a productive colony of BSFL to meet your requirements in order to feed your chickens, hogs, fish, and herps (lizards, frogs, song birds, etc).

  • Part 1: Introduction
  • Part 2: Lifecycle
  • Part 3: Biology
  • Part 4: Pod Management
  • Part 5: Feedstocks
  • Part 6: Infrastructure
  • Part 7: Q and A


Black Soldier Fly Production Part 1 Introduction


Black Soldier Fly Production Part 2 Lifecycle


Black Soldier Fly Production Part 3 Biology


Black Soldier Fly Production Part 4 Pod Management


Black Soldier Fly Production Part 5 Feedstocks


Black Soldier Fly Production Part 6 Infrastructure


Black Soldier Fly Production Part 7 Q & A

Summary Notes:

Just remember that, in order to have a productive colony, you must provide high calorie food stuffs, correct moisture levels (not wet or dry) in the bio-pod, maintain an anaerobic environment (a good air flow), optimum temperatures (70 -100 degrees F) and humidity levels (30 - 50%), and ensure proper drainage of the effluent (ideally in mulch that can be used ecologically in gardens and flower beds).

These little grubs are usually, if not always, the winners in the competition for supremacy over mildew, fungi, pest flies, and will normally rid you of other flying insects in the area of the bio-pod, plus often inoculate against parasites as well.

Best of success in your black soldier fly production adventure.

From The Worm Lady,

Peter Brenner

NOTE: If you need black soldier flies (pre-pupae) to get your colony started you can order some from us ...

Just email me at: [email protected]

Here is some exellent information borrowed from ESR International:  http://www.esrint.com/pages/bioconversion.html

 Black Solider fly: A Beneficial Arthropod 

After seven years of research, ESR developed and patented a unique bioconversion process that effects a 95% reduction in the weight and volume of food waste within a matter of just a few hours. This process requires no energy, no electricity, no chemicals, not even water. It is totally self-contained and does not emit a drop of effluent, and aside from a small amount of carbon dioxide, it does not produce methane or any other greenhouse gases. 

The larva that we have chosen for this waste disposal process is the larva of the black soldier fly (BSF, Hermetia illucens). It is a tropical fly indigenous to the whole of the Americas, from the southern tip of Argentina to Boston and Seattle. During World War II, the black soldier fly spread into Europe, India, Asia and even Australia. 

Indigenous to the Whole of the Americas 

Surprisingly this bioconversion process does not demand the introduction of anything foreign or exotic. It is powered by a creature indigenous to the whole of the Americas, and even though this creature may have lived alongside humans for thousands of years, it is not associated in any way with the transmission of disease. In view of the wide variability of putrescent waste presented to it, this benign creature possesses one of the most robust digestive systems within nature. It has the ability to thrive in the presence of salts, alcohols, ammonia and a variety of food toxins. In addition to food waste, it can also process swine, human and poultry waste. Upon reaching maturity, this creature is rigidly regimented by evolution to migrate out of the unit and into a collection bucket without any human or mechanical intervention. This self-harvesting grub represents a bundle of nutrients that rivals in commercial value the finest fish meal. In our effort to dispose of food waste, why waste this valuable resource? Why not boldly insist upon the reintegration into the feed chain of most of the nutrients and energy it contains? 

Not Just Any Fly 

Many of us immediately panic when we see the word "fly" just as we often panic when we see the word "bacteria." Yes, there are noxious, filth-carrying flies that transmit deadly, disease-bearing bacteria. But not all bacteria and not all flies are harmful to humans. Without bacteria and flies, life as we know it on earth could not exist. Both play an essential role in the recycling of nutrients within the food chain. 

Hermetia illucens puparium
black soldier fly adult
mixed larvae - prepupae and final instar

Just as benign bacteria compete with harmful bacteria and block their proliferation, so too, the soldier fly aggressively competes with filth-bearing flies and very effectively blocks their proliferation. Just as certain Calliphorides are used to clean out necrotic human tissue, SF larvae can be used to dispose of the large quantities of putrescent waste generated through human activity. 

Unlike many other flies, SF adults do not go into houses, they do not have functional mouth parts, they do not eat waste, they do not regurgitate on human food, and therefore, they are not associated in any way with the transmission of disease. SF adults do not bite, bother or pester humans in any way. Even though SF larvae have been known to survive inside the human gut if swallowed whole, this only happens under utterly extreme and bizarre conditions and poses no real danger to humans. True enteric myiasis does not exist in man through the agency of SF larvae or any other fly larvae, whereas pseudomyiasis can occur, even through the agency of ordinary houseflies, M. domestica. 

Black Soldier Fly Life Cycle 

Soldier fly adults congregate in small numbers near a secluded bush or tree in order to find and select a mate. After mating, the female searches for a suitable place to lay her eggs. She produces about 900 eggs in her short life of 5 to 8 days. Housefly adults, by contrast, live up to 30 days, and during this long period, they must eat, and in so doing, they are actively engaged in the spread of disease. 

Hermetia illucens: in sandBSF prepupaeBlack Soldier Fly - shedded chitin skins remaining after molting

Half of the population of adult black soldier flies (the males) never goes near waste, since males do not lay eggs. Actually the females prefer not to lay their eggs upon the waste, but either above or to the side of the waste. In this way, the eggs have a far better chance of surviving. The eggs are relatively slow in hatching (102 to 105 hours). The newly hatched larvae then crawl or fall onto the waste and begin to eat it with amazing speed. 

Under ideal conditions, it takes about two weeks for the larvae to reach maturity. If the temperature is not right, or if there is not enough food, this period of 2 weeks may extend to six months. This ability of BSF larvae to extend its life cycle under conditions of stress is a very important reason why it was selected for this waste disposal process. 

SF larvae pass through 5 stages or instars. Upon reaching maturity, prepupal larvae are about 25mm long, 6mm in diameter, and they weigh about 0.2 grams. These larvae are extremely tough and robust. They can survive under conditions of extreme oxygen deprivation. It takes, for example, approximately 2 hours for SF larvae to die when submerged in rubbing alcohol. They can be subjected to several 1000 g’s of centrifugation without harming them in any way. 

Texas Experiment

Research Background 

In an experiment conducted in Texas over a period of one year, ESR LLC determined that SF larvae can digest over 15 kilograms per day of restaurant food waste per square meter of feeding surface area, or roughly 3 lbs per square foot per day. A 95% reduction in the weight and volume of this waste was also noted. This means that for every 100 lbs of restaurant food waste deposited into a unit, only 5 lbs of a black, friable residue remain! 

Active BSF larvae devouring food scrapsturning an active pile to reveal more larvaehavesting bucket - fresh grubs

Over 100,000 active larvae can be found in a typical waste disposal unit, and in contrast to red worms, these larvae have the ability to eat and digest just about any type of putrescent waste, including meat and dairy products. On the surface of the disposal unit, we typically see a 2- to 4-inch layer of actively feeding larvae in several stages of growth. 

larger vat of food wastes being recycled by black soldier fly larvaecollection container - auto-harvesting biogrubsHermetia larvae consuming a watermelon

The moment waste is deposited into the unit, the larvae begin to secrete powerful digestive enzymes into the waste long before it begins to rot and smell. Since thermophilic and anaerobic bacteria play no part in this process, these tiny creatures are able to conserve and recycle most of the nutrients and energy within the waste. 

Rates of Bioconversion 

What percentage of fresh food waste bio-converts into fresh prepupae? Over a period of one year, ESR LLC noted that roughly 20% by weight of the fresh food waste converted into fresh larvae. This food waste had an average dry matter content of 37%, and the prepupae had an average dry matter content of 44%. On a dry matter basis, the bioconversion of food waste situates at almost 24%. 

The following flow diagram is based upon an input of 100 kg of food waste per day. Less than three 6-foot bioconversion units can handle this input. 
Bioconversion Chart Detailing Rates 
An Analysis of Dried Soldier Fly Prepupae 

42.1% crude protein 
34.8% ether extract (lipids) 
7.0% crude fiber 
7.9% moisture 
1.4% nitrogen free extract (NFE) 
14.6% ash 
5.0% calcium 
1.5% phosphorus 

Competes with the Finest Fish Meal 

Studies were conducted at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, Georgia, to examine the suitability of SF prepupae as a feed source for channel catfish and tilapia. The tests concluded that soldier fly larvae should be considered a promising source of animal protein in fish production. Taste tests were also conducted, and the results of these tests indicated that fish fed SF larvae are acceptable to the consumer. 

About half of SF fresh weight translates into a dry meal or pellet, and two nutrition studies done under the supervision of Dr. Craig Sheppard suggest that this dry matter has roughly the same value as Menhaden fish meal valued at over $500 US dollars per ton. Live SF prepupae have been successfully fed to bull frogs, tropical fish, reptiles, snakes and many other creatures that have a strong preference for living food. Here the value of fresh SF larvae ranges from $4 to $20 /lbs. 

If a unit is installed at a residence where the weekly or bi-monthly collection of larvae might be somewhat expensive, the larvae can be placed outdoors in a shallow plastic pan where birds will readily feast upon them. Chickens are especially fond of live SF larvae. 

What Happens in Winter 

BSF larvae have an amazing ability to dispose of putrescent waste. But as the temperature drops below 21 degrees, their ability to digest waste progressively grinds to a halt, and if they should freeze, they die. This tropical fly larva needs to be sustained at temperatures above 30 degrees if it is to continue to digest putrescent waste at the standard rate of roughly 15 kgs/m2 of unit surface per day. 

To bring bioconversion units indoors during winter would be costly, and to equip them with heating coils is not necessary. The strategy proposed here involves nothing more than placing a styrofoam sheet on top of the larval residue to retain the heat generated by larval movement. If this heat is not allowed to escape, the temperature on the surface of the residue easily exceeds 35C. 

Black Soldier Fly Colony in Winter - Temperature Chart

The following graphs plot daily temperature readings both outside the unit and underneath the sheet of styrofoam. Note that outside temperatures may fluctuate dramatically, but the temperature underneath the styrofoam sheet remains relatively constant. The difference in temperature between inside and outside the unit can exceed at times 82F or 45 C. 

During summer, the conversion rate of fresh food waste into fresh larvae runs as high as 20%, but during winter, this conversion drops to less than 5%, in spite of the fact that the larvae digest roughly the same daily quantity of food waste per unit surface area. Under ideal summer conditions, it takes about two weeks for newly hatched larvae to reach their mature prepupal form, but during the cold of fall and winter, this two-week period may extend to six months. If SF larvae are able to generate their own heat throughout winter and if they are able to extend their life cycle until more favorable conditions return in spring, then the management of SF larvae becomes far easier than anyone had previously imagined. 

If disposal units are well insulated, then SF technology could be introduced to some of the coldest regions of our planet. If so, the supply of eggs to such extreme areas will become an important technical issue, and all aspects of larval maturation must be researched in a definitive and conclusive manner. 

During the hot summer months, overcrowding can easily occur, and this overcrowding gives rise to relatively high temperatures within the unit. In order to cool down, some actively feeding larvae are forced to exit the unit. This migration continues until the density of larvae and temperature within the unit drop to an acceptable level. But during the winter months, larvae can thrive in very large numbers without overheating, and as the mass of larvae increases in winter, so too, the amount of waste consumed within a given unit. Paradoxically it would appear that this bioconversion unit functions far better in winter than in summer. 


In our search for an ideal bioconversion unit for putrescent waste, we do not have to go far to find what we are looking for. Nature freely gives us a voracious grub that is by far the pre-eminent recycler of the fresh putrescent waste generated by human activity. All that this fascinating creature demands of us is an appropriate apparatus and environment to do its job. 

With soldier fly technology, gone are the garbage bins filled within food waste rotting and stinking within a residence. Out at the curbside, no longer will garbage bins serve as magnets for flies, rodents and stray dogs. Gone are the garbage trucks reeking of rotting food, and gone, too, are the methane and odiferous gases generated at landfills. 

With soldier fly technology, all of this nonsense comes to an end. If, in our effort to dispose of putrescent waste, we do not take our cue from the best that nature has to offer us, when will we ever learn? 

Evolution of the the Bioconversion Unit

The BioPod: Materials Make the Difference 

ESR LLC has begun manufacturing the black soldier fly bioconversion unit in polyethylene. Due to cost and weight issues, we are not producing pre-cast concrete units and this time. These units resemble garbage bins, but these bins (US patent 6,780,637) are somewhat special in that they possess evacuation ramps that permit the larvae to self-harvest into a bucket. Ramps begin at the bottom of the unit and spiral up to the top. 

BioPod Prototype - Concrete DesignBioPod Prototype - Urine Diverting Toilet DesignProtaPod Prototype - larger 3 foot unit for commercial applications

The spiral ramps need not be wider than about one inch. Consequently they occupy little space and incur little loss in the holding capacity of the unit. In the plastic version of the unit, the ramps are created by means of a fold in the wall of the container. In this way, there is no underside of the ramp within the container where migrating larvae might uselessly congregate. 

BioPod Prototype - one of the first designs in plasticBP5BP6

The round shape of the unit greatly assists the mature larvae in exiting the unit. As they randomly orient toward the periphery of the waste, they encounter the rounded wall of the container, at which they may turn either right or left. If they turn right, they eventually come to the base of the right ramp, and if they turn left, they eventually come to the base of the left ramp. Since the total distance that the larvae must travel in exiting a unit is very small, the efficiency of larval crawl-off is fully optimized. 

Unit Capacity 

This 2-foot residential unit has an average feeding surface area of 0.34 m2. At a disposal efficiency of 15 kgs/m2/day, it can handle over 5 kgs of food waste per day. It can hold or contain over 144 liters of larval residue, and with a reduction in weight and volume of 95%, it must be emptied after receiving a total of 2.89 m3 of food waste. This unit serving a family of four people would have to be cleaned out approximately once every 8 years. With this larval bioconversion process, the costly transport of food waste to landfill is completely eliminated. 

Old School: Precast Concrete 

The most basic way to manufacture soldier fly bioconversion units is by means of pre-cast concrete. But a pre-cast unit molded as a single part will be difficult to handle and transport. However, if molded in three vertical sections of 120 degrees, these sections are easy to handle, and they can be stacked against one another to reduce transport volume. 

Another advantage of molding the unit in three sections: no metal reinforcement of the concrete is required. Since the three sections are held together by three nylon straps in much the same way that an oak barrel is held together by bands of steel, stress on the unit is relieved at the points of intersection of the three sections. 

All that is needed for the fabrication of the unit is a dollar or two of cement, and recycled materials such as stone, brick or broken glass can serve as aggregate or filler. To reduce the weight of pre-cast concrete, a lightweight aggregate such as perlite and vermiculite can be used. The construction of bioconversion units could take on many of aesthetic qualities of Hypertufa: lightweight, artificial stone containers. 

No Bottom 

Note that the concrete unit has no bottom. The unit can be situated above a bed of sand that would serve as a partial filter, and any nutrients that escape this filter could be absorbed by the roots of plants situated around the perimeter of the unit. In this way any free liquids liberated by the larvae in the digestion of the waste do not necessitate the introduction of bulking materials. This greatly simplifies the operation of the unit. 

If left out in the open, the unit must have a lid to prevent rainwater from coming in. A lid could consist of nothing but a sheet of plastic or plywood. The fasteners that hold down the metal strips at the top of the unit create sufficient space in between the unit and the lid to allow soldier fly access into the unit. 

Ideal for Developing Countries 

Such a unit is ideal for use in developing countries where the cost of materials is high relative to the cost of labor. Since cement is abundant and readily available throughout most developing countries, since very little skill is needed to fill a mold, small workshops could be easily set up to serve a specific area or province, thereby eliminating the costly transport of units over long distances. Our goal is to sell a unit capable of disposing of all the putrescent waste from a single household for less than $10 US dollars. Larger units could be easily constructed in the same simple manner as indicated above by changing the angle from 120 to 60 degrees, and by increasing the number of ramps from two to four. In this case, a unit would consist of six vertical sections. Since one half of a unit would identical to its other half, the entire unit could be fabricated, once again, out of three molds. 

Urine-Diverting Toilet 

Another big advantage of using precast concrete: the unit could easily support the weight of a pre-cast concrete lid that could incorporate all of the essential features of a urine-diverting toilet. Into the one bin goes all putrescent waste.

Borrowed from: http://www.dipterra.com/blog.html?entry=commercial-production-of-black-soldier (pubilsed 10/31/2013)

Commercial Production of Black Soldier Flies |Preserving Harvested Larvae

by Terry Green on 10/31/13

Scaling up production of BSF grown off of food scrap and agricultural wastes could provide an alternative source of high quality protein and lipid feedstock in reducing demand and consequently over fishing of Menhaden fish stocks off the Gulf Coast and Atlantic oceans  (see Black Soldier Fly Larvae | An Earth Friendly Feedstock?).  BSF larvae efficiently assimilate nutrients in biodegradable wastes into insect biomass rich in high quality protein and lipids. Moreover, they are a proven animal feedstock (see Hermetia illucens).  Approximately fifteen metric tons (MT) of food scrap fed to Black Soldier fly (BSF) larvae will yield on average about 1 MT of prepupae (see Black Soldier Flies & Recycling | Keeping Organic Leachates in Perspective).

 Insect Biomass

The larvae or “insect biomass” of the Soldier Fly (SF) are the end product of the OVRSol process.  The composition of whole unseparated Hermetia prepupae meal is about 42% protein, 35% lipid, 5% calcium, 1.51% phosphorus, 3.4% lysine, and 1% methionine/cystine.  SF meal lipids contain about 54% lauric acid which has been shown to be active against lipid coated viruses, including HIV virus, measles virus, clostridium, and many pathogenic protozoa.

This would result in an approximate 3.33 to 1 (Ca-to-P) net ratio

That is an excellent Calcium to Phosphorous ratio for all vertebrate species …

(Note: The results will vary subject to the diet offered to the Black Soldier Fly Larvae)

Intensive Black Soldier Fly Farming

Black soldier fly are native to the most southern areas of the United States, but the density of the population might vary across states. If you don't see them frequently in your area, it means you don't have millions of them around, and you will find it hard to attract fertilized females to lay eggs in your nursery. In this situation, a fly cage is highly recommended. In the picture below, there are two types of cages. One is made from PVC pipes (48*25*20 inch) and covered with baby insect proof net. The size of this type is limited by the size of available netting. In the middle is a wood framed cage (48*48*48 inch), and it's covered by common screen mesh. Either one works pretty well.

Allowing the maximum amount of direct sunlight available to the setup is the key for the successful mating. If you are breeding indoor, make sure your colony gets the window that is facing south to maximize the amount of direct sunlight that's accessible to the cage. However, in many northern regions where sunlight is not adequate, you need to consider installing artificial light source for black soldier fly breeding. Black soldier fly adults have special visual receptors, and successful mating only occurs when the right lights are available. The EVO Consortium has developed a LED light source that's specific for black soldier fly breeding purpose, and they are available HERE, and a test report for this black soldier fly breeding LED is available HERE.

Besides to the light condition, the temperature should be kept above 23 degree Celsius all the time for successful mating, and above 13 degree Celsius to keep flies alive. Humidity should be around 50%. In the cage, all you need is to provide a clean water source and an attractant for oviposition (egg laying). To make clean water available to the flies, you can place a small fountain, but make sure to avoid deep standing water, because black soldier fly will easily drown. For the oviposition site, a plastic box with rotting organic matter (such as bananas, corn meal, wheat bran) is necessary. For the best result, place a couple thousand young larvae in the organic matter. The adult black soldier flies do not eat, the food is just for them to know where to lay their eggs. Directly above the rotting material, use a rubber band to hold together 4-5 pieces of corrugated cardboard, and the fertile females will lay eggs in the cardboard flutes. The food should be kept moist all the time, otherwise, the female will lay directly on the food source, which will cause inconvenience for management. Usually, if you do not use antibiotics in the food for an attractant, the material will mold up after 2 or 3 days, and you have to replace the material frequently to avoid stinks. One way we found to be effective to prevent molds is introducing one or two thousand small black soldier fly larvae in the food source because the larvae can consume the fungi that cause the mold, and they can produce chemicals that inhibit fungi and bacteria growth. In this way, you can change the food source less frequently.

Farmers should harvest the eggs (replace the cardboard) every day or every two days to make the empty flute space available for the oviposition. The eggs can be directly introduced to the working grub compost for hatching. The black soldier fly larvae will not consume your eggs unless the eggs are already dead and rotting. This is a good thing because when the larvae consume those rotting eggs, others eggs that haven't been infected will be fine till hatching.

Setting up a nursery can help you have a better idea of how many small larvae you are dealing with, and can help you to detect some other problems that you might otherwise not be aware of, such as hatching failure. Below is the video we made to explain how we set up a nursery for black soldier fly hatching.

Most importantly, this set up can allow you to leave it unattended for ten days, and it can still do its work. It might not be the most effective way, but is the most effective one we found after numerous experiments. 

In most cases, the eggs failure is a result of extremely low humidity plus high temperature. These environments are often found in small rooms with the heater turned on. In some other cases, it is due to unfertilized eggs. Although black soldier fly does not lay eggs if they never mated before, females do have eggs developed in the ovaries regardless of the mating. If the female ever formed a pair with a male, and they got interrupted before they finished, which could be 10-30 minutes, the female will lay all the eggs. Interruptions could be human activities or poor quality of the light source. If this is the case, a big portion of the eggs mass are unfertilized and will not hatch. To avoid this happening, try to set up a greenhouse for the breeding cage, or place the cage beside a big window with no filters on. Also, minimizing the interruption due to management will help to increase the egg quality. This is being said, do not play with the flies and let them do their jobs by themselves. 

Under the condition of 27-30 Celsius Degree, after 10 days of hatching, the larvae can reach a visible size and is ready to compost food scrap. When you introduce them to the compost, you can have a rough count of how many larvae you are having in your bins. 

The larvae of black soldier fly are polyphagous--they can grow from grasses like alfalfa, vegetable waste, animal feces, to nutrient-rich products like meat or carrions. If the larvae were given enough food with moisture, they will develop from egg to prepupae within 3 weeks on average. Although the black soldier fly larvae are tough growers, there are two main factors that could cause large damage to the population. The first one is high temperature, and the second one is poor substrate ventilation. When actively consuming food, the black soldier fly can generate a good amount of heat. A healthy colony has a core temperature ranging from 32-44 Celsius Degree, with fluctuation depending on the environment temperature. The larvae will stop feeding once the temperature raises above 44 Celsius, and they will aggregate on top of the substrate to dissipate the heat. If the environment temperature is close or beyond 44 Celsius Degree over 4 hours, the larvae will die and will not be able to revive by placing them in a cooler room. Poor substrate ventilation is another factor that could cause large damage, and this is especially a problem for the neonates. When larvae are large, their wriggling movements are strong enough to create some pore space to breath in a submerge situation. Yet, the neonates are not strong enough to create significant pore space to breathe, if the feedstock particles are too fine, like alfalfa and cornmeal, or too sticky like cooked sorghum. Therefore, it's critical to add feedstocks that have low density but high rigidity, such as wheat bran, rice bran, or wood shaving dust, into the diet to create a loose texture so that the neonates can breathe underneath. Larvae die due to heat or suffocated are soft in texture.

Ideally, the substrate should not be thicker than 3 inches, and this is because of two reasons. Firstly, the larvae tend to dig down with no stop, and if the substrate is thicker than 3 inches, sometimes you will find them fail to make it back to the surface and die due to either heat or lack of oxygen. Secondly, the fresh food you put on the surface will sink to the bottom due to the wiggling of the larvae, and if the substrate is too deep, the food will no longer be available for the larvae.

Though the black soldier fly is known for being able to self-harvest, most of the commercial producers in the world does not apply this in their main production line. JM Green (China), Enterra (Canada), and Enviroflight (USA) all use the pan system, with different size of the pan. Here are two examples of the projects done on pan system: the first is small pan system JM Green Beijing Facility, and the second one is JM Green Baotou Facility.

The advantages of the pan system are:
  1. easily control unit
  2. can be standardized in commercial level easily
  3. automated system available
  4. lower chance for mass population wipe out because of the separation
  5. able to harvest larvae at a different life stage
  6. production capacity could be estimated based on the counts of the pan
The disadvantages of the pan system are:
  1. could be very expensive
  2. could be labor intensive
  3. require a higher level of understanding for the black soldier fly
  4. waste need to be shattered and homogenized
  5. have to go through the sifting
  6. hard to get pure larvae sifted out from the frass
Yet, there are also companies like Agriprotein (South Africa) doing self-harvesting system.
The advantages of the self-harvesting system are:
  1. self-regulating system, minimal care
  2. waste does not need to be shattered and homogenized before feeding
  3. technology requirements lower
  4. cost-effective to operate
  5. managing requirement lower
The disadvantages of the self-harvesting system are:
  1. production capacity could not be projected accurately
  2. A higher degree of year-round climate control required as the prepupae only self-harvested under certain conditions
  3. at risk of population wipe out due to improper management
  4. Most likely only able to harvest 5th & 6th (prepupae) instar larvae
Depending on the industry you are in, you might find one system is more suitable for you than the other. For example, in the reptile feed industry, the market is looking for larvae at a different size, and only the pan system can provide this consistent accuracy; in the situation you are producing larvae for your own uses and you do not care about the sizes, you may want to go with the self-harvesting system. If you are new to the black soldier fly farming technology, you can set up pilot scale project for both systems. Once you had a better understanding of what each of the systems can provide, you can choose the one that meets your needs, or possibly use a combination of them both.
Although the disease of the BSFL has been rarely explored, there are few parasites we knew that could cause damage to the colony, and they are: 1) parasitic wasps; 2) phorids; 3) mites; 4) unpreferable fungi.
  • Researchers in North Central Florida have found an undescribed parasitic Hymenopteran species of Trichopria on BSFL (H. illucens), and in this case, the host was developed in poultry house (Mitchell et al. 1974). In our facility, we have spotted a parasitic wasp that was targeting the pupating pupae. The parasitic wasps usually occur in large number and could damage the pupate emergence rate. Common treatments include sticky traps and preventative procedures. 
  • Rather targeting the adult or larva of the BSF, phorids are interested in the foods that the BSFL are eating. Even though the phorids cannot outcompete the BSFL on the food source, they can make your facility very nasty--phorids are a common pest that could contaminate human resources. More importantly, the existence of the phorids is an indicator that your BSFL colony is not at a healthy state.
  • Difference families of the mites have been observed annoying BSFL adults, larvae, and eggs.
  • Although BSFL consumes fungi as food, there are un-preferable fungi that could hurt the colony, on all life stages of the BSFL, and some attacks will result in population wipe-out. 
  • A virus infection usually kills over 90% of the larvae
Below are the common actions to prevent or overcome the pathogen attack:
  • The parasitic wasp is tiny and hard to be prevented by installing physical barriers such as window screens. While you see this is an issue, it means your colony is under severe attack. This often happens when there are old pupae being left in the environment for too long. One should regularly clean the cage to remove hatched pupae, and install yellow sticky traps to catch the wasps to prevent them from reproducing.
  • The phorid issue can be solved by accelerating the larval development, or reduce the rearing time. After harvesting the BSF larvae, the frass should be set for aerobic composting to kill the phorid pupae.
  • Mites usually come from the food source, especially grain-based feed. A proper pre-treatment such as fermentation or heat cooling can prevent the outbreak adequately. In the case of an infected colony, one can increase the substrate temperature to above 40 Celsius Degree by increasing the larval density or ambient temperature.
  • Remove the pans that showed unknown die-off of the black soldier fly larvae, as this could be bacteria or virus caused. Washing the pans throroughly and applying sanitization products afterward are necessary steps to prevent the pathogens to be carried over to the next batch.

Black Soldier Fly Larva Production 

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