Black Soldier Fly Larvae- Composter Extraordinaire: Part 1- A More Delicate Topic
I will be returning from China tomorrow (more than 24 hours when including layovers); so, this is my last post until next week. The topic, as you can see from the title, is with regards to waste conversion. I figured I would start with a more delicate topic prior to delving into the more common aspects of waste conversion, such as vegetable waste or animal waste.
BSF larvae are able to digest a variety of resources ranging from meat and other assorted tissues to decomposing plant material. This is not a recent discovery, but something that has been known for quite a while- and a reason why there is so much interest in using the BSF to recycle wastes. I thought I would take us on a journey through the various publications exploring the use of the BSF to digest these differing wastes. And why not start out with something you don’t hear much about…. enjoy. J
Digestion of Human Waste
There are a couple of research papers that have explored this area of application- but for the blog post, I am going to focus on one. Not because it is the best (no offense, Ian, as it is an extraordinary paper; same to Stefan- great work out of Switzerland, or the initial papers in the early 20th century, I just don’t have your paper handy- explanation to follow), but because I am in China with limited access to my files. Maybe once I return to the states next week, I can mention a few others on this topic?
Banks, I. J., W. T. Gibson, and M. M. Cameron. 2014. Growth rates of black soldier fly larvae fed on fresh human faeces and their implication for improving sanitation. Tropical Medicine and International Health 19: 14-22.
Overview: An excellent study examining a most unique waste- human excrement. My colleague and friend Dr. Ian Banks conducted this study while he was a PhD student in the UK (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine). As we all know, developed nations might think this concept to be rather crude in terms of technique. Why use an insect to recycle human waste- especially when we have chemically derived methods available? Well, while this might be true, I think it important we take a minute and pause to consider the potential of its use. Current methods recycle human waste in a very limited capacity- simply to dispose of the waste without contaminating the environment. What if, in developing nations, such waste could be recycled to produce protein, while still protecting the environment?
Synopsis: In this study, two different feed rates (single feed versus continuous) to larvae at two densities were examined. The major take home messages for me were, 1) BSF can convert human waste, 2) feed rate and larval density are important in terms of conversion of waste to protein, and 3) conversion rates of human waste were at approximately 22%- this level is significantly greater than for many other waste streams, which average around 10%.
Conclusion: Do not rule out the use of insects as a means for managing human waste. In a world where protein production is being challenged more and more every day due to continued growth of human population, increased quality of living (i.e., diets contain higher protein), and limited resources (e.g., land & water), all options for increasing quality resources, such as protein, need to be seriously considered.
Hunger in the World and Why BSF Would Be Useful in Developing Nations: A "soap box" for myself; I hope not to rub anyone the wrong way- but maybe with the crowd reading this blog, I’m not really preaching too much. I truly believe the BSF can be used to solve many issues in developed and non-developed nations. If we can educate our general public, media, and legislatures about the potential of this amazing insect- then just maybe we can really make a positive impact on the world.
Side Note- I want to make sure I keep on a predictable schedule with the blog. So my plan is to post two to three times per week (just as a FYI). This way, I have time to read papers and select topics that might be of interest to the BSF community. Let me know if you have any comments or suggestions… they are always welcome.
And as a favor to me- please like (Facebook) or Tweet the blog when you read the post- let's spread the word about the BSF!
Until next time- best of luck and happy BSF farming!
Jeff Tomberlin, PhD, BSF enthusiast
Hello everyone, Jonathan here; I hope you have enjoyed all the past posts on different aspects of soldier fly biology. As Jeff mentioned in an earlier post, we would be having an upcoming post on nutrition and black soldier flies. I think this is a pretty broad, and very important topic, so although this is the first post, it certainly won't be the last on the subject.
Like all organisms, what soldier flies eat impacts many aspects of their life, like how fast they grow, how big they get, how long they live, and so on. As many of you are aware, soldier flies have a voracious appetite for many "foods", ranging from plant products to animal tissue, and even animal manure. Now just because they are able to eat these different things, doesn't mean all foods were created equal in the eyes of a larval soldier fly.
In a recent paper by Dr. Tomberlin and myself, we looked at how moisture and nutrient content of the larval diet impacts their life history. It was no surprise that we found soldier flies prefer their food to be on the wetter end of the spectrum (between 55 and 70% moisture), and development is positively correlated with moisture within this range. Additionally, some early work on soldier fly development in poultry manure showed that they performed best in manure that was 40-70% moisture. The real surprise was the impact of dietary protein and carbohydrate content on their development: eating a "balanced" diet had the most positive effects on the solder flies in comparison to the other diets. Larvae developed the slowest and required the most feed when provided carbohydrate or protein biased diets. So think about this type of information when feeding your soldier flies. Just because a bunch of fruit has gone bad in your refrigerator doesn't mean you need to feed it to you soldier flies all at once. If you can mix carbohydrate-rich and high moisture items with other items that can absorb moisture and balance out the nutrients, I'm sure your soldier flies will thank you, and likely do a much better job recycling the material.
In some future posts I'll be talking about nutrition in "real-world scenarios", and how you can use this to your advantage.
Jonathan A. Cammack, Ph.D.
The adult BSF colony, as I like to say, is the heartbeat of any BSF production system, regardless of size (industry or backyard); if you want to produce larvae consistently each day, you have to have a steady supply of eggs. As pointed out in previous posts, adult BSF need sunlight to breed. Males like to compete in lekking sites for females that cross their paths. And, in most cases, the rate of reproduction correlates with the level of sunlight available at the time. Lots of good sunlight with a healthy and young adult population typically translates into high reproductive success.
Initial Efforts to Explain Light and Relationship to BSF Mating: One of the first papers to study the relationship between light and mating was published in the Journal of Entomological Science in 2002. This study demonstrated this relationship in the broadest sense. Basically, mating occurred in the morning and as the sun progressed through the day, mating decreased. Oviposition (egg-laying) on the other hand, occurred through the day. Here are links to the article as well as the dissertation from which the article was produced.
Artificial Light Used to Stimulate BSF Mating in 2010: Since this publication 2002, efforts have been focused on the development of artificial light so a colony can become independent from natural sunlight. A study was published in 2010 that demonstrated some lights result in adult mating while other lights do not. For example, they tested quartz-iodine lamps and rare earth lamps. They determined the quartz-iodine lamp produced 61% mating rate in comparison to those exposed to sunlight. The rare earth lamps did not work at all. Since that work, some individuals have attempted to explore indoor mating of the BSF (many industrialized BSF would prefer artificial light if it would translate into predictable production of fertile eggs).
Small Colony Maintenance and Artificial Light in 2012: This study used two 40-W fluorescent lights and one 20-W LED as their light source. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but you can read the article (see below) to determine the specifics on what was used. The results were similar to the previous study with regards to natural sunlight being the best. However, as you know, sunlight availability changes throughout the year in many locations throughout the world and for stable production alternate light sources are needed.
First Major Detailed Study of Spectral Response of the BSF in 2016: The authors did a great job exploring the responses of BSF eyes to different wavelengths of light. They used electrophysiological measurements to determine BSF response to UV-, blue, and green light. They suggested indoor lighting systems should use these types of light to enhance mating by the BSF. This study also demonstrated LED lights resulted in fertilized eggs- something you obviously want to produce. Here is the link to the abstract of the publication.
Here are some videos on the topic as well as colony maintenance:
There are also old posts from other blogs on the use of artificial light for indoor BSF colony maintenance:
And there is a patent on artificial light (possibly more than just this one):
I hope this information proves useful. And until next time, best of luck and happy BSF farming!
Jeff Tomberlin, PhD, BSF producer
First- A Warning- this post contains a bit graphic information about death investigations and the use of the BSF as evidence.
But, if you trust me, and read the post, you will see how this topic relates to the BSF and its use in recycling nutrients.
My hope is I demonstrate how research in what appears to be completely disparate fields has relevance to the use of BSF for recycling nutrients. And, with that said, I encourage you to think outside the box- don't restrict yourself to entomology or BSF production. Always think- how can I apply what I learn about something completely separated from BSF... to BSF. Anyway, I hope you enjoy. :)
So... here is my official daily post!
Today, I found myself sitting back and relaxing in my room after a long day working in China- thinking about what we know about the BSF and where the "holes" in its biology are present. You should know, I often find myself thinking about this topic- sort of an obsession for me. ;)
Some of these voids are quite visible (e.g., adult biology is massively under-studied), while others seem to become more clear, or become recognizable, with each publication, post on Facebook, and completion of a side project carried out in someone's backyard (I cannot understate the value of the work others do primarily because of their passion or interest [researcher, environmentalist, conservationist] in BSF- please, keep up the great work and talk about it with others on Facebook or other similar platforms).
Again... I digress- back on topic!
Well- I was thinking today about the overlap between BSF as an environmental tool and its use as evidence in forensic investigations. Yes- you read correctly... forensic investigations. For those that did not know, I am a board certified forensic entomologist. I have assisted with over 110 investigations from across the USA.
So, I thought I would provide a little background on this topic and link it back to the use of the BSF for recycling food or animal waste.
Forensic entomology can be defined as the use of arthropod evidence in criminal investigations. There are three sub-disciplines; 1) urban (insects in your home- e.g., termites/ants), 2) stored products (e.g., beetles infesting your flour), and 3) medico-legal entomology. The primary focus of this post is the third topic- medico-legal.
There are a number of ways arthropods can be used as evidence in criminal investigations (primarily neglect/abuse and/or death investigations). Here are some of the major categories:
1. Time of Death- in many instances, insects colonize human remains soon after death. Thus, if you can determine when colonization occurred, you can potentially infer when the person died. Of course, that is dependent on a number of assumptions, such as colonization actually occurred after death.
2. Movement of remains- insect communities found in one area can be quite unique from another. Thus, if remains are moved from one location to another, differences in insect communities on remains could be indicative of such events taking place.
3. DNA evidence- insects feeding on human remains ingest the host DNA. So, even if the body is moved, DNA of the victim can be secured if larvae that were feeding on the body are still present.
4. Entomotoxicology- insects are what they eat. If insects are feeding on tissue contaminated with narcotics, those narcotics will impact the development of the insect. Furthermore, the insects will potentially bioaccumulate the narcotic, or its derivatives, in its fat body. So, toxicology analysis can be used to determine if narcotics were used prior to death.
Because the BSF will colonize a variety of decomposing materials, including human remains, it is considered an insect of forensic importance.
The first major study relating this insect to forensics was published in the mid-1990s.
Lord, W. D., M. L. Goff, T. R. Adkins, and N. H. Haskell. 1994. The black soldier fly Hermetia illucens (Diptera: Stratiomyidae) as a potential measure of human postmortem interval: observations and case histories. Journal of Forensic Sciences 39: 215-222.
The article is difficult to locate (restricted access); however, if you are interested in learning more about the field of forensic entomology, you might read this book as it gives an overview of the topic as well as mentions this particular study.
The interesting find in this study is the authors hypothesized the BSF colonizes decomposing vertebrate remains 20-30 days after death of the individual. This information proves critical when determining time of death. By estimating colonization occurred 20-30 days after death- the estimate, based on age of the insect, will be extended back several weeks.
However, this conclusion did not prove to be universal.
A subsequent study by yours truly, determined this information to be... well, possibly not correct under all circumstances.
The study I published was from my time as a PhD student at the University of Georgia. I did a project examining insect colonization patterns of swine remains and determined the black soldier fly will colonize within SIX DAYS after death of the animal. This discovery was a major shift in our understanding of BSF biology (remember, previous study said 20-30 days). So, because of the study I published, and it being in conflict with the previous study, forensic entomologists are extremely careful with drawing conclusions on time of death based on this particular insect.
Another study recently published also indicated the BSF has a very slow development when fed animal tissue, and this might explain why the first study concluded colonization had to be 20-30 days after death.
Basically, BSF in the first study were feeding on vertebrate tissue- something that suppresses their development extensively. Basically, the second study concluded colonization in the first most likely occurred soon after death of the victim; however, the insect just needed a lot more time to complete development.
Here is the paper- if you would like to read it.
This information is critical for forensic entomology as the studies demonstrate two key factors impacting development, 1) temperature (from the second study), and 2) resource type (first and second studies). Understanding both are essential for applications in the field of forensic entomology.
But what does this have to do with nutrient recycling? First, if you made it this far in the blog post- congratulations!! :) I see you are not easily swayed from reading about the BSF.
Second- good question! These factors demonstrate the BSF is not like most other flies. They can take months to develop while most other flies develop in a few weeks. This information is critical for mass-production of the BSF. You will find I often discuss these factors with regards to BSF production. Even when discussing other abiotic or biotic conditions- nutrition ecology as related to temperature will probably make an appearance.
Here is a cool link if you want to read a bit more about nutrition ecology:
But.... as far as this post... the take home message is this....
If you are wanting to harvest larvae in an efficient manner- you really need to be conscientious of these two factors as they can truly disrupt your production.
As always, I hope you find this information interesting and helpful- until next time, best of luck and happy BSF farming!!
Jeff Tomberlin, PhD, D-ABFE
Why in the World?
Why in the world is there this aversion to eating insects? I mean, after all, we eat terrestrial and
flying animal flesh, animal parts, fish parts, fish protein, snails, beef cheeks, pig's ears, eels, raw fish
and meat, turtle, alligator, and pretty much anything in between (not even considering that
man-made chemical roll up weirdness that is on the shelf ready for the school lunch box). So, why
in the world does the insect creep us out? I must say, I was somewhat included with this too.
Indeed, I was pretty arrogant while eating the chili powder dusted meal worm, and microwaved
black soldier fly larvae, and even the deep-fried cricket…delicious, crunchy, and a nice, savory flavor. But I grew less eager when presented with the less than notable insect community, and drew the line with the giant roach (who will outlive us all, by the way!)! So, you are definitely not alone!
So, okay-if we personally don’t eat them, then what do we do? As an intelligent, knowledgeable,
and resourceful population, we obviously acknowledge their nutritional value. We also acknowledge our responsibility in ensuring agricultural stability for our expanding global population. We are a
population of innovators and movers and shakers, and part of a global population who is dedicated
and really cares about imparting value and reason and innovative technologies to overcome these
superstitions and aversions. So, again-what do we do?
Well, we can feed those insects to our feedstocks. To our cattle, to our pigs, to our chickens, turkeys, guinea, and even to wildfowl. And we can feed them to our fish! The black soldier fly has been
approved by the American Association of Feed Control Officials for use as feed for salmon, trout, and other freshwater whitefish species. This is truly great because the US is the leading global importer of fisheries products, and we are increasing our local aquaculture production to meet some of the
demand. This increase in demand necessitates a sustainable fish feed of high nutritional value--and
this is where the black soldier flies come in. While this is a promising great start, we still need to
expand to many other fish species to help sustain the aquaculture industry, and offset the marine fisheries, who are near collapse.
But you know what else we do? We take a few colonies of these amazing efficient decomposers--
and we unleash them on the CAFO (those really large scale animal feeding
operations) manure waste. Do you know what that would mean? I certainly didn’t until I looked into the numbers. Livestock are responsible for roughly 18% of greenhouse emissions. And some really
large farms can produce as much as 50,000 kg waste/day! I was astounded. That is a lot of waste
that must be disposed of safely! But, black soldier fly larvae fill that need! They reduce nitrogen,
phosphorus, and dry matter of manure by about 50%, and converts that waste to proteins and lipids, and also potentially a high value fertilizer! AND it can reduce pathogens in the waste. As a
microbiologist, that was the first real grab. I was skeptical-because, well that is who I am. Skeptical. But they really do, and data has shown so. So, boom right there: Protein, potential for biofuel
development, waste management, converting waste to a high value commodity …AND holy cow-
nonmechanized harvesting! Low carbon footprint??!! WHAT??!!
MI N D B L O W I N G!
I never knew this existed. But now I do. I am so spellbound by the concept of a single insect-well
okay, along with a few helpful probiotic bacterial buddies along the way :), being able to do so much! I mean, the insect just does what it does naturally, and has little care to the enormous impact
potential it has on human and animal health and well-being!
I am excited to be able to witness the beauty of this all-natural system and to play a small part in
harnessing it for such innovative sustainable agriculture practices. But many more experiments need to be conducted towards understanding the processes leading to more efficient waste conversion,
increased proteins and lipids, biodiesel potential, nutritional quality and industrial/global specificity
and scale. And these are not things to be minimized. Each experiment will yield valuable data that
will lead to coalescence of methodology and products for humanitarian infiltration through all of
these systems. And of course, through all of this, I am particularly interested in how and where
microbes mediate these processes (definitely a whole other topic that I will be happy to get into
soon J)!! And we really need to get the word out! Educate people about insect farming and the
potential positive global effects! I am intrigued at the possibilities of the impact of one person,
a block, a neighborhood, a community, a city, a state, an area, a nation, a globe. I do not think I am
getting ahead of myself!
Heather R. Jordan
This is a unique post that is a bit broader than the BSF. But I thought you might enjoy the read.
But, with that said, I think it is important to give you at least one fun fact about the BSF.
DID YOU KNOW- There seems to be a misconception between needing to feed as adults and not feeding. Yes- they will feed if provided a resource (e.g., sugar water); however, they can survive without food by depending on the fat body they developed as larvae (hence 30% fat). This strategy allows them to focus on what is most important to them as adults- mating.
Now- here is my more general post.
I have been in China for almost two weeks now, and I can honestly say that I have eaten just about anything that walks, crawls, or flies here (pretty sure I mentioned this in a previous post- but just wanted to emphasize the point). I have been so impressed with how an animal (think Kingdom Animalia... this means many, many different species) can be transformed into a multitude of delicious dishes. Of these dishes- some of them during my visit (including past ones) to China have included insects. These insects include a variety of species ranging from grasshoppers and caterpillars, to believe it or not- BSF larvae.
Now, don't worry- I am not here to pontificate the need for you to stop eating beef, poultry, or fish and start cultivating your arthropod-based culinary skills. But, I am here to talk a bit about what can be done with insects as food and feed. In fact, here is a really great article that discusses the history of insects as food (entomophagy for humans) and feed, why we need to consider such resources, benefits associated with using such resources, commercialization, and future for an industry still in its infancy. My colleague and friend, Professor Arnold van Huis is the author of this paper.
History of insects as food and feed. I think it is important to recognize that many cultures throughout the world have used insects as food for millennia. The most obvious examples are the honey bee, termites, grasshoppers, and ants. These insects are used for a variety of reasons- some obvious and others not so obvious.
1. Nutrition. Many of these insects are high in protein. The BSF can be quite high in protein (46%), which makes it a very valuable resource as food (if you dare- but I do not encourage it as I am not sure how you fed them) and feed (amazing resources four reptiles, poultry, and fish as previously mentioned).
2. Hey- they are here in high numbers- why not use them? Many of these insects, such as grasshoppers, are pests either all the time or during certain times of year (seasonal). Thus, some cultures have learned to use them as feed.
3. Efficiency of production. Many of these insects, unlike cattle, swine, or poultry, need far less water, land or feed to produce them. In fact, many of these insects reproduce quite quickly. For example, the BSF can complete a life cycle (to harvest) in about 18 days (consider this with the typical growth of a calf to an adult cow).
Here is an assessment of insect farming- a bit complex- but it gives you an idea of the level of detail being measured with regards to insect farming.
What is the future? Many companies around the world (including EVO) are focused on converting wastes, such as food or animal, to protein with an insect. Insects, such as the black soldier fly, can be mass-produced in bulk (tonnage per day) and then processed and used as feed in many countries. Unfortunately, the USA is still coming along. The black soldier fly can be used as live feed for certain aquaculture species. So, what is the future? Well- part of it is education. Making sure people understand the benefits (e.g., mass production, low resource investment) and challenges (e.g., feed safety) of using such material as feed.
An example of a very successful company in Austin, Texas:
Now- here is the crux of this posting- the BSF can be developed as food and feed. I am very supportive of continued efforts to advance this field. I really believe the BSF can be developed as a great feed for many forms of livestock... Did you notice I only said feed? Well, my reason being the use of insects as food is not my focus- but maybe one day, it will be?
I hope this post has been informative. And until the next post- best of luck and happy BSF farming!!
Jeff Tomberlin, PhD, and yes- I have eaten BSF larvae
A recent post was made on the BSFL Facebook page with regards to how to prevent fire ants (for those not from a region with fire ants, Solenopsis invicta, I pray you never know the experience of their sting or bite- truly a curse upon the land) from getting into their colony. See the following link to learn more about these hounds from Hades.
Many individuals responded, and based on my last reading, the advice given was spot on- the main point, do not use insecticides that could come in contact with your BSF. Now, this post is not about the fire ant (the less I think about them the better), but more about integrated pest management (IPM) and how to use it with your colony. A brief review of IPM can be found at:
The basic tenants of the black soldier fly are, 1) biological control, 2) cultural control, and 3) pesticides. With regards to the BSF, nothing has been developed with biological control (using nature to combat nature- e.g., parasitoids, predators, etc). However, with regards to the other two items, there is a bit of information available.
Cultural Control: The manipulation of the environment to prevent pests. Under these circumstances, there are a number of pests to consider. Obviously the house fly and other insects that colonize decomposing waste is an issues. Here are some potential solutions to these issues:
Insecticides. These are compounds made for controlling arthropod pests. To date, there is only one study on the impact of insecticides applied directly to adult or larval BSF. There is a more recent study on insecticides and larvae as well (posted recently in blog with regards to mycotoxin). Here are the links:
The takeaway from this study is very simple. BSF adults are highly…highly….HIGHLY sensitive to insecticides. Do not apply them in your facility as you run the risk of killing your adults. Their sensitivity makes sense. Most insecticides are applied to areas in facilities (e.g., chicken layer houses) where adult pest insects aggregate. These sites are very different from those used by adult BSF. In fact, adult male BSF never return to the facility where they developed, and females only return to lay eggs… typically in the bottom of the facility. Consequently, BSF are rarely exposed to these insecticides. I recall when I did this study that I determined adult BSF were 30X more sensitive to these insecticides than the control house fly population used. What this means is the population of house flies that we used, which was considered extremely sensitive to insecticides could not hold a candle next to the level of sensitivity of the adult BSF population I was studying.
As far as larvae, they also are sensitive to these compounds. But, another issue is the concerns with potential insecticide contamination. You do not want to risk your BSF larvae bioaccumulating these compounds; especially, if you are feeding them to livestock, poultry, fish, or reptiles. So- the simple response is- do not use insecticides. Rely on cultural methods for keeping your facility clean.
As far as the fire ant- the best strategy is to do as suggested in the responses- place the legs of your tables on which you place your BSF bins in containers of soapy water. Fire ants will not be able to get to your bins – just make sure to check the containers every few days to make sure water is still present. If it looks low- add more soapy water.
Jeff Tomberlin, PhD, Caretaker of BSF
One aspect of BSF biology that is much appreciated is the ability of the larvae to survive the presence of materials that would be toxic to you and I. This doesn't come as a surprise as the BSF can be considered an extremophile. Visit the following website for a discussion of extremophiles:
The BSF larvae live in an environment that is full of pathogens (E. coli, Salmonella, etc), heavy metals at times, and toxins. Here is a link discussing pathogens in food. I would like you to focus on the pathogens associated with food waste- not necessarily the angle of the story.
Pathogens: Some papers have found BSF larvae are capable of reducing E. coli and Salmonella in the food they are provided. This is great news as this form of remediation is critical for food and feed safety; however, you should still be careful with your product as these studies do not suggest in all situations similar results will be produced. Here are a couple of studies specifically on the reduction of bacteria in waste- in case you want to read more.
Link discussing pathogens in food:
Links to a few papers on pathogen reduction by BSF larvae:
Heavy Metal (not the music): This topic, like with pathogen work, is still on-going. Heavy metals (see link on heavy metal) such as cadmium and lead, are an issue with waste recycling with the BSF.
Generally speaking, the heavy metal ends up in one of two places (exoskeleton of the larvae) or excreted by into the waste. Both are concerns- but for different reasons. If incorporated into the insect, you have to be concerned about heavy metal accumulation (bioaccumulation could lead to higher concentrations of the substance as it moves up the chain from waste to insect). If in the waste, the concentration of the heavy metal could increase as the waste is being reduced by the BSF (less waste & same amount of heavy metal results in greater concentration). Here are a couple of papers for you on this topic.
www.wageningenacademic.com/doi/abs/10.3920/JIFF2015.0030 (possible restricted access)
Toxins: This area is pretty new in terms of research. As of now, mycotoxins appear to be actually reduced in the waste. This is a huge deal!! Think about the amount of maize, peanut, and other grains contaminated with aflatoxin and what it means to human and animal health.
This study (see link below) is a good read as it explains the experiment and results in relations to aflatoxin reduction. If true, we are potentially looking at the opportunity to recycle billions of dollars worth of contaminated grains to produce high quality protein. The jury is still out- but the evidence looks great so far.
As always, I hope this information is helpful. Best of luck and happy BSF farming!!
As a side note, I had a chance to work with a soldier fly in Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA (see images at bottom)- just to give you an idea of an extremophile. This species lives in hot springs where the temperature reached 60C (140F), pH approaching one, and enough arsenic to choke a horse. So, the larvae have been selected to either avoid these materials are remediate them.
Jeff Tomberlin, PhD, in awe of BSF biology
A ground breaking technology JMGreen developed was the food waste preserving technique using probiotics. During the day to day operation, the biggest challenge we faced was the inconsistent food waste amount coming in the facility everyday. With the designed handling capacity of 200 tons per day (believe or not, it's not even covering a district of Beijing), the variation of actual collection is huge! Some days the site can only collect 50 tons, and the following day there will be over 200 tons. It won't be wise to keep the colony at 200 tons level as they might not be getting enough food for the larvae for the most time, but they can't keep it too low as if there were too many food waste came in, they don't have enough larvae for the food, and the food will rot if not being processed in a timely manner. So creating a buffer between waste collection and larval production is a critical segment in the flow design. Now they have created a bank of food waste, sitting there ready for use for feeding, depending on what's needed for the larval stock.
Like running any factories, labor cost is the biggest concern comes down to operation, and this factory, thanks for the automation JM Green developed, only have 6 labors plus 2 floor managers. All machines in this factory are custom made to fit the local situation of Beijing, for example, the complex contamination of the waste (plastic bags, broken glass, even false teeth, etc.). The automation level is still improving.
So, one of my initial posts was about the colony paper Sheppard and I published in the early 2000 (see post below on colony). In that particular paper, we described how we included artificial plants for flies to land on and “lek.”
A lek can be defined as a behavior where a group of male insects (same species) aggregate and mating with females that enter the site (https://www.amentsoc.org/insects/glossary/terms/lek).
So, why have artificial plants, and how does this relate to Kudzu? Well, when Dr. Sheppard and I were visiting that poultry facility in Alma, Georgia, USA (the one where Dr. Sheppard has me baptized by poultry manure) to collect material for a colony, At some point, I actually got a bit bored and started to walk around the facility. I was walking down a dirt path leading away from the facility, and I noticed a giant kudzu patch with 1,000s of soldier flies on it. Being curious, I started watching the flies and I noticed they males would land on the leaves and if another approached, he would chase them away. If successful, he would return to the leaf (the victor). Of course, if he were unsuccessful, he would lose his perch to the competing male. I also noticed that when a female enter, the male would exhibit many of the same behaviors, but would eventually grab the female and mate. So, given I observed such behavior in association with such a plant, I started using artificial plants in the colony, which was inserted in the manuscript that was eventually published.
Now fast forward 20 years……
Something that has been fairly rewarding for me has been to travel the world and see different systems where artificial plants are used. For me- it indicates people are reading what I do (really glad to know such- brings a high level of accomplishment and satisfaction) and applying it.
What is pretty interesting is that artificial plants are not needed. If you have a colony- and you have artificial plants present, you probably can remove them. Would just remove one more thing to think about when trying to mass-produce adults in colony. The flies will find places to land and they will continue to lek. I will add this point- make sure to water your adults twice a day if temperatures are about 90F (approximately 30C). That way, the flies aren't stressed. But be careful- too much water in the cage leads to flies laying eggs where you do not want them (e.g., puddles with dead flies in them).
If you want to read more about the lekking behavior of the BSF, you might check out this paper.
As always, I hope this information is useful to you. And until next time, take care and happy BSF farming!!
Jeff Tomberlin, PhD, BSF behaviorist
Individuals with over 25 years research experience with the black soldier fly. We are passionate about the science behind the black soldier fly and its ability to convert waste to protein.
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