The Black Soldier Fly: the star of insect farming

May 11, 2021

Insect farming is on the rise in the world of agriculture and food tech alike. Insects provide a sustainable source of protein and need minimum land and resources.

Among them, the black soldier fly is gaining momentum, with its unique composting abilities and high protein content.

We wanted to answer the most common questions about BSF in one place.

What is the black soldier fly?

The black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens or BSF) is a species originating from South America. Nowadays it is cosmopolitan, present across temperate climates in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Its name comes from the colour of the adult flies, which are black with metallic reflections.

Why all the noise?

You may have heard of the black soldier fly in the context of alternative protein, animal feed, or food waste management. The truth is, they can address all those things – and much more.

What are the black soldier flies good for?

Alternative protein. 

They are a great source of animal protein for humans and animals alike. When dried, they contain up to 50% of high-quality protein.

Chickens eating black soldier fly larvae.

Animal feed.

Animals, especially chickens, love them. Black soldier fly larvae not only provide nourishment, but also a natural, stimulating pastime. Foraging for insects positively impacts hens’ welfare. 

Waste management and composting. 

They can eat almost any organic waste, making them perfect for dealing with discarded foods or agricultural wastes. 

Many people are also attracting BSF to their compost bins to deal with household food waste. What’s more, a compost bin with BSF larvae will smell better than one inhabited by houseflies.

Are black soldier flies pests?

The black soldier fly is not an invasive species – quite the contrary. Once they reach adulthood, they do not eat, but rely on the nutrients they gathered as larvae. They are also not disease vectors. They do not transfer diseases or parasites like mosquitos or ticks do.

Why does this matter?

The fact that adult black soldier flies would not attack crops is very important. This means that the risks associated with a BSF colony getting out of hand are very low. They will not attack crops or disrupt the local ecosystems.

Does the black soldier fly sting or bite?

When flying, BSF create a loud, buzzing noise, which we tend to associate with wasps. However, they do not bite nor sting.

Is insect farming sustainable?

Insects need much less water, land, and energy to produce the same amount of feed as soy – a popular protein source for poultry farms nationwide. They also thrive in densely populated environments.

Insect vs. soy - yield per square metre.

What’s more, we can farm black soldier flies locally, close to where they are needed. Soy on the other hand usually comes from South America, including areas with high deforestation risk. It travels for thousands of miles, contributing to more carbon emissions.

How does insect farming work?

Black soldier flies require specific conditions for breeding and growth.

For reproducing and laying eggs, they need the temperature to be above 25 degrees Celsius. This means that they can grow outside (in fly cages) in some climates. That is rarely attainable for places like the UK or the US, where they are grown in labs or climate-controlled systems.

We grow them in shipping containers that maintain all those necessary conditions. The feeding and growth are monitored by AI and require a small input from the farmer.

How long do they grow?

Once the female deposits between 200 and 600 eggs, the eggs hatch after about four days. The larvae start at about 1mm in length, but their voracious appetite will soon make them reach the size of 25mm. 

Depending on the feed provided, the larvae will grow for about 10 to 28 days. Then they will enter the pupae stage and transform into adult flies.

We can see that the lifecycle of the black soldier fly is quite short. Many of the species popular within the insect farming sector, such as the crickets, take more time to reach the adult stage.

What do the black soldier fly larvae eat?

The black soldier fly larvae can eat almost anything and are known for their insatiable appetites. In a natural food chain, insects take care of composting wasted nutrients, so they don’t mind food waste, discarded grains, or even manure.  

However, when introducing the larvae into the food chain (feeding them to chickens), we must observe current laws. The EU regulations only allow pre-consumer waste to be fed to BSF. 

You can use this guide to get clarity on what feed is allowed.

Who can eat them?

The larvae can serve as feed for fish, poultry, and pigs. They can also be fed to and pets, from lizards to dogs.

On top of that, black soldier flies present great potential for human consumption. When powdered, they can serve as a great protein source to be added to shakes or porridge. They could also be consumed whole, e.g. fried and salted. 

Are black soldier fly larvae good as animal feed?

As chicken feed, they increase productivity (more eggs laid). They contribute to better gut health and therefore reduce reliance on antibiotics. They make for happier, more active hens.

The impact of insect feed on egg laying hens.

How nutritious are they?

The black soldier fly larvae contain up to 50% of high-quality protein, as well as necessary vitamins, fats, and amino acids. 

They are also rich in antimicrobial, medium-chain fatty acids which have proven gut health benefits.

Their shell is made of chitin, which is a great source of fibre that further boosts gut health.

Are black soldier flies expensive?

Most backyard or small-scale insect farming ventures are quite laborious. They need lots of labour throughout all stages of the flies’ lifecycle.

Automation is key to scaling the process and making insect protein more accessible.

Democratising insect farming.

Better Origin’s mission is to make insect farming more accessible. We offer farmers a decentralised, fully automated solution that takes care of the process for them.

So you want to know more about the black soldier fly?

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