Raising Black Soldier Flies in Cold Regions

This question comes from Mike (if you are out there, Mike – your email address didn’t work for me):

Your site is very informative. I started 2 indoor worm bins about 2
months ago. Hope they’ll make it; your You Tube design.
What caught my interest was the Black Soldier Fly larvae and The
BioPod.
They do show up in worm bins but is it possible to cultivate them for
fish food and feed in Northern Ontario?

Hi Mike – nice to see a msg from a fellow Ontarian (Ontarioan?! I don’t know! haha)!
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) soldier flies are primarily found in warmer zones – I don’t even see any down here in the south (Waterloo region). You MIGHT be able to cultivate them indoors but I suspect this would be a little complicated since the adults would presumably need to be provided with ideal mating conditions.

Who knows though – if you had a heated building – perhaps with some potted shrubs – and you buy some of the larvae, maybe you can get them to reach adulthood and breed. I think something like mealworms (or of course, Red Worms) would probably be a lot easier, but it all depends on how badly you want them! 🙂

Unfortunately, this is not my area of expertise, but perhaps one of our resident BSFL experts will see this and chime in with their thoughts!
8)

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Comments

  1. I had wondered about using them in Canada too. There are bound to be some concerns (government regulations?) about introducing a foreign species of insect. Those concerns aside it would require a habitat that would support their entire life cycle including the airborne phase. Perhaps inside a green house?

    • Bentley
    • January 19, 2009

    Great idea, Mike re: the greenhouse. Better yet, if it was a full aquaponics greenhouse you could even feed the larvae to the fish!
    8)

    • Jennifer S
    • January 20, 2009

    I’m an unwilling expert on BSF, and I can tell you for sure that breeding them indoors is not a problem. My Can-O-Worms became infested with them last year, and I had them in a spare bedroom. After a month or so, hubby figured out that they were related to my worm bin and evicted the worms from the house. I had hundreds of those black pod things everywhere – stuck in the carpet, under the TV, under other stuff piled on the floor, just everywhere. I don’t think they need anything other than air to successfully mate, and a worm bin is just perfect for them.

    Be careful, as they do fly around the entire house, and they are annoying. I also had some that were enormous, maybe a special Florida breed, but they upset hubby and the kids a lot. My explanations of what good decomposers they are, along with the information that they do not carry disease like regular houseflies was met with rolled eyes. Apparently being a worm nut has affected my credibility in all things bug related.

    FYI, if you move them outside into a screened patio with a pool, on cool nights all of the larvae fall into the pool. I assume they were attracted to the heat, but they weren’t talking.

    I think you can order them from pet supply companies, they are sold as lizard food under the name Phoenix Worms, I believe. I tried to convince hubby that we should figure out how to sell them, but he wasn’t interested.

  2. I’ll be putting up a (hopefully) 4-season aquaponics greenhouse in Minnesota this spring, and plan to try to raise BSF in it. I’ll report back, if someone reminds me. I’ll definitely have compost worms in there…

    • Bentley
    • January 23, 2009

    Fantastic!
    Please keep us posted.
    8)

  3. Bentley I screwed up with a link in my last post and couldn’t find a way to edit. Anyhow clicking on any of the underlined text will take you to http://www.thebiopod.com/

  4. I’ve been surfing the BSFL websites/blogs a bit more and it looks like http://www.bugorder.com in Alberta sell cups of 100-150 BSFL marketed as “phoenix worms” for $10 as pet food. There’s also an Ontario site http://www.recorp.ca which sell for about the same price but have a minimum order of $100.

    Of course a 100 BSFL aren’t going to do much and I don’t know how much success you’d have in mating the adults. At least this seems to indicate that importing BSF into Canada is OK.

  5. An insulated outdoor BSFL bin

  6. An insulated outdoor BSFL bin
    http://www.esrla.com/winter/frame.htm

    • MikeB
    • March 27, 2009

    Indoor BSF breeding

    After a few months of work, BioSystems Design nailed all the right conditions and had its first eggs of a contained reproductive cycle hatch this week.

    http://biosystemsdesign.wordpress.com/

  7. I like the idea of feeding the larvae to the fish… It seems like you could save a lot of money by reusing the larvae. We are moving to the north and I was wondering how I was going to keep my black flies alive.. great read.
    -Sylvia

    • Oscar
    • February 23, 2010

    i been keeping mi pod on my green house in California i don’t see any soldier fly around this area but so far they are doing great on the greenhouse
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t8PctZgcRw

    • HeatherT
    • November 2, 2010

    I’ve been doing this in Seattle. I’m just on my first batch of babies, but they are doing great!

    I put the flies in a “honeymoon hotel” which is a net enclosure. My first try was inside an office in the house, near a window. We’ll see how it works outdoors. But they laid lots of eggs.

    The larvae are now outside, in a big trashcan, with a kind of heater that is used for warming bunnies and other pets, plus a thermostat. I don’t know how much it actually turns on though. The thermostat is set to 80, but the flies get up to 90 or 100 much of the time (I have a thermometer that reads the Max/Min temp for the day). They eat an awesome amount of food. I have to still build some kind of something to harvest the pupae (Or buy a Biopod! But I was curious if it would work in our climate at all).

    I have my red worms too, and my plan was/is to have the BSF leavings go to the worms (or combine them). The red worm compost has been amazing for my plants. Both creatures eat chicken poop and garbage rather nicely, but the BSF’s are rather less picky about what they will eat. I gave them a rotten 8-lb roast (from a freezer that malfunctioned) and it was GONE in 2 days. Sheesh. You gotta love these guys.

  8. HeatherT can you provide more info about your “honeymoon hotel”? Some of the info on the web indicates that shrubs or plants are required.

  9. Sure, here is a link to the pictures:

    http://eatingoffthefoodgrid.blogspot.com/search/label/Black%20Soldier%20Flies

    (see the one at the bottom for a mating pair).

    This is obviously very ad-hoc! I had not read the web info and was just “winging it”. But I think there is this: flies adapt. If they are bred for years in nets, they will eventually learn to breed in nets. And these were from a pet store, so they were probably bred in some kind of container.

    I have heard this about worms too. Someone I know with a worm bin fed his worms orange peels and onions, year after year, even though the worms wouldn’t eat them. Then one day: the worms changed and they started eating orange peels and onions.

    Anyway, I have a greenhouse and they could breed in there. The thing is, birds get in there too and these flies just have no survival skills. I can catch them with my bare hand. The birds manage to eat up the spiders and white flies etc. which is great, but I think they would eat all the BSFs too. So I’ll stick with the net!

    It would be nicer to have a “pretty” container to keep in the house for breeding though. I am thinking of getting a reptile enclosure … it could have plants, and also they have pull-out drawers which could have egg-laying material in it, so the breeders could be in the house if necessary. My preference would be to have it located above the larvae container, but I’m not sure what temps the adults need for breeding.

  10. HeatherT thanks for the link to your blog – very interesting reading. Yours is the first success story about small scale indoor breeding of BSF I’ve read on the web.

    Was your indoor setup in a south facing window? What latitude (degrees north) are you at?

  11. Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I expect the “breeders” have this down to an art, but I guess they aren’t sharing. When I asked at my local pet store though, the pet store lady kind of off-handedly said “oh yeah, you have to use nets or something” … so there is a body of knowledge out there somewhere. She doesn’t breed them though. I’m not sure why … you would think it would be pretty profitable, since you only get a tiny container for $7 or so, and now I have, what, about 4 gallons worth?

    I’m about 50 miles north of Seattle and up in the hills, so it’s pretty cold, dark, and rainy. That window in the picture though is upstairs and on the South, so it does get some sun sometimes. I’m not sure how many hours of sun the flies need to breed though. I have a pretty high-powered “indoor sun” grow lamp though, so I might try that when the next batch hatches. The first batch disappeared when I put them outside … the net came off the bucket and the flies flew off. They appear to have buried themselves in the dirt (I was digging around and unearthed a couple, who buzzed off angrily!). Or they got eaten. I have not seen many dead flies at any rate, and they were almost a month old when I moved them out of the house. I think maybe they live longer in colder climates?

    So we’ll see what happens when this next batch hatches!

  12. HeatherT thanks. I’m following your blog now and looking forward to updates. Do you have any temperature and humidity data for your indoor setup?

    • MikeB
    • November 14, 2010

    HeatherT also what elevation are you at?

  13. I’m not sure. I think it is about 1,000 feet. We are halfway up a hill and get more snow and rain than most of this area: down below in the valley it is way more sunny.

    The flies mated etc. though when they were in the house, and it seems that all they care about is sunshine and humidity (spray bottle). The sun at the time was coming in at a low angle (which it does this time of year), but it was there for several hours.

    Oddly though, I am *still* getting babies hatching out in the greenhouse. Either the old eggs went dormant and are just now hatching, or the flies are living somewhere in the unheated greenhouse and still laying eggs (I haven’t seen any, but they bury themselves it seems). It is very cold, wet, and dark. The larvae are now living in a BioPod with a heater (my bunny pad) and happily munching, albeit not too many actually harvesting themselves. They seem to grow a lot faster when one feeds them meat.

    • MikeB
    • November 16, 2010

    Looking forward to hearing about how the BioPod/“honeymoon hotel” combination works for you. Did you get the round or rectangular ‘plus’ BioPod?

  14. @MikeB: I got the rectangular BioPod. The grubs are getting out the edge though, so I guess I’ll have to do something. The “regular” one seems to not be available any more? The other issue with it is that the lid is not strong enough to keep rats out, which I’m sure will eventually be a problem.

    I have two experimental bins in work: the most promising one is made from an old dryer “tumbler” (the thing the clothes go around in), which has a built-in “drain” in the bottom (what was the back) and the top is curved way over so I don’t think the grubs can escape. Plus, it is metal, so rats can’t chew it. I’ll post pictures when it is done. I think it would be neat is someone created a “dryer tumbler conversion kit” that has the pieces you need to convert the tumbler (like the exit ramp and lid). The appliance recycle place charged me all of $10 for the tumbler. A washing machine tub would work too, I think.

    I’m just beginning to get some more flies hatching/emerging, and I re-made the Honeymoon Hotel, so we should see if it works in the middle of the winter. If it does not work with regular sunlight (we don’t get much sunlight this time of year!), I have a heavy-duty “indoor sun” grow lamp to try out. I’m pretty sure the grow lamp will work, but it would be interesting to see what the cutoffs are (how strong a lamp does one need, and for how many hours?).

    Anyway, I’ll keep posting pics etc. on my blog, so if you want notices just subscribe to the blog and notice goes out automatically.

  15. Hi guys,
    Very interesting discussion. Thanks for sharing your approach, Heather!
    8)

  16. Found this study on the UBC site:
    Biology and Behavior of the Black Soldier Fly – Phase 1 issued in July 2010. There’s a PDF version available. The author also has a blog here but the last entry was in August 2010.

    Although it’s only an informal student paper it’s nice to see something from Canada. They didn’t have much success with breeding but the project is ongoing.

    • HeatherT
    • December 31, 2010

    I love the UBC paper! Interesting the high mortality of the grubs … I didn’t have that issue but I fed them old cabbage, which is high in water content. And I can really relate to the “escape artist” part. Sheesh. They hatched for months. Fortunately my family is pretty forgiving.

    The colonies seem pretty stable though, once you get them going. I think this has high potential for things like those mentioned in the paper: recycling doggie doo, or wild rats. The adult flies are a little scary (they buzz like wasps, for sure, and the females even look like they have stingers) but they are slow and easy to catch and I’m sure the local birds will love them.

    I had some mating activity inside the house in the Honeymoon Hotel, but no babies that I’ve noticed. None of the outside grubs have hatched (or migrated outside the pod). Mind you, it is freezing out. I want to design something that is more in line with our climate (maybe put the entire thing inside an old freezer). But I’m not very motivated at this time of year either.

    • MikeB
    • December 31, 2010

    Their blog has more details on the equipment problems that killed the larvae by dropping the humidity.

    So no more babies hatching out Heather? There are so many variables involved – maybe it’s a length of day thing?

    • HeatherT
    • December 31, 2010

    @Mike: I haven’t seen any. It is colder though, in the house. The ones outside kept hatching over a period of 3 months, presumably based on heat? Or something. One pair of gloves I had, I left them out for a few days when I wasn’t using them (outside, fortunately!) and when I came back they were crawling with teeeeny little grubs.

    Hm. Which actually might be another variable? The little babies seem to hatch when glommed onto the skin of the bigger grubs (or at least that is where I first saw them: glommed onto big grubs). There is a kind of fatty goop covering the big grubs (esp. when they’ve been eating fatty garbage, which mine were at the time). My gloves were covered with fatty goop too, because I’d been handling old goopy stinky meat.

    Maybe goopy fat is a trigger for hatching? Or something about the presence of other grubs? The former seems more likely, as in the wild, there has to be some “first grubs” to arrive? My sawdust which might have eggs, only has vegie matter in it: I’ll add some fatty goopy stuff and see what happens.

  17. This is a recent Chinese project which had success breeding BSF indoors under artificial lighting: (link)


    Abstract

    Current methods for mass-rearing black soldier flies, Hermetia illucens (L.) (Diptera: Stratiomyidae), in the laboratory are dependent on sunlight. Quartz-iodine lamps and rare earth lamps were examined as artificial light sources for stimulating H. illucens to mate and lay eggs. Sunlight was used as the control. Adults in the quartz-iodine lamp treatment had a mating rate of 61% of those in the sunlight control. No mating occurred when the rare earth lamp was used as a substitute. Egg hatch for the quartz-iodine lamp and sunlight treatments occurred in approximately 4 days, and the hatch rate was similar between these two treatments. Larval and pupal development under these treatments required approximately 18 and 15 days at 28° C, respectively. Development of methods for mass rearing of H. illucens using artificial light will enable production of this fly throughout the year without investing in greenhouse space or requiring sunlight.

    Zhang J, Huang L, He J, Tomberlin JK, Li J, Lei C, Sun M, Liu Z, Yu Z. 2010. An artificial light source influences mating and oviposition of black soldier flies, Hermetia illucens. Journal of Insect Science 10:202, available online: insectscience.org/10.202

  18. As an experiment I purchased some BSFL from a pet store this summer and after some trial and error was successful in raising them indoors in Alberta. I had no luck getting them to mate with artificial lighting (CFLs) but did succeed with a small enclosure hanging next to a sunny window.

    My small BSF sreen breeding cage was a cylinder 56cm (22″) Height x 46cm (18″) Diameter. I ended up using small containers of used coffee grounds with lids which had a small hole for the females to enter. At least two clutches of eggs were laid in these and hatched successfully.

    This is a good illustration of how little space is actually required for the adult flies to mate (about 99 litres or 3.5 cubic feet). Large enclosures are not really required, at least for mating.

    • Bentley
    • October 24, 2011

    That’s really cool, Mike! So do you now have lots of big BSFLs munching away? How long did all of this take?

  19. Bentely I got the container of 100 larvae at the end of June and the first flies emerged in mid July. A lot of that time was wasted trying artificial lighting before switching to a smaller enclosure that could be placed by a window for natural sunlight towards the end of August.

    I didn’t have eggs laid and hatch until the end of September. Unfortunately I had to leave for a couple weeks at that point and a lot of the newly hatched larvae died. The few that survived are thriving in used coffee grounds but it’s really a small scale effort.

    This was really just an experiment to see if the BSF could complete their life cycle and reproduce indoors. A working bin for composting would require a lot more space than I have available (apartment dweller here). I think it does show that breeding could be separated from an outdoor bin if necessary.

    • Julie
    • November 13, 2011

    Hi there, I am in Western Australia where we have very mild winters. Even so, the flies are pretty slow at breeding in winter.
    Mine just ‘appeared’ a couple of years ago, and I have had them ever since.
    I use a 20 litre bucket with Eco Bokashi as a composter for my soft kitchen scraps. It makes a very sludgy mixture which I put in my vegetable garden twice a year.It has a tap at the bottom to drain off fluid, which goes onto fruit trees.
    The little fish I have in my pond are there to eat mosquito larva, so they don’t need extra feeding. But the BSF larva would be great for poultry. I read of one guy who freezes the larva when he has excess and feeds them to his fish.
    I also saw a terrific design where the larva walk down a little ramp into a bucket, but I just cannot find it again! I think there was a short video.Should have kept the link. Anyone know what this system is called>

  20. Julie there’s a commercial unit called BioPod+ <a href="http://thebiopod.com/pages/biopod-plus.html"(link) or a homemade bucket (link) both of which have ramps that the mature larvae crawl up looking for a place to pupate.

  21. That link should be BioPodPlus. Also there are more in the thread about Vermiman’s DIY BSFL BIN

    • Julie
    • November 18, 2011

    Thanks for that Mike. I’m not sure if they are available in Australia, but will do a search.

  22. Julie if you like Do It Yourself projects Tarvus has a very nice design. See his YouTube channel (link) for videos and for photos of his “Bug Barracks” DIY bin look here. He did have an excellent blog but was hacked earlier this year and has yet to be resurrected.

  23. Julie if you like Do It Yourself projects Tarvus has a very nice design. See his YouTube channel (link) for videos and for photos of his “Bug Barracks” DIY bin look here. He did have an excellent blog but it was hacked earlier this year and has yet to be resurrected.

  24. There are a few reptile owners in Germany that are having success breeding BSF indoors using artificial lighting. There’s some detailed information and photos in the terrarienbilder.com forum (link). This is a German language forum but I found that Google translate does a passable job of making the posts understandable.

    It is interesting to note that breeding was achieved in a fairly small space (storage tote size). These systems are small and probably wouldn’t be good for composting. They would be great for reseeding an outdoor bin in cold climates or the design could be scaled up for indoor composting.

    • Joel
    • February 7, 2012

    Hey does anyone have any good solid numbers on how many lbs of larvae are generated by lbs of fruit/veg food waste? Timeline would be great as well. I’m looking in to putting a system together to provide between 25 and 50% of feed requirements for pastured chickens using these larvae and green compost materials.

  25. Joel the Black Soldier Fly blog has section called ‘waste in – grubs out’ (link) but it hasn’t been updated for a while. There’s also a big thread over at BackyardChickens.com (link) that might interest you.

    • Joel
    • February 7, 2012

    Awesome, Mike. Thanks very much for the good resources!

  26. I was able to get them to breed indoors in a storage tote using Compact Fluorescent Lights rated at a total of 4100 lumens (link).

  27. Here’s the link again. I’ve also created a list of a few other systems that have had success with artificial lighting (link).

    • Heather
    • March 27, 2012

    Mike, that is a great-looking setup, and a nice instruction. I’m revamping my system based on some of your suggestions. Thank you for taking the time to instruct the rest of us.

    • Bentley
    • March 27, 2012

    Sorry Heather and Mike – your comments got lost during a website/server move. I seem to have found Heather’s, but not Mike’s reply.

    Bentley

  28. Thanks Heather. A lot of it is based on info from reptile owners in Germany (see comment #40 above) and from you of course. I can’t really expand the system due to the limited space I have available but I intend to continue the experiment to see how many successive generations I can raise indoors.

  29. The original poster of the forum thread I mentioned in comment 40 above has posted a video (link) about his system. Like the forum the captions in the video are in German but it still is a good illustration of how simple a BSF rearing system can be.

    • billy bob
    • May 15, 2013

    I got some grub in fall 2011 as feeders and put some in a worm bin in the greenhouse. It was heated for winter 11/12 and had successful regeneration until the heat of summer arrived. At that time the greenhouse would routinely reach 130+ so it was opened up and mostly unused. BSF dissappeared. No reason to heat greenhouse winter of 12/13. However, I did bring in a couple worm bins to a spare bedroom in the house, actually it’s now a fish room. Standard flourescent lighting on the tanks 16 hours a day and 80f. While digging through the worm bin I came upon some larva and now the fifth generation is just hatching out. There are a couple sweet potato vines in there too, but I see the flies kinda haning and mating and stuff pretty much everywhere they can.

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