Banner image courtesy of Bill Strand
Podcast Episode on BSF
Hear Lauren give an introduction to herself and what she does at Symton.
Ep 103: Black Soldier Flies, An Enticing Feeder!
In April of 2019, Lauren Goza, Director of Operations for the Symton Black Soldier Fly company sat down with Bill Strand and talked about what it was like to run an operation whose only job was to farm Black Soldier Flies. Join us in the Chameleon Breeder Podcast episode 103 and learn what it is like when your job is raising grubs!
You can listen to the full episode here:
Black Soldier Fly Natural History
The Black Soldier Fly, Hermetia illucens, is a jet black, wasp-like fly that has proven to be of great use to captive reptile husbandry. The grubs are calcium rich and have a positive calcium to phosphorus ratio. Black Soldier Flies occur in the wild around the world. They congregate around decaying organic matter and have greatly enjoyed the human habit of creating vast amounts of food waste. They lay eggs around decaying organic matter. The BSF larva will hatch and drop into the compost. From there the white grub gorges itself on the food/waste. They are so efficient at breaking down organic matter that they are considered valuable tools in turning waste into bio-mass (taking waste and turning it into grubs which can be fed to insect eating livestock.) When it is time, the white grub darkens into a dark black and they crawl out of the organic matter to find a place to pupate. They form a hard shell in which they transform into their fly stage. As a fly their only job is to find a mate and produce more eggs. Although they are able to lick up water, they do not eat as adults. They live their short life only to produce eggs and start the next generation.
The lifecycle of the Black Soldier Fly. Graphic courtesy of Symton
Using Black Soldier Flies as Chameleon Feeders
Enjoy this excerpt from the interview between Bill and Lauren of Symton where Bill explains how chameleon people use Black Soldier Flies!
Black Soldier Flies have a valuable place in the menu of a chameleon because the grubs are high in calcium and have a positive calcium to phosphorus ratio. Phosphorus is critical for bone development, but, like any nutrient, it must be given in a balance with all the other nutrients or else it becomes detrimental. Many of the most common feeder insects available have too much phosphorus compared to calcium and so this is the reason why we dust the feeders with calcium. You can certainly dust your larva when feeding them, but you can also feed them undusted. This is the perfect feeder to gutload!
The Black Soldier Fly has the added benefit that when they emerge from their pupae they are a diurnal fly which means that it will fly around during the day and provide an effective enticement and treat for a chameleon. To realize this benefit simply feed your chameleon five to ten grubs (larva) in a bowl and whatever they do not eat just toss in a potted plant in your cage. The larva will pupate and then emerge sometime in the future as a fly. The fly does not have as much nutrition as the larva (much was used up to pupate and transform), but it will certainly have some nutritional value and will provide mental stimulation.
Most of the time we purchase grubs which are the larval stage of the Black Soldier Fly. They require about 14 days to complete this stage which is heavily dependent on temperature. Once they have eaten their fill they turn black and hard. This is the pupa and in one to two weeks a fly will emerge from this pupa.
When you get your pupa keep them at room temperature. You can put them in the refrigerator if you want to slow growth. They will continue eating whatever you provide so if you will be keeping them for a week (say you bought 500 and you have one chameleon) you may give them a small slice of apple for continued nutrition. If your larva pupate (turn stiff and black) you may sprinkle them on the soil of plants within your chameleon cage and wait for them to emerge as flies. The adult fly looks like a wasp and is intimidating, but it is all for show. The Black Soldier Fly is a harmless, relatively slow flying insect with no biting or stinging parts. If you are going to maintain the adult flies for any length of time you may put out a small dish of sugar water so they may replenish their energy supplies.
If a Black Soldier Fly escapes there is no danger of introducing a foreign insect to the environment as if the environment will sustain them they are pretty much already there. You rarely see them, but you very well may have been unwittingly living along side them all this time!
One warning: the grubs can use water to climb just about any surface. If they are wet they will escape any open container.
Black Soldier Fly grubs are a welcomed treat by most chameleons!
A female Jackson’s Chameleon gets a Black Soldier Fly grub treat!
Raising Grubs at Symton
Who knew bug farming could be so much fun?
Bill and Lauren discuss the super powers that water – or just moisture – gives to the Black soldier fly larva!