To establish black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) you first need to attract the adult (winged) females so they can lay their eggs. To do this you need to bait them with some type of food.

black soldier fly bait box

Types of food for baiting BSF

You may use almost any food scraps, but I’m experimenting with different types to see which are the best. To find the bait the flies will need to be able to follow a scent trail, so items like vegetable peels or bread might not be the best choice. You may not attract the BSF right away so choosing a type of bait that won’t spoil too quickly may be a good idea. When I started a new colony this year I put out dry dog food (slightly moistened), used tea bags, refried beans, cottage cheese and coffee grounds. The teabags helped hold in moisture and the BSF like to lay their eggs on paper. I’ve noticed that the larvae seem to like coffee grounds so I thought they might be good for attracting adults. I kept this bait outside in fairly warm weather for two weeks and it never did get too nasty and it worked pretty well also. I think it’s a good idea to keep the bait moist for two reasons; the smell will be a little stronger (better attractant) and any eggs may develop more effectively.

Bait boxes

This year instead of putting my BSF bait directly into the BioComposter I tried putting out four individual bait boxes (see photo above). I made them by cutting the ends off of 12 pack soda cartons. Since I added water to the bait everyday it would have been a good idea to reinforce the bottoms with tape, but they held up just long enough. One reason I tried these boxes was to make it easier to swap out the bait if it spoiled too much. The main reason I tried it was so that I could easily move the bait to different areas. I think one of the best places I found was near a garbage can that was a little past the point when it should have been picked up. I moved the boxes into a closed container at night because the BSF aren’t out then. In fact, I’ve rarely seen one laying eggs before noon, they seem to be active during the hottest part of the day. Maybe that will change as we move into summer.

Once you have established a balanced colony of BSF larvae the number of houseflies near your colony will be dramatically reduced. Most likely you will have to put up with them until then. Either way it’s wise to wear latex gloves when handling the boxes. With an established BSF colony I usually just wash my hands immediately after working with them. Unlike houseflies, black soldier flies aren’t associated with the transmission of disease.

bsf-bait-near-garbage-can

After about a week I was seeing a good number of BSF laying eggs in the bait boxes so I moved them all into my BioComposting unit. Two weeks after setting out the bait I removed the bait boxes. The photo below shows my progress at that point.

bsfl-two-weeks-after-beginning

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12 thoughts on “getting started – Attracting the BSF

  • July 17, 2008 at 8:30 am
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    This is very helpful, thank you!
    I am injunjoe from over at Back Yard Chickens.

  • July 17, 2008 at 9:21 am
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    Thanks for stopping by injunjoe, I’m enjoying the crew over at Backyard Chickens.

  • July 18, 2008 at 11:45 pm
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    After looking at your blog here, I think I do have them here. I was watching what I think was a BSF. It was hard to see it was buzzing around so fast.

    I was wondering how can I tell the maggots apart, BSF from house flies?

  • July 19, 2008 at 7:07 am
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    Joe, BSF larvae are much larger than house fly larvae. There are other species of flies that also produce large larvae so the best way to confirm that you have black soldier flies is to identify the adult fly. That should be easy if you take your time because BSF will eventually land near the food that’s attracting them and you can usually get within a few feet of them. You can tell if they are BSF by their white legs.

    Adult black soldier fly

  • November 19, 2008 at 11:34 pm
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    hello,
    a few questions if no one minds, I’m interested in in bsfl for animal feed and bait.working on sustainable homesteading and maybe some income. ok thats the why.
    now the questions I cant find any info on keeping larva from pupateing or how long you can keep them in this state(for bait and live feeders)and what substrate to keep them in either???
    having animals this would be ideal way to dispose of there waste.(pigs,sheep,goats,chickens and other poultry.) as well as the slaughter by products.. (the rabbit dropings/bsfl castings will be used for night crawlers and wigglers )
    thank you for any insight in to this matter.

  • December 3, 2008 at 7:51 pm
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    Hi Chris,

    I haven’t done any research on keeping the larvae from pupating. My guess is that it would be possible by keeping them at fairly low temperatures relative to their optimal growth/development temps. The problem with refrigeration is that it normally creates too dry of an environment compared to the 70%+ that BSF need. It’s also important to provide sufficient air.

    I believe Dr. Olivier has recommended small wood shavings or sawdust as a bedding material for the BioPod collection bucket. In that case it helps keep the mature prepupal larvae dry enough that they can’t easily escape the bucket and it gives them something to hide in. If you want to store juvenile larvae you’ll need to keep them moist. It seems sawdust would also be good for that purpose but I’m not certain.

    If I learn something that might help you out I’ll send you an email.

    Jerry

  • June 25, 2009 at 12:58 pm
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    Can anyone confirm that red worms help to attract BSF?

    I am in Colorado and have been Vermicomposting for one year. I didn’t think that we had BSF here or maybe just not in the city (Denver) BUT………………

    I remember last summer I gave a friend of mine a small ‘demo’ vermicomposting bucket and in a few weeks he had ‘maggots’ …so sad I didn’t know what they were.

    Anyways, I remembered all of this last night and added a small box of worms and protective food-bedding (cardboard, coir and fall leafs) to my ‘bait box’ that has been out for about 4 days.

    I would really like to purchase and distribute the BioPod! I wonder how farmers would respond to having a ‘traveling decompiculture expert’ work at the farm for a few weeks setting up systems…

    not that I’m an expert…….yet!

  • June 26, 2009 at 6:36 am
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    Hi Joe,

    My guess is that the worms don’t attract the BSF, but the food you’re giving to the worms does attract them.

    If you do see BSF in your area please try to get photos. Colorado doesn’t seem to be a likely place for BSF, but you never know. Keep in mind that there are over 100,000 species of flies, so the presence of fly larvae in a worm bin isn’t conclusive. BSF would be one of the more likely species I would expect to see in a worm bin, but the altitude in Colorado brings it into doubt. We’re still learning a lot about BSF and if you can get a positive ID up in the mountains it might be helpful.

    Here is a quote from Robert at ProtaCulture, the distributor for BioPods. Robert has worked with BSF for years and helped design the BioPod:

    So How do you know if you have a native population?

    1) If there are grubs present in compost bins, worm bins, outdoor toilets, etc at any time during the year

    2) Hardiness zone 9 – 10: Presence should be year round, although it’s always harder to get a colony started when average minimum temperatures drop below 55 degrees.

    3) Hardiness zone 5-8: Do not attempt to start a colony during winter time. Most people should start a colony from the end of april to summer. The colder you local minimum temperatures the later in the year. ( a good indicator is to ask a local honey bee farmer around what time of year the honey bees get active and leave the hive)

    4) Check your local weather service and find out what the minimum average temperature is for your zipcode. Although you might be in the correct hardiness zone, local microclimate conditions might be colder then 55 degrees.

    5) Check your altitude … Although possible, native adult grubs are hard to observe at altitudes above 5000 ft (1500 meters)

    Source: http://thebiopod.com/forum/index.php?topic=110.0

  • February 11, 2010 at 5:41 pm
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    hello i’m new here and i live in texas and alot of times i leave trash in my back yard(scraps and all) just to come back a few days later and see larvae climbing all threw the bags and my mind would go ussshhhh and all that time i never new that it was something that can be used for food (fish,chicken-etc.) i also thought bsf was a wasp and would hotshot them to death—so thanks for the information and i will be starting a colony this years—godbless cylyntblu

    • February 11, 2010 at 8:53 pm
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      Hi cylyntblu,

      I’m glad you learned about BSF, but keep in mind that the larvae you’re seeing could very easily be other fly species and not BSF. Starting from the time you make the food waste available it would take BSF larvae one or two weeks to become obvious in most cases. It takes four days just for the eggs to hatch and then several more before the tiny new larvae are large enough to see easily. Many common pest flies like house flies and bottle flies develop through the egg and larval stages much more quickly. In the case of bottle/blow flies the larvae even get about the same size as BSF so identifying them can take a little practice. It sounds like you’ve seen BSF adults around your place so even if the larvae weren’t BSF after all it should be easy for you to get started in Texas when the weather warms up.

  • May 11, 2011 at 6:48 pm
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    Is it possible to raise a colony of BSF if I live in a zone 4? Would I have to buy the larvae and start it that way? This is very ineresting to me. Are there any other sources for information on the BSF?

    • May 15, 2011 at 9:49 am
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      Hi Hillary,

      It’s easiest to culture BSF where they are natives, probably not the case in zone 4. In hot weather you should be able to raise a generation through at least one generation, but keeping them in the winter would require some special effort. Breeding them in cold areas is highly specialized.

      I expect this topic will be discussed quite a bit at our new forum as more people join.

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