Can I guarantee that you won’t get sick from contact with black soldier flies?
There is no species of animal on Earth that could live up to that guarantee, but researchers agree that black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) are not disease carrying pests like common filth flies.
Black soldier flies are different
I can understand people’s revulsion at the thought of flies in general. The common house fly is associated with 277 disease organisms. On the other hand, BSF have been the subject of many scientific studies and they are not known to be transmitters of disease-causing pathogens. I’ve read dozens of articles about using the larvae to process manure and about feeding them to animals and I’ve never come across any warnings about handling BSF. It’s easier to find information about humans transmitting pathogens than about BSF doing so. You can, however, find some nice photos of researchers holding big handfuls of BSF grubs and smiling broadly (the researchers that is). There are several aspects of the BSF life cycle that result in their non-pest status.
All flies emerge relatively clean
The process of pupation results in all flies emerging relatively free of pathogens. It’s the lifestyle of the adult flies after that point that makes the difference.
BSF adults (winged stage) only live for a few days as opposed to 30 or more days for house flies. Because of their short lifespan adult BSF don’t need to eat and in fact don’t even have working mouth parts. For that reason they rarely enter human habitats and they don’t compete with humans for food. House flies must eat so they cycle back and forth between waste material and our food. It’s that cycle that results in the transfer of pathogens and it’s the absence of that behavior that keeps BSF relatively clean.
After emerging, the adult BSF mate and the female flies away in search of a suitable food source to lay her eggs near. The female’s preferred site for depositing her eggs is close to, butusually not on the food source. Eggs laid on the food source will have a higher chance of being inadvertently consumed by already feeding larvae. This is another characteristic that contributes to the BSF status as a non-pest species.
Unlike many other flies, BSF adults do not go into houses, they do not have functional mouth parts, they do not eat waste, they do not come into contact with waste, they do not regurgitate on human food, and consequently, they are not associated in any way with the transmission of disease. They do not bite, bother or pester humans in any way. – Dr. Paul Olivier
The amazing digestive system of BSF larvae
In contrast to spreading disease there is evidence that the presence of BSF larvae can reduce pathogens in waste material.
Bacteriological interactions associated with manure digestion by maggots are favorable. Maggots are competitors with bacteria for nutrients and often reduce bacterial numbers greatly, or eliminated them altogether (Beard and Sands, 1973; Sherman, 2000). Maggots may consume and digest microorganisms, and produce antibacterial and/or fungicidal compounds (Landi, 1960; Hoffmann and Hetru, 1992; Levashina et al., 1995 and Landon et al., 1997). As maggots reduce pathogens in manure they may make it safer for organic vegetable production.
From the same article:
Flies that have been used experimentally to process manure include house flies (Musca domestica), face flies (Musca autumnalis), blow flies (usually Sarcophaga sp.) and the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens). Except for the black soldier fly (Furman et al. 1959), all of these are considered pests as adults due to their disease vector potential, behavior and preferred habitats.
Preliminary studies with black soldier fly larvae indicated a reduction of pathogens in an artificial medium or manure innoculated with larvae. Numerous studies using dried, rendered and fresh maggots as animal feed have revealed no health problems resulting from this practice. Preliminary bacterial culturing of self-collected soldier fly prepupae from a recent swine trial revealed no pathogens
BSF grubs lessen or eliminate the breeding of pest flies
When a food source has an established colony of BSF larvae other species of flies are rare or even absent. The larvae produce an info-chemical that alerts other flies to the fact that the source of food is already being dominated by BSF larvae.
Common sense about working with black soldier fly larvae
I’m not suggesting that black soldier flies or their larvae are perfectly sterile. You and I are not perfectly sterile. Pathogens are everywhere and it is common sense to wash your hands after working with BSF, just as you would after petting a dog or shopping at the grocery store.
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