There are more than 100,000 species of flies, but in most people’s minds a fly is a fly, period. The species most people automatically think of are the house flies, blow flies, and bottle flies. Our disdain for these pests is understandable because they are known transmitters of human diseases, but non-pest black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) are different in several ways. The most important difference is that BSF are not vectors of human pathogens. Black soldier flies rarely go into human habitats or land on people, and the adult black soldier fly doesn’t even eat during it’s short lifespan. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, on to the mythbusting.
Swarms of black soldier flies = myth
I’m convinced that most people imagine a swarm of black soldier flies hovering around a BSF composting unit such as a BioPod. They would be wrong. I’ve been culturing black soldier fly larvae for one and a half years and the greatest number of winged adults I’ve seen at any one time is less than 10. Most of the time when I check my BioPod there are no flies near it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before noon (apparently they sleep in), and you don’t see them when the sun is low or at night.
In case I haven’t made my point, BSF adults (winged stage) are relatively rare. One reason is that the adults only live a few days, just long enough to breed and lay eggs, and then they die. Contrast this with house flies that live 30 days or more. In the short period that BSF spend as adult flies there just isn’t enough time for big social gatherings such as swarms.
Black soldier flies pester people = myth
Black soldier flies can’t bite or sting and they don’t eat so they have no interest in people. As mentioned above you probably won’t see many BSF adults and if you do they will usually ignore you. On the rare occasions when a BSF adult lands on me it’s most often when I’ve been handling larvae and I have their scent on my hands. They land then because the subtle scent of BSF larvae is a powerful attractant to BSF females and if one lands on me I always pause to admire this beautiful beneficial insect. To be honest, I usually refer to any BSF adults I see around the BioPod as “the girls”, because males are not attracted to the unit. All of the BSF near the BioPod will be females looking for a good site to lay eggs.
BSF larvae are pests in honey bee hives = myth
I believe the BSF page at Wikipedia was the main source of this myth. Earlier versions of Wikipedia’s page about BSF stated that “The larvae can be destructive pests in honeybee hives”. There was no reference cited (that I could see) for that statement. I’ve searched the web for evidence that this is a true statement but I have found none. Perhaps the error happened because of reports that BSF larvae have been found in abandoned beehives. That is very likely since no self respecting BSF larvae would let perfectly good beehive waste go to…. waste! This is a very different scenario than the larvae being pests.
Today I spoke with Ellen Hudson, a previous head of the Apalachee Beekeepers Association, and she was unaware of any issues caused by BSF. If there really was an issue with beehives it would surely be a concern in this region where tupelo honey is a big business and BSF are plentiful.
To be continued… solider