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  • Bearded Dragon Hatchlings Grow Faster When Fed BSFL As Staple Diet

    Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) has long been admired among the reptile community for their superior nutrition benefits, however, there was no study demonstrated how could the dietary intake of BSFL benefit the reptile. Our study first shown that bearded dragon hatchlings grew faster on a BSFL staple diet than those on supplemented dubia staple diet; at the end of the 8th week, the BSFL group dragons weighted 35.29% more than the others. In addition, the molting time for the dragons on BSFL diet averaging 2 days earlier than the dragons on supplemented dubia diet.

    The study demonstrated that our BSFL could provide sufficient protein and calcium for faster growth of bearded dragons, without any additional supplement.

    Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) have recently been accepted as the best staple feeder insect for many reptiles, because of their naturally high calcium content. However, studies indicate that the nutritional value of BSFL is greatly influenced by rearing practices and diet, and there are no data to demonstrate how or why BSFL are the best feeder insects. Currently, dubia roaches have been catching a lot of attention for the higher nutritional values than crickets, superworms and mealworms, and are the most popular feeder insects used among reptile breeders in the US. We designed a feeding trail to compare our BSFL to dubia roaches, in order to provide this information to reptile breeders and hobbyists.

    We were grateful to have the Dragon Den (Josh/Glenn) to perform this experiment. This controlled study included 6 bearded dragon (hypo trans/double het hypo trans, reds) hatchlings from the same clutch of eggs. Three of them were provided dubia roaches with calcium and vitamin D3 supplement (AKA dusted dubia roaches), and the other three were provided unsupplemented Symton feeding grade BSFL. The insect mass was provided equal amount, however, there could be bias due to palatability. The calcium content indeed is not equal, nor for the Ca:P ratio, because this is a major point we tried to hit--to compare the most common practice with feeding BSFL. In one study done by Saint Louis Zoo, they found that the Ca content in supplemented cricket is much higher than in the BSFL, causing an imbalance of Ca:P (5.3:1), versus in the BSFL is 2.5:1. The off-chart Ca content could block the P absorption, and this is why the dragons in our study can absorb better nutrient from the BSFL, resulting in greater weight gain per insect mass, and molt two days faster. Along with the insects, the dragons were provided adequate vegetables to make the diet balanced, such as kale, collards, mustard, butternut squash, and zucchini. Also, floor heat lights and ZOOMED 10.0 UVB lamps were installed in the enclosures. Temperature was kept between 80-85F. A weight measurement of each dragon was taken every week, until all dragons in both treatments successfully molted twice. The study lasted 8 weeks, and all dragons showed healthy signs of development throughout the study.

    The results show that dragons fed on unsupplemented Symton feeding grade black soldier gain weight faster than those fed on dusted dubia roaches. The individual variation is small as in the end of the 8th week, the standard deviations of weights were only 0.58g in the dubia group and 1.53g in the BSFL group, when the difference of mean was 4.00g. Statistically (ONE-Way ANOVA, p=0.0132) their weights were different between groups, and the effect should be accounted to the feeder insects, not genetic variations of the dragons. Although we only used 3 replicates in this study, which is the minimal number for experiment replicate in scientific manner, because this study had only one variable, it generates enough statistic power to make an inference. At the end of the 8th week, dragons fed our BSFL weighed 35.29% more than those fed on ​dusted dubia roaches. For this particular study, because there were extremely small variations between individuals, we are 95% confident about the result, statistically.

    The study demonstrated that our BSFL could provide sufficient protein and calcium for faster growth of bearded dragons, without any additional supplement. However, it should be noted that these data only apply to our feeding grade black soldier fly larvae, that were reared on a proprietary diet formula and rearing conditions, and result does not apply to compost grade product. 

  • Intensive Black Soldier Fly Farming

    If you are new to the black soldier fly world and you are interested in the mass production of this insect, this article can provide you a basic understanding for you to explore further in this field.
    • How to identify male and female of adult BSF

      Distinguishing male and female in your colony is an important part to better estimate your yield, and to determine what steps you need to take to maximize your production. For instance, in a well caged colony even when all the pupae were from the same day of harvest, the hatching time will still different in days, especially during winter times they will have a wider hatching window thanks for the low temperature. When most of the flies have done mating and ovipositioning, they will start dying, and your colony starts to shrink. Just by looking at the rest of the flies, estimating the male and female ratio, you will know what to do. If it's male dominate situation you should remove the colony and start a new one right away, otherwise you will end up with a empty larvae bin for about two weeks, because no eggs were being produced during that time. If it's a female dominate situation, you might want to wait for another few days to see more eggs.

      The sex of the black soldier fly can only be determined at their adult stage, which mean the earliest point to distinguish male and female is the time they hatch. The traits of each sex are well distinguished, very easy to tell.

       The sex of the black soldier fly

      The female black soldier fly's tail end up with a scissor shaped structure. It's their sexual organ for mating and for ovipositioning. When the female pull their tail out it means they are ready to mating, and the males will see this as a signal to initiate the mating, if it's able to see, and this is probably why light source is so important for successful mating.

      The female black soldier fly's tail

      As you see here, the male black soldier fly's tail ends up with a plate-like structure. If you look close it looks like an open flower.

      When mating, the female and male line up on opposite side

      When mating, the female and male line up on opposite side, with tails connected. The way they are connected is that the male's flower-liked tail grabs and sucks female's tail in. If you look close to the male's belly, which is generally transparent, you will see liquid flowing from the chest part toward the tails. Not sure what that is, but possibly is the sperm.

    • A story of us

      original posted on Penn State Entrepreneurship & Innovation page at
      http://agsci.psu.edu/entrepreneur/news/2013/innovative-senior-figures-out-black-soldier-flies-for-future-business

      Innovative senior
      raises black soldier flies for future business

      Senior Fengchun Yang taught himself how to sustain a population of black soldier flies. But his work may lead to even bigger market and solution: use of the larvae as a protein source in poultry feed.

      Tucked in a corner of one of Penn State’s research greenhouses on Curtin Road, dark-bodied creatures slightly longer and skinnier than almonds fly around a tabletop cage framed in PVC pipe and covered in mosquito netting.
       
      These black soldier flies are powerhouse insects that can turn manure into compost within a week, don’t carry the diseases common to houseflies and are rich in protein and fat.
       
      Fengchun Yang, a senior agricultural sciences major, has done everything he can think of to keep his black soldier flies happy, healthy and mating. He’s added a potted plant to the cage, frequently mists the cage with water and has positioned it so they get direct sunlight for part of the day. 

      Fengchun, who goes by Spring, the English translation of his name, in the last few months has taught himself how to raise crop after crop of black soldier flies, and is about to test their use as a source of protein in poultry feed.
       
      That was no small feat, says Paul Patterson, professor of poultry science who works on poultry diets and nutrient management and has been advising Fengchun.
       
      “He kept trying new things and making it work,” says Patterson. 
       
      There is already a market for Fengchun’s business concept to continuously raise black soldier flies for their larvae, selling it as a beneficial insect, the compost as a soil amendment and the equipment to people who would like to raise their own continuous crop of black soldier flies.
       
      But his work has potential to lead to an even bigger market, solving industry and sustainability problems along the way. One potential market comprises manufacturers of poultry feed. Fengchun is about to start feeding the larvae to chickens, to see black soldier fly larvae performs as a feed ingredient.
       
      Since chickens are naturally designed to eat bugs, Fengchun believes they may grow bigger and tastier on a diet that includes black soldier fly larvae, with a comparable amount of protein and much more fat than houseflies.
       
      If black soldier fly larvae proves to be a good source of protein for poultry diets, that would offer the industry an alternative to increasingly expensive proteins like soybean meal and fishmeal — plus a market for Fengchun’s larvae, says Patterson.
       
      The black soldier fly larvae also represent a way to deliver protein to chicken diets in third-world countries, says Patterson. 
       
      Patterson also sees potential for using the black soldier flies in poultry production facilities to transform fresh manure into finished compost. That would be a strategy to help the industry manage poultry waste — another market — and produce finished compost that could be sold bagged at box stores or in bulk — yet another market.
       
      “Hen manure has in past years been a terrible problem to us in high-rise chicken houses where manure drops into a pit,” says Patterson, “because it propagates houseflies. There’s an odor issue. It’s a nutrient-rich product that’s tough to manage.”
       
      There are strategies that have helped the problem, says Patterson, like conveyor belt systems that better distribute the waste.
       
      But the black soldier fly larvae could work well as an additional strategy, says Patterson, who envisions the BSF eggs could be used on the conveyor belts in a poultry facility to process manure into a crumbly soil amendment in about a week.
       
      Fengchun grew up in Guangzhou City raising all kinds of plants and animals in his family’s home and visiting his grandmother, a farmer, in the country. By the time he was a high school student, he knew he wanted to study agricultural science and came to Penn State. 
       
      Last year, he served as president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, a vibrant organization with 2,500 members and more than 70 annual events that has won “Outstanding Student Organization of the Year” four times during the past 10 years.
       
      Now, Fengchun is a senior taking six courses toward completing three minors: Environmental Soil Science, Agricultural Business Management and Agronomy. 
       
      Working with a partner, he developed a business project based on raising black soldier fly larvae, analyzed the economic benefits of the business and won second place at the 2012 Ag Springboard Competition.
       
      His project began as he thought about how to avoid wasting and instead use the nutrients in items like kitchen scraps that are typically landfilled. Using manure and kitchen scraps in China, he had raised his own housefly larvae for fishing, and learned about the industry that rears housefly larvae for use in chicken feed.
       
      His research began on houseflies, but then he started looking at alternative species and discovered literature on the benefits of black soldier flies.
       
      Fengchun’s first objective was to sustain his own population of black soldier flies using mail-order larvae. Over the summer, it was a process of trial and error and he had to start over. He learned, for example, that the flies won’t mate unless they are at the same lifestage at the same time, and have enough direct sunlight each day. 
       
      Once they mate, the flies die, leaving behind 500-900 fertilized eggs in tiny cavities of cardboard Fengchun leaves in their cage. He gathers these and transports them to a space at the poultry research facility, where he maintains small and large compost bins. The cardboard egg carriers go into plastic shoeboxes filled with grain meal.
       
      The flies hatch there and Fengchun moves them to ever-bigger compost bins that he fabricated. When the larvae have had their fill on compost, they seek a dry surface, climb out of the bins and into traps.
       
      Fourteen days later they hatch into adult black soldier flies and Fengchun shuttles them over to the cage in the greenhouse. From there, the process starts all over again. 
       
      The whole black soldier fly life cycle is about 40 days. Even better from a sustainability standpoint, says Fengchun, is that he can demonstrate that the black soldier fly larvae can be raised on a waste product like manure without risk of transmitting diseases. The end result may well solve multiple problems and be a product for multiple markets. 
       
      Testing of the larvae's use in chicken feed is Fengchun's next step on the path to commercialize his research and turn his ideas into valuable, marketable solutions.