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  • Black Soldier Fly Bugnatomy 101: An Interview with Our President

    Hello, and welcome to another segment of Symton Learn! This month we’re getting back to the basics to discuss our knight in shining armor, the foundation of the farm: Hermetia illucens. AKA, the black soldier fly. 

    To do this, I sat down with president and co-founder of Symton Inc, Lauren Taranow, for an anatomy lesson on this amazing specimen. A specialist in her field, Lauren spent years studying the black soldier fly and its delicious, nutritious larva. She is here to teach us a bit about why these little flies are just so damn cool.

    So Lauren, what made you want to learn about BSF in the first place?

    After getting my Master’s degree in forensic DNA, I wanted to pursue an area in the forensic field outside of the lab - I was looking for a specialty that combined my love of ecology with my interest in forensics. That pretty much only leads to forensic entomology, the ability to determine a Post Mortem Interval (time of someone’s death) by analyzing the life stage and makeup of the insect community that inhabits and consumes bodies after death. My studies in this field introduced me to black soldier fly larvae. However, once I learned of the multitude of applications and potential for black soldier fly to consume waste, and be a nutritious food source, I wanted to build a business around the species, with a focus on supplying pets with the most nutritious, freshest feeder insects on the market, as well as educating the community about the benefits and uses of black soldier fly larvae.

    What makes them stand out against other bugs in the pet food industry?

    Black soldier fly larvae are packed with calcium so that you do not have to dust them with additional calcium powder to meet your reptile’s nutritional demand. They are also high in protein and have less fat than other feeders, making BSFL a healthy staple feeder that can be fed to reptiles and other exotic pets daily. The popular feeder insects in the reptile market - crickets, Dubia roaches, mealworms, and superworms - are not only less nutritious than BSFL, but they also have more chitin in their exoskeleton, giving them a harder outer shell. A harder exoskeleton is harder to digest, making the internal nutrients of these feeder insects harder to access through digestion. Black soldier fly larvae have a softer exoskeleton with less chitin which is easily digested by animals, allowing them to get more of the nutrients out of the BSFL they consume.

    Break it down for me. Please define each part of the bug and anything special about it. (I.e. Does it have a second stomach that secretes poison or some other creepy insect super power?)

    It’s important to note that black soldier flies only eat during the larval stage - the adults have no mouthparts because the purpose of the adult stage is to reproduce and lay eggs. Therefore, the larvae are consuming everything they possibly can during this life stage to sustain their adult lives. The larvae have a head, abdomen, and a thoracic segment. The BSFL head contains their antennae and maxillary palp that function in sensory detection, as well as chewing mouthparts for consuming food. 

    black soldier fly adult and larva anatomy

    Singh, A., Marathe, D., & Kumari, K. (2022). Black Soldier Fly Hermetia illucens (L.): Ideal Environmental Conditions and Rearing Strategies. Indian Journal of Entomology, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.55446/IJE.2022.166

    They have a single digestive tract, called an alimentary canal, with three distinct areas serving different functions. The foregut at the anterior part of the larva is involved in food ingestion and disintegration, the midgut functions to digest food and absorb nutrients, and the hindgut is responsible for reabsorbing water and ions from the digested food. All three areas of the BSFL alimentary tract have a diverse community of microbes, and it has been demonstrated that these microbes can significantly reduce or inactivate pathogenic microorganisms, like E. coli and Salmonella from the food they consume.I would call that a “creepy insect super power.”

    What do they eat?

    Anything! The beauty and the uniqueness of black soldier fly larvae is in their ability to consume any food source, including animal and human manure/waste, and turn it into frass (insect poop), which is a nutrient-packed substance that can be used as a fertilizer or soil additives improve plant growth and strengthen natural plant defenses agains harmful microorganisms. The only food product that black soldier fly larvae have trouble with is highly cellulosic materials, like pineapple rinds and stems, and other rigid plant structures. 

    At Symton, we feed our black soldier fly larvae a mix of grains, including wheat, corn, and alfalfa. After testing a variety of diets, we have determined this custom blend of feed leads to the most nutritious larvae for reptile needs.

    What eats THEM?

    Black soldier fly larvae are loved by all kinds of birds and chickens, bearded dragons, tegus, skinks, geckos, chameleons, turtles, frogs, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, and other exotic animals. This list is not all inclusive by any means, but these are the animals I have personally witnessed eating the little guys. 

    Are there certain animals that like Black Soldier Flies more than others? 

    Every reptile is different. I have found that bearded dragons will never say no to black soldier fly larvae in a bowl. Same with leopard geckos. They are both much lazier eaters than other lizards, and aren’t usually up for a chase. 

    Chickens and birds love the live larvae, but chickens tend to prefer the dried larvae more, which is still packed with the same nutrients as the live product. In contrast, chameleons and frogs absolutely love adult black soldier flies - they make for a better hunt. But no matter what reptile you’re looking at, they are sure to love one of the life stages of black soldier flies.

    Are they safe for other animals and humans? 

    Absolutely! I believe black soldier flies will someday be in products for human consumption due to their high protein content and low environmental impact. The only thing holding us back from this goal is dealing with the “ick factor” that stops humans from wanting to consume insects, especially in North America. But someday…

    Thanks LT! I know so much more than I ever wanted to about this crazy bug! But hey, what are entomologists for :) 

    Be sure to check out Lauren repping Symton Inc. on the Season 6 Finale (episode #28) of ‘To Tell the Truth’ on ABC. If you haven’t seen it, here is a sneak peak of the episode, available to stream on Hulu.

    Thanks for reading, and happy Learning!

  • What a WASTE! Black Soldier Fly Larvae as a Waste Treatment Solution

    Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) are well known for their many nutritional benefits as staple feeder insects for exotic pets, but would you believe that their impact in the realm of sustainable waste management is their true calling card?
     
    As we covered in last month’s Earth Day Blog Post [read it here if you’re not caught up], at Symton we pride ourselves in doing everything we can to be a sustainable business with the greenest practices possible. We offer compost grade BSFL that many people purchase to start off their very own compost bins, or to revitalize existing ones. As a non-invasive species, BSFL can be sold and taken anywhere as long as the environment is hospitable to them. We truly stand behind these wonderful insects and all the great work they do to keep our Earth a happy place. 
     
    New research efforts using the Black Soldier Fly as a solution for waste management have yielded promising results. Several studies around the world have gained attention and intrigue from the scientific community, some of which are included in this article. More and more people are beginning to pay attention to the ways BSFL can be useful for environmental and economic issues such as waste management and other related practices in sustainability, outside of their nutritional benefits as a feeder insect. Researchers are taking a specific interest in BSFL due to their unique composting abilities, i.e. their ability to break down various forms of organic material into a new, greener byproduct known as "frass". Black Soldier Fly Larvae can quickly break down initial waste by 50% in two weeks, under ideal conditions, far outpacing traditional methods of composting. (Amrul et. al, 2022). This makes them an excellent and invigorating addition to established composting operations. They are also proven champions among fellow insect composters. Check out our video where we face off BSFL vs. mealworms in a 24 hour burger eating challenge!
     
     
     
    Below is a diagram that shows a simplified outline of the black soldier fly life cycle, specifically indicating where waste management can play an active role. This begins with the egg stage (BSF eggs) and culminates with fully grown adult flies (BSF House).
     
    Figure 1: Generalized layout of BSF and where their byproduct goes (Amrul et. al, 2022)
    Figure 1: Generalized layout of BSF and where their byproduct goes (Amrul et. al, 2022)
     
    Research has found BSFL to be proficient in breaking down organic waste from a variety of sources such as kitchen waste, animal waste, and human excremental waste. This is important because as waste builds up worldwide, threats also build up against human health, the ecosystem, and biodiversity. Some of these threats include things such as the contamination of water, air, and soil, and can also be a route for spreading pathogens. Food waste has also been reported to cause detrimental impacts on the environment via the methane gas emitted from landfills (Siddiqui et. al, 2022). Studies have also proven that BSFL “reduce the odorous compounds from poultry, swine, and dairy manures up to 87% or more” (Beskin et. al, 2018). Of course these numbers can vary depending on the type of material being broken down by the larvae, but overall their performance is impressive and has garnered international attention. 
     
    Black soldier fly consumption of food waste at 12, 24, and 48 hours
    Black soldier fly consumption of food waste at 12, 24, and 48 hours 
     
    Another bonus to using BSFL for waste management is in their self-harvesting strategy. Essentially, as larvae begin to enter the pupating stage, they remove themselves from their frass by-product in order to find a safe place to emerge as the adult fly. This makes the process of obtaining frass free of the insect a smoother process that reduces the need for highly technical operational skills. Overall, using BSFL in the composting process continues to be “beneficial to the circular economy and provides a sustainable operation for low- and middle-income countries” (Basri et. al, 2022). BSFL leaves a “low carbon footprint and are a non-disease vector species… they also reduce pathogen and other pest populations. Then from the perspective of businesses, [BSFL produces] valuable materials economically whilst requiring low water and land usage compared to other alternative protein sources” (Siddiqui et. al, 2022). Therefore, BSFL provides an accessible and lower-maintenance solution for potentially large-scale waste management initiatives. 
     
    In an increasingly urban environment, fungal and bacterial diseases aren’t the only problems we face as agriculturalists. Heavy metals intoxicate our soil, our waste, and our waters. However, BSFL boasts the super-power ability to accumulate heavy metals into their tissues, thereby removing it from the environment and preventing it from re-entering in their waste products. In one study, large quantities of mercury were added to the BSFL feedstock. Over the next two weeks, the BSFL were observed to produce frass with low mercury levels below the European Union’s threshold values (Basri et. al, 2022). Results from this study mark a significant milestone in BSFL research, proving that one insect species has the capability to remove, or significantly reduce, heavy metals present in our waste streams.
     
    Symton offers compost-grade larvae so you can easily set up your very own composting bin at home (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCZG7qL1a9Q) and begin your own personal waste management journey. You can dispose of food scraps using this bin, and prevent your waste from going straight to the landfill. According to Basri et. al, “solid waste generation is expected to rise due to rapid population growth. Worldwide humans are generating 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste per year and it’s projected to increase to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050, with food waste accounting for over half of all solid waste generated globally”.  Help us in our goal to reduce these numbers, and make BSFL accessible to everyone as a means to participate in solutions for waste management.

     

     

     

    Works Cited:

    Amrul, Nur Fardilla, et al. “A Review of Organic Waste Treatment Using Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia Illucens).” Sustainability, vol. 14, no. 8, 2022, p. 4565, https://doi.org/10.3390/su14084565.

    Basri, Noor Ezlin, et al. “Potential Applications of Frass Derived from Black Soldier Fly Larvae Treatment of Food Waste: A Review.” Foods, vol. 11, no. 17, 2022, p. 2664, https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11172664.

    Choi, Sarah, and Neelah Hassanzadeh. BSFL Frass: A Novel Biofertilizer for Improving Plant Health While Minimizing Environmental Impact, 2019, static1.squarespace.com/static/ 5a63b41dd74cff19f40ee749/t/ 5db71f8468b83939b93f8d3c/ 1572282245292/sarah+and+neelah.pdf. 

    Lovett, G., Christenson, L. M., Groffman, P. M., Jones, C. G., Hart, J. E., & Mitchell, M. J. (2002). Insect defoliation and nitrogen cycling in forests: Laboratory, plot, and watershed studies indicate that most of the nitrogen released from forest foliage as a result of defoliation by insects is redistributed within the ecosystem, whereas only a small fraction of nitrogen is lost by leaching. BioScience, 52(4), 335-341

    Siddiqui, Shahida Anusha, et al. “Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) and Their Affinity for Organic Waste Processing.” Waste Management, vol. 140, 1 Mar. 2022, pp. 1–13, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2021.12.044.

     

    Research by: Eva Rudow and Bri Turek

  • Earth Day 2023

    Greetings, Earthlings!

    Every year people worldwide celebrate Earth Day and use it as a call to action for all things sustainability, conservation, and clean living, but what is Earth Day exactly? And how do we at Symton play our part?

     

    Symton Gone Green

    At Symton, we strive to integrate the practices encouraged on Earth day into our every day. In August of 2022, Symton Inc was awarded the Green Business Award by Brazos County in collaboration with Keep Brazos Beautiful, a local organization here in Bryan, Texas with the goal of educating both youths and adults on litter control, recycling and beautification efforts (keepbrazosbeautiful.org). 

    Symton is also proud to boast a zero waste policy by making sure all of our byproduct is used. Our frass produced by our main product, black soldier fly larvae, is bagged and sold as a composting implement. 

    Any excess worms we have at the end of every week are donated to local reptile and animal rescues as a nutrient-rich food source. We also collect all cardboard boxes that we receive each day and drop them at our local donation center to be repurposed.

    Lastly, we sell compost-grade larvae to encourage individuals to start their own organic composting systems at their own homes. 

    Black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) are an incredible organism with a wide variety of uses that contribute positively to the environment. In a study conducted by Amrul et. al, “compared to conventional composting, BSFL are more effective in reducing 50% of organic waste in a shorter period. Because of this, researchers have focused on using BSF as a sustainable alternative for treating organic waste…Organic waste treatment with BSF is cost-effective and emits less pollution.” They are considered an excellent alternative to certain mineral-based fertilizers and pose an excellent and non-polluting solution to breaking down organic waste. The frass the larvae produce also has countless applications in modern composting and waste management and the larvae themselves are actively being researched to discover the true potential of their nutritional benefits on a human scale (we already know how amazing they are for your pets and ours). Interested to learn more? Stay in this space as Symton Learn continues to expand your knowledge of the world of BSFL, animal care, and environmental awareness. 

     

    A Brief History of Earth Day

    The very first Earth Day happened on April 22nd, 1970 and has been a solid tradition ever since. Considered by many to be the start of the modern day environmental movement as we know it, Earth Day was spurred on as a reaction to the many ways people all over the world were contributing to massive overconsumption of harmful products which in turn supported unchecked industrial pollution (Earthday.org). People like Rachel Carson and Gaylord Nelson created lasting legacies within the environmental movement, helping to shape climate-friendly U.S. policy and Earth Day as we know it. 

    One of the first major calls to action was the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962. The book presents Carson’s research on the effect of insecticides (specifically DDT) on bird populations but was immediately met with hostility from chemical companies who claimed her work was unscientific despite her various credentials. The importance of Carson’s work was to highlight the unintended consequences of these chemicals on nature and how consumers and manufacturers combined should be more aware of them (Smithsonian). 

    Fun fact: The publication of Silent Spring led to an increased public awareness of humanity’s impact on nature and is credited with the banning of DDT in 1972.

    The man said to be the ‘father of Earth Day’ is Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin senator who had been active in politics starting in 1948 and who sat as a state senate representative from 1963-1981. Environmental care, conservation, and awareness had always been passions of Nelson, but witnessing a devastating oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969, along with current anti-war protests from students, would be the catalyst to further action that he thought was missing in the world. Following this environmental tragedy, Nelson began reaching out to institutions and well known activists of the time to begin coordinating what would soon become the first Earth Day. He learned of “teach-ins” and used this as his angle to spread news of this event across the country (nelsonearthday.net). April 22nd was chosen as the ideal day as it fell after Spring Break and before final exams, which would hopefully maximize the level of student participation at these teach-in events. Other organizations also contributed to the effort to spread news of the event and host events of their own such as churches, businesses, and other smaller environmentalist organizations.

    This strategy would pay off as Earth Day 1970 would roll around with over 20 million Americans participating nationwide- about 10% of the population at the time (earthday.org). The fledgling holiday ended up being a massive success and became a major talking point on news stations both within and outside the United States. To further emphasize the impact this event had on environmentalism, it is important to highlight the various laws and acts that developed in its wake such as: the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (earthday.org). In total, 28 separate pieces of legislation would come out of Earth Day and would leave the 1970’s known as the “Environmental decade” (nelsonearthday.net). All of these would come to pass in the immediate years after the first Earth Day and are acts we know to still be alive and well today. 

    In 1990, Earth Day would reach the global scale with over 200 million participants over 141 countries. By 2010 Earth Day was then a well established global sensation engaging over 1 billion people each year and is the single most celebrated secular holiday in the world today (earthday.org). For his efforts, Gaylord Nelson received the Presidential Freedom Award from President Bill Clinton in 1995 (nelsonearthday.net).


    Thank you for reading, and have a happy, productive Earth Day!

     

    “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all living creatures.” - Gaylord Nelson

     

     

    Want to do more for Earth Day than just talk about it? This link provides ways you can take action both within your community or on a bigger scale: https://www.earthday.org/take-action-now/


    Bonus Links to further your knowledge:

    https://www.earthday.org/history/

    https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/earth-day/

    https://www.si.edu/object/silent-spring-rachel-carson-1962%3Anmah_1453548

     https://nelsonearthday.net/

    https://www.wilderness.org/articles/article/gaylord-nelson

    https://nelson.wisc.edu/about/the-nelson-legacy/

    https://www.keepbrazosbeautiful.org/

  • Washington Post Article About Symton Black Soldier Fly

    Washington Post just did an awesome article about Symton Black Soldier Fly and the global black soldier fly industry