Mellow Winter: the larvae of the black soldier fly

The following article was published in the insect enthusiast magazine Mellow Winter in March of 2036.

The larval stage of the black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) is a grub the size of your pinky finger. At this size you can see their segments clearly as they wriggle through a potato or in the peel of an old orange, even looking through the netted visor of a standard protective outdoor suit. Hermetia larvae are one of many insect species that has benefited from mellower winters across the globe, and the good news is that they are a useful one.

Unlike cockroach swarms that cover the ground and run up the legs and into the mouths and ears of victims without proper protection or the masses of houseflies that will explode out of any food left unrefrigerated more than half a day, they do not regurgitate onto food in order to digest it and are therefore not vectors of disease. Unlike the thick fogs of mosquitoes that you may see now and then forecast on your local weather report or ants that will cover unprepared humans and animals in a shifting black blanket and leave behind a skeleton, black soldier fly swarms do not bite. They have no interest in healthy flesh. Their only interest is to lay eggs in rotting food that grow into grubs useful for accelerating composting and as food for all sorts of other animals, from canaries to hermit crabs, even to dogs.

Hermetia larvae are efficient digesters and can transform kitchen scraps into useful dirt in a matter of days. They used to be sold to enthusiasts for composting before they became a fixture of any compost heap almost as soon as the compost is started. If your compost appears to writhe and make a quiet squelching noise, your Hermetia larvae are happy at work.

Hermetia larvae are a nutritious snack, and contain up to 42% healthy proteins for your feathered, wet, or furry friend. Depending on the animal you may want to serve them live, dried, or crushed into powder and added to food.

Recent victims of the termite outbreak that left most of Alamance county homeless have capitalized on the fact that Hermetia larvae are even edible to humans. The instinct not to eat them raw is a good one, and delicatessens have recommended cooking them first, for flavor as well as safety. Soldier fly larvae on your stovetop smell like potatoes. When I sliced into one on a paper plate among the stumps of Cedarock Park, it tasted nutty and meaty, with a texture of soft meat.

If you find Hermetia larvae on a person or animal in your house, your friend is already dead. It is advised that you burn the body immediately or at least take it outside before the larvae reach a critical mass, as a pile of squirming, writhing grubs can quickly spread to difficult-to-reach corners of the house. This phenomenon is another example of new, bolder behaviors from insects no longer cowed by cold winters. The good news is that, as of writing, this scenario affects fewer than three in one million households each year.

There are dozens of ways to make the most of our good friends, the black soldier fly larvae. So get out there, composting enthusiasts, pet owners, and chefs, and take advantage of the abundance of Mother Nature! Make sure to wear your protective outdoor suit.

[1] Cranshaw, Whitney; Shetlar, David (2017). Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs (2nd ed.). Princeton University Press. p. 510.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

1 comment

  1. Most disgusting blog ever. I stopped vermicomposting when the compost got infested with soldier fly larva – yuck. And I don’t think they are quite as large as your pinky. Love, Mom

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