Keeping - Breeding Phoenix Worms
How To Keep And Breed Phoenix Worms (Hermetia illucens)
Phoenix Worms, also called Soldier Grubs, are the larvae of the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens).
The black soldier fly (BSF) closely resembles the organ pipe mud dauber wasp, but lacks a stinger and is harmless.
BSF are harmless for other reasons as well. Unlike most other flies, they do not have functional mouth parts which means they don't eat or regurgitate on human food. For these reasons, BSF are not associated with the transmission of disease, like some other flies are.
While black soldier flies are found across the United States, most people won't ever realize they have seen them. This is somewhat due to false identification (their likeness to wasps often cause people to simply steer clear of them) or the fact that they are not a nuisance fly. Adult soldier flies have one goal. That is to mate and lay eggs.
Once a female has become laden with eggs, she will begin visiting waste piles to deposit them. She will do so along side the waste pile, and not on it, so that the other insects feeding don't ingest her future offspring.
Note: You will only find female black soldier flies visiting waste piles. Males have no reason to visit the waste piles since they do not eat and do not lay eggs.
The life cycle of the black soldier fly is comparable to most common insect life cycles. They start as an egg and then enter their larval stage (phoenix worms). Once they find a safe location, they then turn into a pupa and emerge as an adult.
Housing Black Soldier Flies
There are several methods for creating phoenix worm enclosures. I have gone ahead and purchased the materials to create a black fly enclosure that is used by agriculturists to process their manure into fertilizer that is better processed. You can view the tutorial on our Black Soldier Fly (Phoenix Worms) Enclosure page.
The enclosure I have built can be used to breed the soldier fly as well as rear the offspring. in reality it would be more beneficial to have a rearing tank established that houses the phoenix worms for harvesting and use; with the enclosure I built being used solely for breeding purposes.
Housing Phoenix Worms
Our Phoenix Worm Enclosure tutorial was built solely for the tutorial so that others had a blueprint to follow at home. The set-up described is used by many agriculturists to help process their waste food products and to cultivate the worms for feeding their chicken and ducks. The byproduct of the larvae is also used as a highly processed fertilizer on site. The BSF larvae do most of the work for you. Once the BSF larvae are ready to pupate, they will climb up along the pvc channels and deposit themselves inside the collection bin. These larvae are ready to be transferred into the Black Soldier Fly (Phoenix Worms) Enclosure where they will burrow in the soil and emerge as adults, ready to breed before they die off. These phoenix worms can also be fed directly to your animals and not allowed to pupate if you already have enough adults breeding. In order to keep a constant supply of these worms on hand, you will want to have several system running at once and you may want to place some in containers where they can be refrigerated, which will help prolong their life cycle until you can use up the excess phoenix worms. If you find yourself with a decent amount of worms being produced, which isn't difficult when a single female can lay 500+ eggs. You could even consider selling some of them online or at your local reptile shows.
Your phoenix worms will be most active between 90-95°F. For this reason supplemental heat may be required, especially when breeding off-season or indoors outside of their native distribution. The worms are best heated from beneath the system using a reptile UTH. The tub should be slightly elevated above the UTH so that air can circulate. As with your reptiles, you will want to use a digital thermometer to get readings and a rheostat to control the temperature. Since the heat will be absorbed by the compost, you will want to place the probe on the bottom of the housing unit, beneath the food. The larvae themselves are going to be producing their own heat which is why monitoring the temperatures is important. In most instances you will be running the heat mat on a low setting once the colony starts to thrive.
Pupation is best achieved when temperatures are running between 77-86°F. For mating purposes, optimal temperature is around 82°F (Zhang, 2010).
Allowing your colony to fall below 40° or to exceed 110° could have dire consequences and kill off most of the larvae.
The black soldier fly needs light in order to reproduce. The best form of light is provided by the sun. Whenever possible, breeding the adults outside in the summer months is ideal. Breeding inside requires you to create a photoperiod as you would with your reptiles using artificial lighting. These flies like bright lights so high output flourescent lights and halogen flood lamps work well. Halogen flood lamps also output heat, which can help create the heat gradient that the flies need to breed. Some success has also been had by keeping the enclosure near a window, where the sun can illuminate the enclosure and also supply supplemental heat.
Phoenix worms have a voracious appetite and will readily consume manure, decaying vegetation, chicken feed and most importantly, your food waste products. The larvae is used by agriculturists to process their wasted food products from their crops. As the larvae eat the wasted products, they excrete a fertilizer of processed nutrients. In your home these insects can be fed any combination of your cast off food products. Softer foods are quickly ingested while higher fiber foods reduces feeding efficiency since the larvae cannot digest the cellulosic residues. Many of the food items you supply will be eaten before they have time to begin rotting. Fruits and their peels, coffee grinds (which are apparently well received), as well as the vast majority of vegetables will be taken without issue. Any large stalks or stems should be removed. Leftover dinner items will also be readily consumed. These little guys are natures garbage disposals. You want to avoid high protein foods such as meat and fish. Foods that are high in protein and fiber are not as digestible as other items and will inhibit composting.
One individual has been experimenting and has found that processing the food before it is offered has made the food more digestible and is eaten faster, resulting in a faster growth rate. This method also allows you to control the amount of water that is added to the tub. A simple blender can process the food. Then you can pour out excess moisture that has been separated through the blending process and add the remaining food items to the tub. This will still offer the larva a moisture supply but will help deter an excess amount of moisture from residing inside the tubs.
Baby food is an ideal gut loading food source for the larvae. It is easily and quickly digested and is loaded with nutrients. Baby food that is offered over unsalted crackers or pieces of dense breads is ideal for gut loading the phoenix worms prior to them being fed to your reptiles. Unsalted crackers and dense breads like wheat and potato bread will act like a sponge and allow the phoenix worms to burrow while loading themselves with the nutrients. The night before you will feed your reptiles, collect the phoenix worms you will be feeding the following day and offer them an appropriate portion that they should be able to ingest overnight. If there is anything leftover the next day, drop it into your culture and let the other worms feast on the waste.
Drainage is important, especially if you are keeping your set-up outside. Excess water will force the worms to the surface and they won't feed. Holes drilled into the sides of the housing can help create air circulation while also releasing any trapped moisture. PVC pipe with slots or holes drilled into it will also help. Make sure the holes aren't large enough for the larvae to fit through or you may lose some. In an enclosure indoors you won't want to drill holes into the bottom of the tote as the water that runs through will end up on your floor. You could use a catch basin however and allow the water to be caught in a secondary tub, which the primary tub would rest inside of or on top of. Most totes are stackable, so placing the primary tub on top of a tote the same size would be ideal. If this isn't feasible, a tub large enough to hold the second tub would work fine.