Friday, September 24, 2010

My favorite maggots

The adult soldier fly.  Photo credit: Rock Hill high School

Howdy neighbors!  How is your soil today!?

I need to tell you about my new favorite pet, the soldier fly larvae.  I'm being totally serious.  I worry about their health!  When I go to my compost tumbler to drop off a new gift, and see hundreds of them chewing on my food scraps, I get so relieved. Yay, they are still there!  Phew! Now that I have them, I don't know what I'll do without them.  Well, I do- I'll actually have to exert myself and turn my compost instead of just gawking at it lovingly.  Don't leave me, maggots!  I love how your efficiency enables my laziness!

 See them in their gross glory here (click play):

Look at the smiles on those happy Hermetia illucens.  That was once an avocado, by the way.
The best part about my maggots is that I pretty much do nothing to keep them around.  They are lower maintenance than chickens!!  My compost tumbler system is set up well to house them, because I can keep fresh kitchen scraps on the top of my pile, inside the tumbler, and attract the soldier flies without attracting rodents. 

Factoids about my new Friends
  • Heterotrophes*, and detritivores*, these baby solider flies eat rotting things (like my kitchen scraps) like it is their mission in life.  They'll take big uncut (read: lazy compost style) chunks of whatever and turn it into homogenous poo so it can further decompose into awesome humus Ergo, they help me make compost faster.  A lot faster.  For example, before these guys, we called my tumbler "the preserver" since we wouldn't get but one binful of humus a year. Now I'm depositing pretty-smelling bug poo on my soil that was food just a few weeks prior.
  • They are voracious and will likely  eat scraps before they have a chance to smell badly (even big compost no-nos like dairy, shhhh).
  • Their poo is a nice smelling soil amendment. Mmmmm bug poo smells like actinomycetes.
  • The adult soldier flies do not eat.  This means that unlike the maligned cockroach and house fly (yuk!), they don't come into your house looking for food! If they are in your house, they are lost; they don't want to be in there!  Unless you have rotting food in your house, but that is another discussion (you should clean your house *cough*).
  • The flies inoculate the compost with beneficial bacteria.
  • They are native.
  • They don't bite or carry disease (source)!
  • They outcompete houseflies for habitat, reducing your housefly population.  
Gratuitous macro lense house fly pic:  I am not a fan of this diptera (Diptera is the order that characterizes both flies).
Soldier flies have so many interesting positive attributes, that Dr. Watson and others are looking into utilizing them for large scale animal waste  management.  

Yay!!!  Tell me about the bugs in your soil that YOU are grateful for!

Autotroph: "The acquisition of metabolic energy from the fixation of inorganic carbon, for example, by photo- or chemosynthesis (source)."
Heterotroph: "An organism that depends on complex organic substances for nutrition (source)."
Detritivore: "An organism that feeds on dead organic debris (source)."


  1. Your articles are fun to read, I've never heard maggots being called "loveliest larvae" before!!

  2. thing one: you are the funniest scientist I've ever had the pleasure of reading! holy crap.

    thing two: I know a lot of funny scientists.

    thing three: thank you for stopping by my blog so I could find yours.

    thing four: the definition of "property" is sort of skewed here in Philadelphia. your steps might not actually be on your property. Our houses are right up on the sidewalk, so unless someone is through your front door (depending on how your steps are set and if you have a front porch or not) they aren't necessarily on "your property".


  3. Lora-
    Thanks! That always feels good to hear, especially from someone whose writing and perspective I admire so much. Excuse me while I fangirl and forward your comment to my all my friends and fam...

    Ahem! On your number four: that is a very interesting technicality that I forgot to think about. Thanks. I'm not sure what our standards are here, but I imagine they are quite liberal. Back when I did field work for permitting wetlands, it was a matter of life or death, not just legality, to get written permission before entering another field on a route hundreds of miles long with many more owners. Tedious, but I like being alive more. And bright orange during hunting season, of course.