Confused between black soldier fly larvae vs mealworms for composting and as feeders on your farm? This article will set the record straight.
Those raising chickens often have to go through the dilemma of choosing the right feeder insects for them.
Mealworms have typically been the most popular choice, but black soldier fly larvae have been gaining popularity in recent times.
If you’re not sure what would be the best feeder insect for chickens or whether to switch to black soldier fly larvae (BSFL), you’ve come to the right page.
Let’s compare both options in every aspect and find out which one would be best for your flock.
What Are Mealworms?
Mealworms are the larvae of a species of darkling beetle known as Tenebrio Molitor.
Previously considered a crop pest, they are now one of the most popular feeder insects due to their high protein content.
Apart from being a food source for birds and reptiles, mealworms also find use as fish bait.
However, mealworms meant for the latter purpose are given a special hormone that makes them more attractive to fish by helping them reach unusually large sizes.
Mostly native to the Mediterranean region, mealworms are now widely available in pet supply stores both as frozen dead insects and live ones.
What Are Black Soldier Fly Larvae?
Black soldier flies are an interesting and beneficial species, to say the least. Unlike common houseflies, they don’t transmit any diseases.
Rather, they possess anti-microbial properties that help sanitize food by breaking down bacteria.
Native to the western hemisphere and Australia, black soldier fly larvae have earned the reputation of being the world’s tiniest powerhouse recyclers.
They can eat twice their body weight in a day and consume a wide variety of waste products.
As revealed in a report released by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), these grubs are as nutritious as most fish.
In fact, they can even be used as a safe substitute to fish meal as a protein source for fish.
Key Differences Between BSFL and Mealworms
While both black soldier fly larvae and mealworms are nutritious feeder insects, they differ in multiple ways.
Visually differentiating between a mealworm and a black soldier fly larvae is rather easy. The latter is black in color, with leathery skin.
The mealworms, on the other hand, are golden brown.
Mealworms look more worm-like, thanks to their cylindrical bodies. Contrastingly, black soldier fly larvae have a slightly flattened structure.
They grow up to about an inch in length, slightly shorter than mealworms.
Crude protein isn’t the only reason why chickens and reptiles need to be fed insects. Feeder insects are also a major source of calcium for your pets.
Black soldier fly larvae are the clear winner in this regard, with a calcium content of 2%, while mealworms offer a negligible amount of calcium.
Calcium helps your chickens develop strong bones and supports the circulatory, cardiac, and nervous systems.
Hens need a steady supply of calcium via their daily feed intake to form eggshells. Calcium deficiency can cause your hens to stop laying eggs altogether.
Do note that to utilize calcium, the body also requires a sufficient amount of phosphorus. Invertebrates need calcium and phosphorus in a ratio of about 1.3:1 in their diet.
The low calcium content in mealworms results in an imbalanced calcium/phosphorus ratio of 1:2, whereas black soldier fly larvae offer a much more balanced ratio of 1.5:1.
Black soldier fly larvae also have the upper hand when it comes to sustainability.
Not only are they a great source of nutrition for your poultry, but raising these grubs also benefits the planet.
To begin with, their insatiable appetite and the ability to consume almost any kind of organic matter make them an amazing solution to food waste management.
Black soldier fly larvae can quickly decompose large volumes of organic waste into smaller biomass.
Mealworms can do the same, but they aren’t as good at it as black soldier fly larvae. Unlike the latter, they are largely imported – which leads to a higher carbon footprint. Raising black soldier fly larvae also takes less space and water.
Source of Farming
While being imported from the eastern hemisphere, mealworms are regulated as wild bird feed rather than poultry feed.
Hence, they don’t usually meet the livestock feed standards applicable in the US and Canada, and might even be illegal to feed to poultry.
The black soldier fly belongs to the western hemisphere, and their grubs are usually farmed in US and Canada. These farms must adhere to relevant standards, which makes black soldier fly larvae more suited for poultry birds.
As for the overall nutritional profile, mealworms are a bigger source of protein.
These feeder insects are at least 50% protein by weight, whereas black soldier fly larvae offer 41% protein. The latter, however, offers higher fat, moisture, and fiber content than mealworms.
|Nutritional content||Black soldier fly larvae||Mealworms|
The fat content offered by black soldier fly larvae helps them absorb the nutrition from other feed ingredients more efficiently.
Their chitin content would help boost the immune system of your poultry too.
Which One Is Better As Feeders?
Though mealworms have traditionally been the go-to choice for poultry owners, black soldier fly larvae make better feeders in almost every way.
The latter is simply a healthier treat for chickens due to being farmed under stricter regulations.
Of course, its balanced calcium/phosphorus ratio is a huge plus as well. Hens feeding on black soldier fly larvae have stronger feathers, bones, and eggshells.
Mealworms vs. BSFL in Composting
Their ability to break down organic waste into smaller biomass also makes both of these feeder insects great for composting.
If you plan to raise your own feeder insects, your compost pile is a good place to do so.
This brings up a question: which one, between mealworms and BSFL, is a better choice for vermicomposting? Here are some points to consider.
- Black soldier fly larvae can reduce waste ridiculously fast, far more efficiently than mealworms.
- Mealworms can digest Styrofoam and turn it into compost safe for crops.
- While BSFL are faster composters, they barely excrete any of the organic matter they consume.
- You may use black soldier fly grubs to reduce food waste that you wouldn’t usually put in a compost bin, such as meat and milk.
If your goal is to reduce waste as quickly and efficiently as possible, get some BSFL for your compost pile.
They will reduce the total waste volume significantly in no time, but you won’t get much compost.
However, mealworms are a better choice if you need loads of compost for your garden. They might work slower, but they generate a lot more compost than BSFL.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are black soldier fly larvae better than mealworms for chickens?
Black soldier fly larvae are better feeders than mealworms for poultry owners due to being farmed under stricter regulations and having a balanced calcium/phosphorus ratio. They also contribute to stronger feathers, bones, and eggshells in hens.
Do black soldier fly larvae carry parasites?
Extracts from the intestines of black soldier fly larvae do not have an effect on coccidian oocysts or nematode eggs. However, parasites can still pass through or attach to the surface of the larvae, which could pose a risk of transmission if used as animal feed. Simply washing the larvae is not enough to remove parasites, additional hygiene measures are necessary.
What are the disadvantages of black soldier fly larvae?
Mealworms and black soldier fly larvae are both good for composting. Black soldier fly larvae are faster at reducing waste, but don’t produce much compost. Mealworms are slower but produce more compost. Black soldier fly larvae can digest meat and milk, while mealworms can digest Styrofoam. Choose black soldier fly larvae for quick waste reduction and mealworms for more compost.
Are black soldier fly larvae good feeders?
Black soldier fly larvae and mealworms differ in appearance, calcium content, sustainability, source of farming, and nutritional content.
Black soldier fly larvae have a higher calcium content, a more balanced calcium/phosphorus ratio, and are more sustainable.
They are also farmed under stricter regulations and are better suited for poultry feed.
Mealworms offer higher protein content but have a lower calcium content and an imbalanced calcium/phosphorus ratio. Overall, black soldier fly larvae make better feeders for poultry.
To sum it up, black soldier fly larvae are a better option for feeding your chickens, both in terms of nutrition and sustainability.
Mealworms raised for commercial purposes are better suited as fish bait and wild bird food than poultry feed.
As for composting, either one might be a good choice depending on whether you’re trying to simply reduce waste matter or generate more compost.
I hope you found this guide insightful and can now make an informed decision.
Over the years, this question has been asked several times by our readers. We have tried to collate all facets in the article, but here are the original questions and our respective answers at the time, so that you can get a more in-depth idea of the whole topic.
Letter 1 – Black Soldier Fly
A black soldier fly? Location: South Pasadena, CA July 29, 2010 12:34 am I would have thought this was a wasp, but it showed up around the same time the larva appeared in the composter. I saw you didn’t have a picture of a mature one. Barbara Hi Barbara, Thanks for sending us your photo of a Black Soldier Fly or Window Fly, Hermetia illucens. You can see BugGuide for more information. Interestingly, one was on our front porch screen door two mornings ago, but we have two very active compost piles.
Letter 2 – Black Soldier Fly Larvae in Australia
Subject: Bug query Location: Sydney Australia November 21, 2015 7:38 pm Hello I am curious about what this bug is called. It is on my compost bin in sydney, Australia. Could you please let me know? If I need to remove it or whether it is fine for it to be around the compost bin. Thank you in advance. Signature: Regards, Aaron Dear Aaron, These are the larvae of Black Soldier Flies, Hermetia illucens, and they are frequently found in compost piles where they are beneficial, helping to break down organic substances. According to BugGuide: “Wide ranging in Western Hemisphere, also in Australasia, Africa, Japan, Europe. Commercially distributed for composting” because “larvae compete with house flies in manure, compost piles, etc., and may thus be beneficial. Adults are harmless and not known to carry any human disease.”