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Friday, May 31, 2002

ANIMAL TRACKER

Black soldier fly


* Japanese name: Amerika mizuabu
* Scientific name: Hermetia illucens
* Description: Black soldier flies look a bit like wasps, but they have no sting and are not interested in humans -- at least while we are alive. They are robust black flies about 15 mm long, with wings that lay over the body when at rest. They have "elbowed" antennae -- antennae with a kink in them. Their feet have three pads.
* Where to find them: In gardens, woods and fields. Soldier flies are quite lazy and can be seen sitting in the sun on rocks or on plants. They are also often found indoors, in bathrooms and kitchens, and are common in outside toilets. Though black soldier flies are found all over Japan, they are not native to these islands: They originate in the United States, hence their Japanese name.
* Food: The larvae, sometimes called "compost grubs," are natural recycling machines. They have chewing mouthparts and feed on algae and decomposing organic matter -- including fruit and dead animals. Some biomanagement companies want to use black soldier fly larvae to process household and agricultural waste, producing high-protein pupae that can be fed to poultry and fish. Yum.
* Special features: Many flies lay eggs on animal corpses, and some are forensically important because they lay eggs on dead humans. This can give police investigators important clues about the location of death (and thus whether the body was moved after death), the season of death and the time since death, because different species of flies are active in different areas and at different times of the year. Most flies, like common house flies, like to lay eggs on fresh meat, but black soldier flies are unusual because they prefer to lay eggs on bodies that have been dead for 20-30 days, by which time the body is in a dry (post-decay) stage of decomposition. Although the adults have relatively short lives, the larvae take around 55 days to grow and develop into adults. This means that forensic teams presented with a badly decomposed body are able to estimate the time of death from the stage of development of the black soldier fly larvae that infest it.



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