Sex lives of flies could be key to tackling food waste

By Pamela Tyers, Dr Cate Paull

14 August 2019

3 minute read

Black Soldier Fly maggots – the key to solving food waste

Netflix and chill might cut it for some these days, but in the world of flies, romance is everything.

Our insect behaviour experts have gone under the sheets to find out what gets flies in the mood. Not just for kicks but in a bid to produce more eggs for food waste management.

They tested everything from lighting, temperature, moisture, surface texture and diet to see what got the Black Soldier Flies more interested in each other.

What they found could be the secret to cutting down food waste.

Hot under the (flies) collar

The research was conducted with our partners at Canberra waste management start-up, Goterra. They breed Black Soldier Fly maggots to eat through food waste, which then turns it into compost.

Goterra is all about driving Australia towards a circular economy for food production. And breeding insects is critical to their vision. In essence, more eggs equals more flies. More flies means more ways to eat through food waste, reduce landfill, reduce emissions from transporting food to landfill and more ways to enrich soils with nutrient-rich fertiliser.

Our research helped Goterra breed these flies for effective results.

Speaking of vision, we hear the experiments on the flies resulted in footage on par with outtakes of Love Island.

Entomologist Dr Cate Paull said they placed cameras in the cages and changed the conditions over time. Then they could see when activity increased and decreased.

The cameras provided a live feed to Cate’s mobile phone. This allowed them to watch the flies breed in real-time. As flies also have such short mating times, having real-time access allowed the entomologists to change the conditions or activities of the flies, maximising their insights for future populations.

Dr Cate Paull and Goterra CEO Olympia Yarger at Goterra

Flying towards a more sustainable future

The team at our Australian National Insect Collection facility is investigating what insects are viable for sustainable futures, supporting the industry for versatile alternatives to everything from protein sources to landfill.

This project with Goterra is one such example of what we’re doing.

Goterra CEO Olympia Yarger said Australia is at risk of falling behind other countries, who are ahead of us in progressing towards a circular economy (an economy which minimises waste by making the most of resources).

The further we fall behind, the higher chance we’ll miss out on creating local jobs and local industry.