Biomechanics of black soldier fly larvae

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Shishkov, Olga
Hu, David L.
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The black soldier fly is a non-pest insect that is raised by startup companies. The larvae of the black soldier fly are used as a sustainable animal feed. While much is known about the biology of these larvae, little is known about their behavior in large numbers such as their rates of eating or their ability to withstand piling on top of one another. In this thesis, we present experiments on the feeding, compression, and pile formation of swarms of black soldier fly larvae. The consumption of a food item is limited by the number of larvae that can surround the food and the breaks the larvae take while eating. We discover that larvae form fountains around food, replacing each other so that the food is distributed among the larvae that do not have access to food. During eating, the larvae heat themselves up, a problem we solve using an aerating bed. When vertical forces are applied to swarms of larvae, they actively rearrange to re-distribute the stress. The time scales of relaxation of dead larvae are in the form of stretched exponentials, models which have been used to describe the relaxation of balls of crumpled paper and other hierarchical materials. In confinement, larvae spontaneously form and disassemble piles of hundreds of individuals. We control the timing of the disassembly of these piles using vertically intruding objects. This research offers both practical suggestions for raising fly larvae as a sustainable feed for chickens and fish and new insight into the collective dynamics of animals while feeding and in confinement.
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