Unveiled! The Insect Behind Heilu

3 minute read

Beef is cows, pork is pigs, mutton is sheep, escargot is snails and Heilu is...

Heilu is black soldier fly larvae.

And despite our earlier post on the 10 craziest facts about Heilu, you have been bugging us with additional questions, so here's an FAQ:

Q: Why did you change the name from black soldier fly larvae (or BSFL) to Heilu?

A: Do you really have to ask? 

"Black soldier fly" sounds more like a covert army mission than a nutritious way to give Mother Nature a break. And the animal's Latin name, Hermetia illucens, is a mouthful. So to entice you take a literal mouthful of the stuff, we’ve shortened HErmetia ILlUcens to Heilu.

Q: What does it look like?

BSFL look like this:

Oops! Sorry, wrong picture. No, it’s about the length of an almond and looks like this:

 And the adult is roughly the same length and looks like this:

adult black soldier fly


Q: Wait, is it a wasp? The adult looks like a wasp.

A: No, it is a fly. It doesn’t sting or even have a mouth to bite with. The adult black soldier fly evolved to look like a wasp to protect itself from predators because though it looks sleek and fierce, it's a little wimp that only lives a few days to mate and lay eggs. 

 Q: What insect is the black soldier fly larva most comparable to?

A: The earthworm.

Ok, earthworms are not technically insects, but close enough. Both are considered beneficial animals, not pests. They both consume organic waste and their castings, or poo, can be used as a fertilizer. 

The difference is that earthworms prefer material like fallen leaves, while BSFL prefer more nutrient-dense organic matter (like food waste).

In short, BSFL are basically earthworms with a more well-rounded diet. 

Q: Aside from in the stuff you’re trying to convince us to eat, where can BSFL be found?

A: BSFL are originally thought to be from the southeastern United States but, like retirees from the same area, they have taken advantage of international transport in the past century to spread to all temperate and tropical places of the world. This is because they thrive in environments hovering around 25-28 C (77-83 F) and high humidity.

In Canada, they have made it to southern Ontario, but not BC, having stopped just short in Washington State. Apparently border patrol is stricter out west (... insert joke about Jorge sneaking into Canada here). 

Q: If a runaway bulldozer accidentally plowed into a BSFL farm on a holiday weekend and millions of flies escaped, would we have an uncontrollable epidemic?

A: Sorry, but no. The flies wouldn’t get far since they’re not the swiftest fliers and don't live long. They’d breed, lay eggs, and die. And the larvae would eventually starve without someone to supply them more food.

More importantly, let's hope the culprit behind the bulldozer mishap would be caught and brought to justice.

Q: Is there anywhere in the world where people have traditionally eaten BSFL?

A: Yes! In Malaysia the Kadazandusuns people eat them raw along with their locally-brewed beer. They find the BSFL munching the fermented tapioca they brew their booze with and, ever so pragmatically, dispose of them by eating them. 

Reports do not specify how many beers these Kadazandusuns drink before deciding it's a good idea to pop live BSFL in their mouths like peanuts. 

We have also come across reports of groups in Vietnam, China, and Mexico who haven't waited for Heilu to get regulatory approval before indulging in the odd BSFL or two.

Drinking Tapai in Malaysia. Goes great with BSFL!

Drinking Tapai in Malaysia. Goes great with BSFL!

Other questions?

Please email us at info@heilu.ca. We'd gladly answer them and update this FAQ accordingly. 

Meanwhile, sign up for our newsletter! so you don't miss out on learning more fascinating info about Heilu and having the chance to be the first (non-Kadazandusun) to try BSFL.