If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can watch 10,000 maggots demolish the above pizza in 2 hours. Now, scientists have a better sense of how these fly larvae gobble food so quickly, a possible boon for sustainable food production.
Some companies are collecting a bit of the 1.3 billion tons of food waste humans produce annually and feeding it to hordes of maggots. Once they’re plump on rotten leftovers, the larvae can be turned into high-protein food for animals such as chickens and fish that humans are more interested in eating.
To study how these maggots stuff themselves on large quantities of food, researchers recorded black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) larvae chowing down on orange slices in a 35-liter aquarium. The team searched for patterns in the squirming mass by tracking the flow of individual maggots with software used to model the movement of fluids. Despite the appearance of chaos, the larvae moved like water being pumped through a fountain, the researchers report today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Hungry maggots pushed toward the food from the bottom, and satiated larvae were pumped up and over the top of the pile to the back of the line.
This fountain of larvae allows hungry grubs to replace the ones surrounding the food that have stopped feeding, which keeps the eating machine humming. The researchers say better understanding the process could help grub farming companies scale up and turn even more food waste back into food.