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Houseflies and Maggots as Food for Reptiles, Amphibians and Invertebrates

HouseflyThe world’s 250,000+ fly species figure importantly in the diets of a wide range of smaller creatures…this makes sense, as approximately 1 in every 10 animal species is a fly!     

My first attempt at culturing Houseflies began with a fish-baited jar and ended with a house full of buzzing flies and an enraged mother!  I quickly learned to chill the little beasts before using them, and was soon happily involved in fly-farming (I fed them moist dog biscuits, evaporated milk and orange juice, instead of the less-agreeable foods they preferred!).

Food and Exercise in One

Houseflies can be a vital source of dietary variety for smaller herps that need soft bodied prey.  They are especially valuable to those keeping species that refuse other invertebrates (i.e. most treefrogs rarely take earthworms).

I have found offering flies to be the absolute best way of inducing activity and hunting behavior.  Treefrogs and arboreal lizards (Anoles, Day Geckos, Chameleons) in particular go wild when presented with Houseflies…they search and chase about as long as there is a fly left in their enclosures.  Even the notoriously sedentary Red-Eyed Treefrog will surprise you with its reactions.

Houseflies are also a great food item for Mantids and Orb-Weaving Spiders, while Scorpions and small Tarantulas will readily accept maggots.

Maggots and Other Flies

Housefly larvae, or maggots, are eaten with gusto by terrestrial salamanders, frogs, lizards and turtles.  They are also worth trying on hard-to-feed serpents such as Ring-Necked, Green, Worm and DeKay’s Snakes.

The larger Blow and Bottleflies (Calliphoridae) are also useful, although their larvae are quite thick-skinned and rejected by some herps.  Hover Flies (Syrphidae) may be collected by sweeping a net through wildflowers.  You’ll need to remove bees that are incidentally caught, however (to complicate matters, many Hover Flies are bee mimics!).

Disease Concerns: Lab-Raised Flies

Although it would seem to “make sense” that Houseflies might pass on diseases to animals that consume them, I’ve not run across such.  However, Houseflies, Bottleflies and Blowflies do pose a definite human health hazard so, despite my early experiences, I urge the use of commercially-raised flies only.

Internet-based breeders sell cultures of Houseflies and Bottleflies, along with rearing food and medium.  There are even flightless strains available…these are easier to handle, but do not provide the hunting opportunities offered by those able to buzz about.  Bait stores sometimes carry maggots, sold as “spikes”.

Freeze Dried Flies

Those not up to fly-rearing can still reap their benefits.  Zoo Med Anole Food contains lab-raised flies (use in nectar or feed as is to Newts and Clawed Frogs).

Quick Fly Facts

MaggotsMost of the 250,000+ fly species are not pests but rather innocuous or even helpful.  Nearly all 6,000 Hover Flies (Syrphidae) are important pollinators, and their larvae attack crop pests.

North America’s 1,000+ Robber Flies prey upon insects, including injurious flies.  Even Blowflies have their good points… their larvae eat the maggots of disease-bearing species and play a vital role in decomposition.

Flies feature importantly in Forensic Entomology.  By studying the types of larvae present upon a corpse, investigators gain insights into circumstances surrounding the death.

Flies have mastered extreme environments…certain Shore Fly larvae (Ephydridae) live in the 112 degree waters of geysers, while others inhabit crude oil!

Further Reading

Read more about the life cycle and culture of Houseflies.

Please see my article Collecting Live Food for more on non-traditional feeder insects.



Musca domestica image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Musca Larvae image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dalius Baranauskas


  1. avatar

    Hey, Frank!
    In case anyone is wondering where to buy some, I recently discovered in the june issue of Reptiles magazine that Grubco Incorporated sells fly larvae. You can contact them/buy products at http://www.grubco.com, and their phone number is 800-222-3563. I haven’t purchased anything from this company (yet) so I can not review the quality of this product.
    Hope this helps someone

    • avatar

      Hello Jeremy, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for taking the time to write in; Grubco is a well-established supplier and would be a good source of fly larvae/maggots and other feeders.

      Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    Hello again, Frank
    I’ve long used and love both adult and larval flies as a source of food, and there really isn’t an equal when it comes to enrichment. I trust my local green bottle flies to be pest, disease, and toxin free, but I’ve still wanted to start a captive-reared colony from some wild-caught flies so I can be sure they haven’t been eating nasty, prevent further natural disease introduction, and mainly have a supply available throughout the winter. Would you have any tips on rearing these through their entire life cycle? After a few attempts that resulted in all of the newly hatched maggots drying up, I introduced a layer of moist peat moss to the bottom of the container, and switched my rearing setup to a 64 oz juice bottle. This helped and I got a good batch of probably near a thousand maggots, which I fed off to my animals over about a month before they started to pupate (although the maggots appeared to be able to use some form of capillary action to escape through flush plastic sheets, so a couple hundred more escaped into my house. They had no food source, though, and all likely perished. No outbreak of adult flies from nowhere, either.) After some weeks of inactivity, adult flies emerged, (roughly 200) and again my animals feasted. I’ve tried this method twice, and both times the F1 generation end up not producing any more eggs. Factors that could be in effect here could include nutrition (moistened dry dog food), tempurature, humidity, presence of mold, waste build up, inadequate conditions for courtship/mating to take place, presence of a perch for adults etc. Would you know where to narrow this down to so I can try again come the spring?
    thanks in advance

    • avatar

      Hello jeremy,

      Interesting experience, thanks. Failure of the F1 gen to breed is common among insects, herps and others, esp. wild-caught individuals of speceis whose needs are not well known/ I have a few peole in mind who may have some ideas…I’ll ask around and get back to you,best, Frank

    • avatar

      Hi jeremy,

      I Haven’t found anything useful on that species; perhaps this article on lab rearing techniques will be helpful (green bottles are not covered; the housefly info would likely be most applicable) http://bit.ly/13w7EFC

      Please keep me posted, Best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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