Hitchhiking bot fly babies

Bot fly larvae - note the black spines!

Bot fly larvae – note the black spines they use to anchor into host tissue!

You may have heard of the cute and fuzzy botfly, whose larvae take up temporary residence inside mammals while they develop and eat living tissue (called myiasis). In humans, these larvae typically develop underneath the skin, forming a lump that seeps pus and can be painful (just google ‘botfly wound‘ for a fun treat for your eyes). Rarely, they have been known to infest the brain, causing convulsions and bleeding. In wild and domestic animals, botflies tend to migrate to various tissues, and can cause respiratory complications, organ malfunction, and death. Economic losses of livestock have been huge in the past.

Gross photos of wounds or videos of larvae removal are always fun, but what’s interesting (especially to a mosquitologist like me) is that adult female botflies have other insects perform work for them. Laying eggs themselves on a host can put the female botfly in danger of being killed, so a female grabs an unsuspecting mosquito, and glues her eggs on the underside of the mosquito’s body (where it can’t be groomed off). When the deed is done, the botfly releases the mosquito back to business as usual, along with newly acquired hitch-hiking babies.

Botfly eggs hitching a ride on a mosquito

Botfly eggs hitching a ride on a mosquito

After a number of days, the mosquito feeds on a host again for blood. The botfly eggs take a cue from the host’s body temperature, hatch and burrow into the host (look at their teeth!). While developing, the larvae breathe through a little opening in the skin, eating tissue and growing. After about 4-18 weeks, the larvae eventually emerge, drops in the soil to pupate and become adults, starting the life cycle over again.

My lingering questions: What effect do these eggs have on mosquito flight? Why do the botfly adults seem to prefer to lay eggs on mosquitoes and not other biting flies?

About britdodson

Over several years as a research scientist, I’ve realized that we fail to communicate research in fun and exciting ways. We’re often misquoted, not due to journalist errors, but because our scientific language is complicated and riddled with jargon. I want to improve my communication abilities with this blog by using techniques from creative writing and applying them to nonfiction scientific writing. But, in order to be skilled at writing one must practice (so says writers like Stephen King). This blog will serve as my first venture into science writing. I'm very passionate about entomology, infectious diseases and human health, so my posts will initially focus on those topics.
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2 Responses to Hitchhiking bot fly babies

  1. arielrivers says:

    You know, botflies appear on lists of edible insects, e.g. reindeer parasites (Oestridae) and Eskimos (Ramos-Elorduy, 1998, pg 20). They gross me out no matter what, but I wonder if anyone has ever tried eating a botfly that is a human parasite? The idea of popping something in your mouth that came out of your body does test the limits of my interest in entomophagy.

    • britdodson says:

      I did know that, but wasn’t sure where to fit it into the article. I came across quite a bit of information you mentioned above, but nothing about anyone eating human botfly larvae. Anyone willing to step up?

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