Dermatobia Redux

Raising two dipteran children was an interesting experience. It was embarrassing on a few occasions, when both of my arms started bleeding profusely in public; painful at times, to the point of waking me up in the middle of the night; and inconvenient during the last stages of the flies’ development, when I had to tape plastic containers to my arms to make sure that I will not lose the emerging larvae. But other than those minor discomforts it was really not a big deal. Perhaps my opinion would have been different had the bot flies decided to develop in my eyelids, but I actually grew to like my little guests, and watched their growth with the same mix of pleasure and apprehension as when I watch the development of any other interesting organism under my care.

Having two bot fly larvae embedded in my skin have also made me ponder once again the perplexing element of the human psyche that makes us abhor parasites but revere predators. Why is it that an animal that is actively trying to kill us, such as a lion, gets more respect than one that is only trying to nibble on us a little, without causing much harm? I strongly suspect that it has to do with our genetically encoded sense of “fairness” – we perceive parasites as sneaky and underhanded, whereas predators attack us head-on and thus expose themselves to our retaliation. They are brave, or so we think. This, of course, is a very naive and anthropomorphic interpretation of nature. A lion is no “braver” than a bot fly, who has to skillfully hunt mosquitos to assure the dispersal of her eggs and risk more dangers than a lion, a top predator with no natural enemies. Most importantly, to a bot fly we, humans, are a renewable resource – it is in the bot fly’s best interest that we live a very long life and thus can be “reused” – hence the minimum amount of suffering that this species causes. To a lion we are nothing more than a one-time meal. But we should not judge either species for their actions – there is no “good” or “bad” in nature – nature is amoral.

I am saying this to prepare you for a short video that I have made about my experience of raising a bot fly. I don’t want you to think that it is “creepy” or “weird”. It is simply a documentation of an interesting organism, who happens to develop in the skin of large mammals. But please be forewarned that this video includes a few sequences that some viewers may find disturbing. If you don’t want to have nightmares about things living inside you (which they already do, by the way), please don’t watch it. But if you are prepared to be open-minded and appreciate God’s wonderful creations in all their amazing glory, enjoy the show!

42 thoughts on “Dermatobia Redux

  1. I watched the video and it is OK if I don’t unsee it. There were a couple points I noticed mildly unsettled. If I didn’t know the outcome (that you survived intact to write this) or what part of the body was in question, I think the ambiguity would be more disturbing (as I could imagine this being a cheek and some parts of our anatomy seem more vulnerable to corruption of our personhood than others).

    I think fear/panic is well suited to protect us from lions, and disgust/loathing from bot flies and I can’t imagine switching their roles.

    You might like The Anatomy of Disgust by William Ian Miller.

  2. The video is fascinating! Thank you for that. I have an unrelated question…I would like to know the software or program used to create that opening clip of the globe showing the direction of travel.

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  4. Fantastic! I really enjoyed being able to see each stage of the life cycle. It would be cool to get a shot of the eggs on a mosquito.

    Thanks for the venom extractor tip.

  5. Amazing and beautiful! Loved every second! Botflies have had a place in my heart for a long time despite never having met one in person. In the 90’s I had a high school biology presentation on any animal of my choosing, and picked Dermatobia hominis so I could share with my classmates how awesome they were (they didn’t agree–maybe the overhead slides were too much).
    I never realized how colorful the adults are! Love the photos.

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  10. You’re completely and embarrasingly wrong on the question of predators and parasites. The reasons we prefer lions to botflies are simple: one is cute and the other isn’t. One is magnificent and the other is weird and alien-looking. Lastly, we can understand killing for food. It’s a necessity. But inhabiting another to produce more weird looking creepy things? No. That’s simply not good form.
    Excellent video. Nonetheless, I’d rather be fed to the lions than watch it again.

    • @Ipadron: It may sound odd but when watching the video – expecting it to be rather disgusting – the larve and the botfly looked strangely cute. Also, I doubt your first reaction stumbling upon a lion in the tundra would be thinking “How cute!”.

      Also felidae are the very definition of parasites – at least – in my book. Not to mention that being cute is just another trick of nature to make you care about a creature be it a child or an animal that might either use you as host or kill and eat it you.

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  12. You succeeded where I failed! I reared a botfly larva from Costa Rica in my arm, but it emerged in the middle of the night while I slept (as you said, the emergence was not particularly painful… not even enough to wake me) and died on my floor. I had hoped to pin the adult as a sort of delayed vengeance, not to mention as a way to collect a fascinating specimen. Excellent video!

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  16. Cool video, thanks for doing that. Also for the beautiful photos of the adult fly. While working in a veterinary practice in the D.C. area I saw a few warbles on dogs–rare enough that all the docs would come to ooh & aah over them. I think it was a Cuterebra species & dogs an incidental host. Are there any that infect humans in N. America? (There is also a nose bot that lives in the nasal passages & sinuses of sheep, an interesting variation on the theme)

  17. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen lately. Impressing and moving. Thank you so much for sharing the great work!

  18. When I was a child, we had a pet wild rabbit, and it had a warble on it. That is all I was told. I took it at face value and wondered the rest of my life just what it was. I lived in East Tennessee, USA. What might it have been…..some sort of fly?

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  20. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for your video.
    I agree the bot fly is a handsome insect- in all stages.
    As a nurse that has worked in US military schools, it’s interesting to note what level of parasites or infection we are comfortable living with…ie, lice are ‘terrifying’ but it’s fashionable to refuse immunizations exposing society to organisms that pose serious health risks.

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  23. Das ist widerlich und unnatürlich. Die Natur des Menschen besteht nicht darin, seine Feinde in seinem Körper aufwachsen zu lassen – noch dazu Tiere aus der menschlichen Haut heraus, sondern die Viren, Bakterien und kleine sowie mittlere Feinde, die eine Gefahr werden könnten, zu eliminieren, also zu töten. Eine Ausnahme stellt hierbei definitiv der manchmal größte Feind des Menschen auf diesem Planeten, nämlich der Mensch selbst, dar.

    Ich kann absolut nicht nachvollziehen, wie Sie eine Fliege menschlich ernähren und mit möglicherweise Teilen der menschlichen DNA versorgen. Haben Sie an die Konsequenzen gedacht, die darin liegen könnten, dass Weiterentwicklungen zu einer Spezies heranwachsen könnten, die dem Menschen dann wirklich gefährlich werden können?

    Haben Sie in Erwägung gezogen, dass tausende und mehr Forscher daran arbeiten, genau die Krankheiten zu verhindern, die Sie eventuell direkt oder auch indirekt züchten?

    Korrigieren Sie mich bitte, wenn ich völlig falsch liege!

    • @Randolf Pest: WTF? This *is* nature at work. How can nature be unnatural? In how far is a botfly an enemy to humans? Bacteria are our enemies? Are you out of your mind? Everything you write shows what’s wrong with human beings. Human beings may not be the most intelligent form of life but likely be the most ignorant.

    • GERMAN REPLY: Was dieser Biologe tat, geschieht Menschen in den Ursprungsgebieten dieser Fliegenart mutmaßlich tausendfach – wie beschrieben, macht es kaum Beschwerden und kann m.E. z.B. auf dem Rücken o.ä. durchaus der Entdeckung entgehen, sofern man die Larven nicht zerdrückt oder zerkratzt! Ihre Vorwürfe sind – pardon – albern!

      Ich als naturwissenschaftlich ausgebildete Person habe das Video genossen, technisch wunderbare Bilder und eine gewisse Ästhetik, was sich die Natur so einfallen lässt.

      ENGLISH: I found Your video due to a lurid headline reference on a famous german website. Enjoyed the fantastic pictures of this metamorphosis.

  24. You are a serious piece of scientist, man! When I saw a Botfly larvae in a Human for the first time, I was in choking disgust! I grew some testicles though and did some internet research on those little fellas. Still disgusted I found your new video… and I am somehow in a weird kind of awe. On the one hand this is downright creepy, but on the other hand it is a quite brave thing to do. It is facing one’s deepest and subliminal Angst of getting worm-eaten, pest infested etc.

    Hat tip from me therefore. Good to know this has been done already – so there is no need to undergo something like this ever again. Kudos! :D

    peace out and best greetings from Berlin, Germany.

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  26. absolutely interesting! i am happy, that people like you exist who want to discover the beauty of nature

  27. For me this extremely beautiful video was not frightening at all … life is so great und I think, I would have done the same!

  28. “my only chance to produce another living breathing being out of my flesh and blood” dude…
    yeah i guess. still some fly’s baby you carried out there thou. it just feasted on your flesh and blood.
    but hey, if one enjoys it. I learned something about the human bot fly and to always check mosquito bites.

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