Giving Birth to a Botfly

  • By Michael Rivera
  • Posted 05.02.18
  • NOVA

Could you love a baby botfly? Meet the man who reared a botfly larva in his arm.

Running Time: 03:10


Giving Birth to a Botfly

Published May 2, 2018

Onscreen: This emerged from this man.

Piotr Naskrecki: I know it sounds weird, but I felt an almost…almost father child relationship with this organism that was growing in my body.

A few years ago, I was in Belize teaching a course in macro-photography. And while there, I was bitten a lot by mosquitoes, I realized that some of my mosquito bites were not really healing and when I looked closely I could see a thin little straw-like structure that emerges from the wound every now and then to take a gulp of air. And being an entomologist, I realized that this is a breathing tube of a botfly.

Onscreen: Botfly larvae grow on animals in central and S. America.

Naskrecki: Because of their very interesting life cycle, they are very difficult to see.

The botfly female catches a mosquito in flight, and holds it and then glues the eggs to the abdomen of the mosquito. When the eggs detect the heat of the body of the host, they immediately hatch and then they crawl into the hole made by the proboscis of the mosquito.

Obviously, even me as an entomologist, I had this initial reaction of slight revulsion. But that lasted for about three seconds. And then I thought, "What a fantastic chance for me to document it and show it to the world."

Onscreen: With three larvae growing in his arm, he decided to remove one that was too close to a nerve.

Naskrecki: Removing the larva is actually quite difficult because the body of the larva is covered with backward pointing spines so if you try to pull it out, you run the risk of dismembering it.

A venom extractor is essentially a reverse syringe. Rather than pushing the air out, it sucks it in and creates a vacuum and the larva just popped out completely undamaged.

Onscreen: Three months later, the other larvae were the size of small peanuts.

Naskrecki: They pump you with painkillers so you don't know that you have them and they produce antibiotics so the wound doesn't fester. It wasn’t painful, it wasn’t unpleasant, it was very interesting…

It took 45 minutes for the larva to come out of my skin. I prepared a special container and in about three or four hours, it turned into the puparium which is kind of an equivalent of a butterfly's chrysalis.

Onscreen: After six weeks, the botfly emerged.

Naskrecki: The experience of having a botfly made me realize that we ourselves are an ecosystem.



Digital Producer
Michael Rivera
Written, Produced, and Directed by
Peter Yost
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018

Related Links