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.

Close
Running Time: 03:10

Transcript

Giving Birth to a Botfly

Published May 2, 2018

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.

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."

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.

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.

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

Credits

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Digital Producer
Michael Rivera
WHAT'S LIVING IN YOU?
Written, Produced, and Directed by
Peter Yost
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018

Related Links