Reindeer and Flies: A Horrific Animals of the World Christmas Special!

Posted: November 23, 2012 in Arthropods
Tags: ,

I’m always unsure of when to actually start thinking about Christmas.  Back on the remote, Scottish island where I grew up, it was rather easy; the festive season started when we captured the  first Outsider for the Solstice Offering. Now, it is rather more tricky, so, in a pathetic bid to remain relevant, this blog will have a Christmassy flavour. And by ‘flavour’, I  mean ‘incredibly tenuous connection purely to get some more site traffic’. Because this week it’s all about botflies, which I think poses an interesting, if alarming, glimpse into how my mind makes connections.

There are several species of botflies, and they all have very similar life cycles: to wit, they lay their eggs inside the living flesh of much larger mammals. The actual details vary quite a bit from species to species, for nature is always bountiful with the horror she provides. The term ‘botfly’ actually covers any member of the  Oestridae family. These flies are found all over the place; from the icy tundras of Norway to the jungles of South America.

So why the hell is this a ‘Christmassy’ blog post? Well, one of the many, many, many species of animals parasitized by botflies are reindeer.

Yes, that’s it. That’s the entire linkage to Christmas, right there.

Indeed, the larvae start off in the nose after been placed there by the adult female, and then wriggle down to the base of the throat where they overwinter ( ); during the warmer periods in the Artic, they are sneezed out onto the ground, where they quickly pupate, reach maturity and reproduce before dying. Most accounts sug

gest that actual problems are rather rare in wild populations (since reindeer fairly obviously have avoidance mechanisms) but in farmed populations significant mortality can occur. These problems are the ones you would expect from having many, many wriggly horrors in your nasal passages – irritation, damage to the throat, dislodged maggots falling into the lungs, and perhaps most horrifyingly, death by suffocation. In case your eyes skipped over that bit in a futile attempt to prevent you from scarring your mind forever, that means that heavy infections can mean that the reindeer’s airways are so chocked with maggots that it cannot breath ( [Seriously, do not click on that link. Ed.]

Botflies in Rudolph's throat

“Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer, had lots of very slimy maggots…”
[Yup, post an equally soul scarring photograph. Oh, why do I even bother? Ed.] (Pic credit:

In cattle and horses, some species imply migrate through the digestive tract, sometimes after burrowing into the tongue before starting on a roller-coaster of a journey through the animal’s digestive tract; they end up been excreted out of the animal, where, again they mate and reproduce in a hurry (presumably before they realise just how awful they are). Again, serious health problems can result by heavy infections causing blockages, which I think is possibly the best way one can say “Suzie, your little pony is dying because there are masses of hell-maggots crawling through his guts”. (

The reason I’ve mentioned all the above is to make you feel slightly better about the human botfly, the wonderfully named Dermatobia hominis. This fly uses a rather sneaky trick, for rather than laying the eggs herself, the fly kidnaps another bug, usually a bloodsucker, and attaches eggs to that insect. When that insect lands on a person, the larvae hatch and burrow into the person; usually using the minor wound their carrier caused. They then reside in the host for 4-14 weeks before emerging and carrying on their unholy life cycle (Garvin and Singh 2007). These flies are found in South and Central America, and keen readers will notice this overlaps with the area that the Wandering Spider lives. This is, quite surprisingly, not a fact noted on the Brazilian Tourist Board website. The larvae can be extremely painful, one report comparing it to hot needles inside the skin. There are a variety of ways for expelling it, but one needs to be careful not to leave any remnant of the maggot behind, otherwise serious infection can result. It should also be noted that, in some rare cases, the maggot burrows into the genitalia. If that happens to you, then depending on what religion you have you were either Pol Pot in a previous life, or God really, really hates you. Still, it could be worse. Botflies adapted to live on other species can find their way into humans as well. For example, the reindeer parasitizing botfly can expel its larvae into a human eye (, again, curiously unmentioned on the Swedish Board of Tourism Website . The only thing more nightmarish is  if it somehow ended up in your brain, but surely…

Proof Positive that there is no loving God

In a recent survey, 45% of our readers said the worst place to have a flesh eating maggot was inside the brain, 20% said inside the genitals, 20% said inside the eye and 15% were ‘desperate for any kind of physical contact whatsoever’. (Pic. Credit.

Yes, tragically, sometimes the larvae ends up inside the human brain, where it obviously causes severe damage and frequently death. The only consolation is that such events are, thankfully, very very rare (and, amazingly, in some cases the victim makes a full recovery

Well, we hope you enjoyed our Christmas special! Tune in next week for when I unveil our Easter special, featuring Myxomatosis in rabbits!



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