A reader gets a botfly

My own botfly saga has been recounted here several times before, and it’s appeared on NPR’s RadioLab, which picked it up from my friends’ book Tropical Nature. The upshot was that I got a botfly maggot in my head on a field course in Costa Rica, and reared the maggot until it came out of my scalp (and then died despite my efforts to get it to pupate). This still grosses out nearly everyone who hears the story, though some biologists will understand why I was curious to rear it. I explain on RadioLab the ordeal and my reasons for hosting the fly, with the segment beginning at 0:46:15).

Mely, a student at the University of Arizona, found out about my botfly from the RadioLab piece and wrote me, with pictures and videos, telling her own story. She too, got bit by a botfly-egg-carrying mosquito while taking a tropical biology course in Ecuador. With her permission, I’ll reproduce her emails:

Her first email:

I came across your botfly story on Radiolab. I too have joined the club as of this January. I received my parasite friend at the Ecuadorian Amazon and I am returning tomorrow for additional research. It’s a pretty exciting story, if you ever want to hear it and it actually came out ALIVE! I only allowed mine to incubate for ~a month before I decided to give him the eviction notice.

Apparently the bot, which was in her neck, was so painful that she had it removed by the pros (mine was not that painful and so I kept it in; besides, it’s dangerous to remove it because it could cause an infection). Of course I asked for more details, and got this reply:

On January 19th, I decided in a split moment that I was tired of the pain and swelling, so I went to Urgent Care. Urgent Care thought I had an infection from an unidentified bug, although they asked if I had gotten malaria (I had taken Malarone throughout the duration of my trip, so we ruled that out). I went home with a round of doxycycline and promptly threw it up. I decided to return the medication and pursue my University’s Campus Health. Luckily, they treat an international audience, so within 10 minutes of my appointment, a nurse knew exactly what it was. She decided that the best course of action was a local surgery to lesion out the botfly and to confirm her suspicion. After many shots of novocaine, with an awkward angle on my neck, she and another nurse were able to see the botfly but were not successful in getting it out in one shot.

They decided to flush my lesion with a fluid solution, slapped a huge band-aid on my neck and asked me to return the following morning. At this point, I was shocked and happy to find out my predicament and decided not to look anything up until after my surgery. I named my parasite “Pepe” and asked it that night to exit my neck on good terms. The following morning, my mother joined me and it was a similar scene to the day before: many shots of novocaine, awkward neck angle on a chair, and the botfly finally got out of my neck! It was still alive and covered in my blood (this particular moment was kind of reminiscent of an eerie childbirth scene, except the child was my botfly).

This is what Jerry’s looked like, but larger, as it was at full term. Note the black spines, which anchor it in the flesh.

I got patched up and I took the botfly home with me. Since I was on “survivor-high”, I immediately called my friend, a Ph.D. candidate at the University’s Entomology Department, and asked if I could show him my parasite. He got excited and introduced me to many professors and entomologists, who also got excited about watching my botfly squirm and wriggle before their eyes. Once the excitement was over, we placed the botfly in a centrifuge tube with ethanol solution (which I still have today in my possession). And now I feel like I’ve earned a cool story and bragging rights about my botfly.

I will include two youtube links to videos I took on my phone when it was still alive (I couldn’t mute them, therefore classical music is playing in the background).

[JAC: If you’re squeamish, you may not want to watch.]



  1. Jake Sevins
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t going to watch the videos until I read your warning that squeamish people may not want to watch–then I had to!

    I find this all really cool.

  2. rickflick
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Remember, their sterile inside.

  3. Jenny Haniver
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Nah, I don’t believe that the music accompanying the videos was unintentional. Many modern dancers choreograph dances to Satie, andI find it to be the perfect accompaniment here, with the maggot slowly writhing to the slow music. The one with the Moonlight Sonata in the background didn’t play long enough for the maggot to be ceatively ‘expressive’.
    Modern dancers could take a tip from this. In fact, I have a friend who choreographs dances a la Isadora Duncan. I’m emailing this to her post haste.

  4. Mark R.
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink


  5. davidintoronto
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Weird. The “bot” of you.

  6. Heather Hastie
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Very cool story.

    I liked its mouth gaping (is it a mouth?) constantly as if it was wanting to feed (was it? I don’t know about this stuff.).

    And I love the Moonlight Sonata, so that was a bonus.

  7. Posted February 5, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I feel like I’m seeing a glimpse into the future for my insect-obsessed six year old. We had the “what happens when you die” discussion a while back, and her eyes really lit up with excitement when she asked, “will bugs eat us??”

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 5, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Encourage her.
      Go online and shop for Entomology paraphernalia.

      • Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        She’s got a steady supply of gear and a variety of habitats to explore on our small farm. Our upcoming spring project is to cultivate an area of milkweed to attract butterflies.

  8. Dragon
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    My dog received a botfly a couple years back. She acquired it in Colorado. She was not pleased with its presence at all, which alerted us to the situation deep in her very fluffy fur. The veterinarian was able to remove it alive. The vet showed us the squirming thing before it was relegated to some experiments. It was about the size of a small honeybee.

  9. Posted February 5, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Hodgins, one of the ‘squints’ in the TV show Bones, carried a botfly to term in the episode ‘The Dude in the Dam’.

    It was actually quite moving.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Ew!!! And,
    I am envious!

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted February 5, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      And, I am NOT envious. I can hardly handle ticks, let alone a bot fly.

  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    I had heard somewhere that one way to get ’em to come out is to cover them with a bandage. They cannot breathe, and so they come out.

  12. pdx1jtj
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Great story.
    Thank you.

  13. dabertini
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I am glad you posted your botfly story for it has to be my all time favourite read. I want to share it with my students and see if I can get my hands on a first edition of your friend’s book.

  14. Hempenstein
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Excellent – a trooper! Bravo!

  15. Posted February 5, 2018 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Much as I like insects, I would not like to be parasitized by one.

  16. W.Benson
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    The pros say a piece of raw bacon taped over the hole will make them crawl out for air, but I find squeezing them out is efficient and does the trick. I tried letting one grow up and come out on its own, but the bugger emerged at night and escaped.

  17. David Coxill
    Posted February 5, 2018 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    You are one strange dude doc .

  18. David Coxill
    Posted February 6, 2018 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Just bought a copy of your friends book on ebay ,and my new years pledge was not to buy any more books .
    Mind you i broke that on the 1st of Jan.

  19. Posted February 6, 2018 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    You cannot post this on WEIT & not at least attempt a species name! 🙂

    • W.Benson
      Posted February 6, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Dermatobia hominis. Didn’t everyone know that?

  20. Posted February 6, 2018 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    I can’t see her pics from the wordpress reader.

%d bloggers like this: