A SPECIES OF THIS GENUS, the Lucilia hominivorax, has lately obtained a melancholy notoriety. We are indebted to M. Charles Coquerel, surgeon in the french imperial navy, for the most exact information concerning this dangerous Dipteron, and the revelation of the dangers to which man is liable in certain parts of the globe. But let us first describe the insect, which is very pretty and of brilliant colours.
|Fig. 52, taken from M. Charles Coquerel's memoir, represents the larva and the perfect insect, as well as the horny mandibles with the larvæ is provided. It is rather more than the third of an inch in length.||The larvæ can reach the eye and gangrene the eyelids,|
|enter the mouth and devour the gums and throat,||The head is large, downy, and of a golden yellow. The thorax is dark blue and very brilliant, with reflections of purple, as is also the abdomen.|
|The wings are transparent, and have rather the appearance of being smoked; their margins as well as the feet are black.||turning the parts to putrid flesh.|
When one of these degraded beings, who live in a state of sordid filth, goes to sleep, a prey to intoxication, it happens sometimes that this fly gets into his mouth and nostrils. It lays its eggs there, and when they are changed into larvæ, the death of the victim generally follows.
These larvæ are of an opaque white colour, a little over half an inch in length, and have eleven segments. They are lodged in the interior of the nasal orifices and the frontal sinuses, and their mouths are armed with two very sharp horny mandibles. They have been known to reach the ball of the eye, and to gangrene the eyelids. They enter the mouth, corrode and devour the gums and the entrance of the throat, so as to transform those parts into a mass of putrid flesh, a heap of corruption.
LET US TURN AWAY from this horrible description, and observe that this hominivorous fly is not, properly speaking, a parasite of man, as it only attacks him accidentally, as would it attack any animal that was in a daily state of uncleanliness.
|A beggar with some tainted meat in his wallet had gone to sleep under a tree.||In many works on medicine may be found mentioned a circumstance, which occurred twenty years ago, at the surgery of M.J. Cloquet. The story is perhaps not very agreeable, but it is so interesting as regards the subject with which we are occupied, that we think it ought to be repeated here.|
He must have slept long, as the flies had time enough to deposit their eggs on the tainted meat, and the larvæ time enough to be hatched, and, what is more, to devour the beggar's meat. It seems that the larvæ enjoyed the repast, for they passed from the dead meat to the living flesh, and after devouring the meat they commenced to devour the owner. Awoke by the pain, the beggar was taken to the Hotel-Dieu, where he expired.
As Figuier mentions, this pest does not normally prey on humans. In his book, The Deadly Feast of Life, Donald Carr notes that Lucilia preys upon the nostrils of toads and frogs. "The latter feel no pain, for they have been stung with a tranquilizer. But when the fly's larvæ hatch, the hosts go blind and are eaten alive."
|When the fly's larvæ hatch, the hosts go blind and are eaten alive.||Hominivorous flies are well known among livestock producers, who sometimes themselves fall victim to their mindless depredations. The most well known are the botflies, which are also known as gadflies, horseflies, and warble flies.|
Because the pain of the feeding of the growing larvæ (which can grow past an inch) sends the infested animal into a berserking frenzy, Clausen attributes the common expression "maggoty" or "has maggots in his head," which means mentally unbalanced, directly to the reproductive activities of the botfly.
Url Lanham notes in his book The Insects that species of this fly sometimes dart "into the eyes of human beings to deposit its larvæ, and it is said that shepherds in North Africa have been blinded by the spiny larvæ."
Even other insects are fair game. The Tachinidæ, to which over five thousand (!) species belong, enjoys the caterpillar as its prey. Lanham writes, "The female may glue the eggs of new-born larvæ onto the host or may simply scatter them in the area likely to be visited by it. One species leaves its young on the silken trail the the host caterpillar makes between its retreat and feeding place. Some strew thousands of minute, hard-shelled eggs on leaves likely to be eaten by the host; the eggs hatch inside its digestive tract. Some tachinids have a thorn-like structure at the end of the abdomen that is pressed through the skin of the host to get the eggs inside." With five thousand different deadly snares being prepared for the poor caterpillar, it seems a miracle we have butterflies.
Observing life's ferocious capacity to overrun every available ecological niche, one gets a sharp glimpse of Nature's harsh plan for things warm and organic. In short, it will be hatched in and devoured, if not simply devoured. Life will breed life whether that life is a willing participant or not however unpleasant this fact may be.