Health and Wellness

ID #5145

Phutse Fly (Botfly) in the Lowveld, Phalaborwa, Limpopo Province, South Africa.

While living in Phalaborwa in the mid-80’s a good friend, John Clements, owned a bull terrier. While fierce-looking, it was calm and gentle. To reassure my small children John told them that the dog had rubber teeth – something my children found very intriguing.

Because of high temperatures in the lowveld, the dog would often lie underneath a garden sprinkler. The heat and high moisture content are ideal conditions for phutse fly to lay their eggs. So the dog’s stomach was covered with lumps within which phutse fly larvae were eating their way to adulthood.  While disgusting, it is apparently not painful and caused the dog little discomfort.

The way to get rid of them is to cover the affected area with oil or grease as this prevents the larvae from breathing. When they break through the surface, one simply grabs them with a pair of tweezers and pulls out a huge wriggling grub. You have to be quick or the larvae grabs hold of the sides of the wound making extraction more difficult. Once removed, the wound heals quite quickly, leaving a small mark on the skin. So John would periodically smear the dog’s stomach with grease and remove the offensive larvae.

It never occurred to me that this could also happen in people. Then we noticed a small lump on my son Stuart’s face that seemed to be getting larger and larger. Concerned, we took Stuart to a doctor who notified us that he had a phutse fly larvae growing in his cheek. Horror of horrors. We applied a cream to his face, the larvae emerged, the hole closed up and Stuart was none the worse for wear.

We subsequently learned that the flies lay their eggs in the moist waistband and seams of clothes drying on a washing line. It is thus imperative that all washing left to dry on a washing line be ironed to destroy the eggs, preventing the larvae from hatching and burrowing into the skin.

Alan McIver

Incidentally phutse fly are more widely known as botfly, and occur throughout the tropics. I am not sure that the arguments presented here are consistent with what is known about the life cycle of such insects. For one thing there are several species of such insects. Secondly some species kidnap other insects such as mosquitoes and lay their eggs on them. The mosquitoes in turn deposit the eggs on the victim, where they hatch and burrow underneath the skin. So I am not sure that the information presented here is scientifically accurate.

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Last update: 2014-03-09 15:13
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.7

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