She made me kill it

A couple of years back, Heike and I traveled around the Yucatán Peninsula, with several weeks spent in Mexico, and several in Belize.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the trip. To be honest, the media do not really paint a fantastic picture of Mexico (druglords, kidnappings and the like), although Cancún and Playa del Carmen attract large tourist crowds and are generally considered safe. Those two places were exactly where we did not want to be, so we made no plans or itiniraries and just decided every day where we would go and which bus we would take to get us there. This brought us to the country of Belize. I for one knew nothing about Belize, except that it has excellent diving on the meso-American barrier reef. I have since learnt that Belize has excellent diving on the meso-American barrier reef. However, I had no clue about the security situation in the country. Although we are rather sensible and safe travellers, it’s always good to be informed, to avoid any weird surprises. So I did some googling.

Belize is mostly safe and chill

One of the major warnings specific to Belize, (but for some reason not Mexico), was for botflies.

Wait, what? A dangerous fly? Attention levels went up!I remembered a medical entomology course that I followed years ago in university. I also remembered that botflies were represented in there and that the pictures were considered pretty disgusting by some.

Human botflies (Dermatobia hominis) are relatively small flies that parasitize on humans (and other primates). The species is distributed in the Americas from southern Mexico to the tropical areas of South America. What I could find at the time was that the adult flies deposit their eggs on mosquitoes, so basically, stay away from mosquitoes (I have lots of love and lots of hate for mosquitoes, which I should write up in two stories for another time). Be mindful of the mosquito situation, check! From the mosquito-shaped delivery truck, the larvae hop onto their new friend and dig themselves into (YOUR) human flesh, where they remain for a couple of weeks, to slowly devour the host from the inside. Oh well, they only eat a relatively small part of you actually. They won’t kill you Nevertheless, they can leave quite the hole, and although they are harmless, they are also not necessarily desirable… There are excellent YouTube videos (such as this one or this excellent one) on the removal of botflies that illustrate well why you don’t want botfly larvae feasting on you. Well, even though I didn’t volunteer to get one per se, the entomologist in me was certainly interested in the process.

So for ten days or so, we travel through Belize, all prepared for mosquitoes. People hate mosquitoes in Belize, and you can often see trucks spraying or fumigating some kind of substance all over the place (healthy?). We did not see many mosquitoes. So around day ten, we book a very authentic (and awesome) and somewhat ramshackle jungle lodge along the Hummingbird Highway. Our host Francis was a great guy and amazing story-teller and naturalist (spent nights looking for red-eyed tree frogs with him, awesome!). At some point during dinner around the second or third night of our stay, he starts going a bit deeper into the botfly situation in his place. Apparently they are a huge problem. What he told us then, was that they don’t just lay eggs on mosquitoes, but they love to lay eggs on drying clothes. Guess who had been drying clothes for the past two days? The two of us, of course. I always thought that such a story would be better to tell during the first welcome conversation, but anyway, I forgive Francis, even though we never found that frog….

We just continue our journey, avoiding mosquitoes and hoping for the best. Two more weeks, very nice weeks, I must add. The food in Mexico, fucking amazing! Everything else, too. Take what the media say about Mexico with a grain of salt.

It was a few days before our return flight that I started having an itch. Could it…? Really? It was pretty damn itchy, but it could be anything. At that point it was a small mosquito bite. Could be anything. I just hoped for the best. One day after we return in the Netherlands, I decide to more closely inspect this itching bump that had by now gotten itchier and larger. If there was a botfly larva in there, I should be able to see it. They have a breathing tube that they stick out every now and then to, well, to breathe of course. I’m watching this bump for a couple of minutes. SHHHHUUUUP! There it is, a tiny little breathing tube. YES!! I got one. I was chosen. I felt like a kid that had just been given a shiny Pokemon card (or whatever is cool these days). I had my very own botfly. I was going to give it all my love and care. Somehow Heike thought otherwise. She was quite clear about it. It had to go. Anyone that has dealt with acne in puberty will need no picture of what happened next. I gathered all my strength and popped it out in one smooth squeeze. It was very small still. My little baby. The poor thing. Sudden death…

I had not given it much thought after. The bump and small hole should heal and feel better soon, as it was still painful and itchy. A couple of days later, I decide to ask our dear host Francis how long it would usually take for the thing to heal. What the internet had not told me, but again, Francis did, is that it is quite common for two larvae to crawl into the same hole and be buddies. If my itch hadn’t disappeared in a day or so, it was quite certain that there was more to come. I was a bit disappointed, knowing that I would have to kill another one. I could not really hide this one either. Upon closer inspection, this one, too brought a breathing tube, but it was clearly already three times bigger than its little brother or sister. I tried and tried and tried, but my acne experiences did not offer me much help. What I did not mention is that these things have hooks on their little maggot bodies that they use to anchor themselves in your flesh. Francis, again, was the principal advisor. Before you go to bed, put some Vick’s Vapo Rub on it (no paid endorsement, but an endorsement nonetheless). It’ll make the larva crawl all the way to the surface, and likely/hopefully die, so you can pop or pull it out. As always, his advice was truth.

It’s only small, one centimetre or so. They get MUCH bigger than this if your wife doesn’t insist that you kill them prematurely. Look at the ‘flesh hooks’ that are already clearly visible! You don’t have to be an entomologist to find this fascinating, right?

That’s how I lost my second friend in only one week.

Call me weird, but I still keep the dried specimen in my tiny insect collection – otherwise consisting of captive bred mantids that I have kept over the years – as a reminder to the time I was being eaten alive from the inside.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of one but almost two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

5 thoughts on “She made me kill it

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