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This blog is predominately about camera trapping in California. We camera trap to save our souls and to teach primary school students about biology and conservation. We will also touch on other camera trapping news and musings, sets from afar, mediocre herpetology, sucky birding, and other natural history discussions.

Friday, February 7, 2014


I got back from a quick trip to Belize a couple of weeks ago. I should start to trickle out some posts from our adventures and misadventures there in the coming weeks.

However it was a little weird landing back in the States and filling out my custom form.


I had literally nothing to declare. Not even a bottle of hot sauce. No souvenirs bought for myself or anyone else.

Or so I thought.

Turns out I did bring back a souvenir.

Four of them for that matter.

Dermatobia hominis

One in my shoulder, one on my side-boob, on in my shin, and lastly one on my ankle.

I didn't realize what was going on until last night. I just thought they were bites that had gotten infected and were taking forever to heal. They kept oozing liquid and blood and there was a hard nodule under the surface of the skin that I thought was just an inflammatory reaction. Every once in a while a shooting pain would spread quickly from the bite. Sharp enough to wake me from my sleep, but nothing earth-shattering. Overall the bite site was sore, but I could tolerate it. But instead of getting better these symptoms got a bit worse.

My mom suggested it was botfly because her friends kid once went to Belize and got a botfly ... you know how those mom stories go.

But I was concerned enough that I did some google image search of botfly wounds.

"Shit. My bites look a lot like those", I thought.

Then I thought I could feel the larva moving when I pressed on the wound, but I wasn't sure if it was all in my dome.

Then I put some Vicks Vapor Rub on the open hole. After a bit one of the little bastards stuck their head out to breath. Only then was I 100% sure I had the botfly.

Vern at approximately two weeks of age. He lived in my shoulder. He was growing quickly, feeding off of my flesh. He might have lived to be 2cm if I hadn't ended it all so early

Botfly breathing tunnel in my ankle

Human Botfly, or Dermatobia hominis, can use mosquitos to be the vector for their eggs, which explained why I never saw a large fly bite me and still got the youngin' living inside of me. From wikipedia:

Dermatobia fly eggs have been shown to be vectored by over 40 species of mosquitoes and muscoid flies, as well as one species oftick;[2] the female captures the mosquito and attaches its eggs to its body, then releases it. Either the eggs hatch while the mosquito is feeding and the larvae use the mosquito bite area as the entry point, or the eggs simply drop off the muscoid fly when it lands on the skin. The larvae develop inside the subcutaneous layers, and after approximately eight weeks, they drop out to pupate for at least a week, typically in the soil. The adults are large flies resembling bumblebees. They are easily recognized because they lack mouthparts (as is true of other Oestrid flies).

Now what? Again remedies from wikipedia:

Recently, physicians have discovered that venom extractor syringes can remove larvae with ease at any stage of growth. As these devices are a common component of first-aid kits, this is an effective and easily accessible solution.[3] 
A larva has been successfully removed by first applying several coats of nail polish to the area of the larva's entrance, weakening it by partial asphyxiation.[4] 
Covering the location with adhesive tape would also result in partial asphyxiation and weakening of the larva, but is not recommended because the larva's breathing tube is fragile and would be broken during the removal of the tape, leaving most of the larva behind.[4] 
The easiest and most effective way to remove botfly larvae is to apply petroleum jelly over the location, which prevents air from reaching the larva, suffocating it. It can then be removed with tweezers safely after a day. 
Oral use of ivermectin, an antiparasitic avermectin medicine, has proved to be an effective and non invasive treatment that leads to the spontaneous emigration of the larva.[5] This is especially important for cases where the larva is located at inaccessible places like inside the inner canthus of the eye.

I tried the venom extractor kit first. That worked for the one on my shin, but just gave me a hickie at the other three locations.

So asphyxiation with camphor flavored petroleum jelly, AKA Vick's Vapor Rub. That worked anywhere from 12-18 hours later.

I was tempted to let the one I called Carlito, live in my ankle, and hatch him out, but it was living on close to the joint, so if I did too much walking, he'd get angry and start throwing those spines into the wall of his tunnel (my flesh) and things would get sore.


  1. Coooool! I'll tell you another story about this next time we meet. The vaseline works well I've heard, but I think it's their butt they stick out for a "breath" of air, and you gotta be ready with a forceps. If you have to pick your tropical plight, Demotoba is definitely preferable to Leischmanniasis.

    1. Yes you are right that it is its butt it sticks out not its head if I understand it correctly. The mouth parts are pointing down digging deeper as the larva grows. I'm looking forward to your story. At least it wasn't Candiru.

  2. I am glad I was spared this in Belize! I wonder what a lunatic animal rights person does when invaded by bot flies? Do they let parasites just take over?

    1. I have heard of an old entomologist or two who let them grow until they were ready to come out themselves so that they could morph it out and collect the adult. I have a feeling most crazy animal rights activists quietly make an exception to their zealous beliefs.

  3. Amazing. I love how you named them, Vern, Carlito... Good thing your mother had her story. So after the asphyxiation, did you have to dig much to get them out? Remembering way back to my medical entomology class, there was something about placing a 1" piece of pork fat over the wound to suffocate it and force the larvae to move out into the pork fat in search of air on its own. Granted, we never practiced this in lab. However, we did let bedbugs feed on us twice in a 2 week period to demonstrate the Jones-Mote levels of hypersensitivity. Only 1 student out of 8 had never before been bitten by a bedbug... that is, until class.

    1. After asphyxiation I was able to do a combination of push them out by squeezing the whole, but I had to get somewhat underneath it too. This made things a little tricky with the one on my shoulder because I needed another hand. Luckily a Master's student in my old lab was willing to help out (Thanks Misty).

      Botfly creeps me out a little less than bedbugs. Eww, although I am sure I have been bitten by them too.

    2. So, it's like squeezing a giant pimple? How'd you know they were ready to pop (i.e., asphyxiated and no longer able to anchor with the spines)?

      What a cool souvenir! Did you save them in alcohol?

    3. p.s. - old school entomologists would prefer "bot fly" and "bed bug" since the noun is its true identify, unlike "butterfly". I forget sometimes.

    4. Yes, I did save one in alcohol. I could tell they were dead when I would wipe away the Jelly and they no longer stuck their butt out of the hole gasping for air.

      I was spelling it "bot fly" myself until I saw everyone else was spelling it "botfly" and went back and changed everything. Good to know I was right to start with.