Saturday, July 11, 2009

Part 2: Fly Maggots Heal Deep-Seated Wounds

Maggots of blue bottle fly (Caliphora vomitaria)

Abe V Rotor

I was reading an account of a very rare case of insect use as a substitute for delicate surgery. During the First World War, a certain Dr. W. S. Baer noticed that wounds of soldiers who had been lying on the battlefield for hours did not develop infections, such as osteomyelitis; much so unlike those wounds which had been treated and dressed promptly after combat.

The reason for this is: the older wounds were found to be infested with maggots. These maggots are larvae of flies, commonly houseflies (Musca domestica) and blue bottle flies (Calliphora vomitaria). The adult flies can detect the smell of blood and deposit their eggs around the wound, anticipating that their larvae will soon feed on the injured tissues.

Doctors who have observed this phenomenon were surprised to find out that the maggots do “clean up” the wounds, especially the deep-seated ones, more effectively than ordinary surgical or antibacterial treatment! This discovery led to the practice of rearing maggots under sterile conditions, then introducing these clinically clean maggots into wounds, there to consume the microscopic particles of putrefied flesh and bone. This practice, however, came to an end with the introduction of modern drugs and surgery. But to show how extensive this practice was, a survey conducted during its peak showed that 92 per cent of 600 physicians who had used this treatment reported favorably about it.

A renowned researcher Dr. William Robinson was able to isolate a substance from the secretion of the maggots that, he believed, contain the healing effects on infected wounds. This material is allantoin. It soon became commercially available as its importance began to be recognized.


Commercial allantoin is a harmless, odorless, painless, and inexpensive lotion which, when applied to chronic ulcers, burns and similar pus-forming wounds, stimulates local, rather than general, granulation. It is very valuable in treating deep wounds such as bone marrow infections, where the internal part of the wound must be healed first.

But allantoin solutions cannot be as efficient as using living maggots in the treatment of bone infections. It is because the maggots actually eat out the necrotic tissue, and kill the pus-forming bacteria by digesting them. In the process, the maggots continuously secrete minute quantities of allantoin in their excreta to the very depth of the wound especially where the use of surgical instrument is limited, if not dangerous.

Except in very isolated cases, modern medicine has succeeded in shelving the practice of using maggots on wounds.

Cantharidin – A Cure All Drug and Aphrodisiac

In our animal husbandry class, our professor, Dr. Rufino Gapuz, told us of a way to harness and calm down a cow that is in heat so that she can be safely brought to the corral for insemination. This was in the sixties when artificial insemination was something new in animal science. There is an injection prepared from the body of the blister beetle, called “Spanish fly”, Lytta vasicatoria.

This insect occurs in abundance in France and Spain, a relative of the American blister beetle. The beetle carries in its body cantharidin. It was used as folk medicine during the 19th century for all sorts of ailments, and was very much used as an aphrodisiac. At present it is used in treating certain diseases of the urinogenital system and in animal breeding.

In the seventeenth century, some curative power was attributed to almost every known insect. For example, the bite of katydid or cricket is said to remove warts, cockroaches or earwig when dried and compounded will cure ulcer, weak sight, earache and dropsy. This is of course pure quackery and superstitious belief.

Antibiotics and Anti-inflammatory Ant Secretion

With the decline in the effectiveness of antibiotics as a result of increasing resistance of pathogens, the search for more potent ones has widened into various fields, which today include plants, fungi, protists and monerans.

One potential source of antibiotics is the green tree ant (Oecophylla smaragdina), a member of the large order of insects Hymenoptera to which bees and wasps belong. Like their relatives the green tree ant that is locally known as hantik, lives in colonies. This social behavior enables them to grow in numbers of hundreds or thousands in a single colony, which can remain active for a long time. Other than its reported antibiotic property, the leaf nest of the green tree ant relieves inflammation when bandaged on the affected area.

Insects, the most numerous and oldest of all animals, have many good reasons to be with us. They are part of nature’s healing system which helps us live happier and healthier lives.

Reference: Living with Nature Handbook, by AV Rotor, UST Publishing House, Manila; Photo credit:

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