Saturday, December 28, 2013

The flesh-eating flies

The flesh-fly is one of over thirty species of flies whose larvae live mostly on living or dead flesh. Like other species of flies they are of medical and sanitary importance mainly because they help in the decomposition of organic matter and cause disease.

In Maltese the flesh-fly is known as dubbiena tal-la─žam.

Flesh flies belong to the Sarcophagidae family. The family  name is made up of two Greek words sarco and phage meaning ‘flesh’ and ‘eating’. The word sarcophagus has the same roots.

The flesh–fly family consists of about 2,500 species.

Like other species of flies, flesh-flies are carriers of pathogenic agents especially bacteria, one of which is the bacillum that causes leprosy.

Flesh-flies can also cause myiasis in humans and other vertebrate animals. Myiasis is the term used to describe the invasion of tissues or organs by the larvae of flies. The name of the condition is derived from the ancient Greek word myia meaning “fly”.

Humans can become victims of flesh-flies. The larvae of flies are in fact sometimes used in hospitals to remove dead flesh from patients.

The most common victim are sheep which become host to the larvae of the blowfly. Adult blowflies lay their eggs on the sheep’s skin. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat their way through the skin and tunnel through the sheep’s flesh causing irritation and unless treated the myiasis can result in the death of the sheep.

Flesh flies are ovoviviparous. Most insects lay eggs which hatch after some hours, days or weeks. Flesh-flies lay their eggs while day are hatching or even allow the eggs to hatch in their body before depositing the larvae onto their preferred food.

Some flesh-flies parasitize other insects such as grasshoppers and solitary bees and wasps. 

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 6 November 2013.



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