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Once bitten, twice botfly

November 02, 2000

Once bitten, twice botfly



Perhaps you're familiar with the scene in the movie "Alien" where the creature that's been incubating inside the man's midsection roils beneath his stomach and then comes bursting out like a cobra having a fit in a plate of lasagna.

I'd never given that scene much thought, until a story came out last week that lends an unsettling plausibility to the "Alien" paradigm.

According to a vivid story in The Herald-Mail, Hagerstown Community College Professor Bernie Murphy was studying in a Costa Rican jungle when, unbeknownst to him, he was bitten by a botfly-infected mosquito.

The botfly regenerates itself in such a fashion that leads me to conclude that In The Beginning the Almighty had like way too much time on his hands.

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A live birth seems fairly straightforward. Eggs are a bit more cumbersome in that they tie Mom down to the house for prolonged periods, but the process still makes a lot of sense.

The botfly, by comparison, reproduces in a way that brings to mind that old game of Mouse Trap where the steel ball, or in this case the egg, gyrates through all sorts of obstacles before producing the intended result.

The botfly signs on with a mosquito, which acts a little like a consultant. Carrying the egg of the botfly, the mosquito visits its host (company), sucks blood (money) and leaves behind the egg (consultant's report) to wreak havoc on the host-company for weeks to come.

In this case, the mosquito bit Bernie on the cheek. What happened next, you really don't want to think about.

Traditional mosquito bites disappear in three or four days, but this one seemed to grow instead, leading the professor to believe the bite had become infected.

What was happening was that the egg hatched and the larva began to grow, feeding off the tissue in the professor's cheek. The larva grew and grew, using sharp barbs to dig further into the skin.

There are highly scientific ways of determining whether you have a regular mosquito bite or have become a Motel 6 for a botfly, and what crystallized it for Murphy was that he began to feel something begin to move underneath the skin on his face.

In case this ever happens to you, there are two options:

1. Make an appointment with your dermatologist.

2. Run in circles around the living room screaming your head off and clawing desperately at your cheek like a tomcat enraged by a dustmop.

Bernie made the former choice, and after calm reflection that comes from knowing all the facts, I can almost guarantee I would have chosen the latter.

Faced with the tough decision of having the larva surgically removed or letting it incubate to the point that it would use its barbs to begin burrowing its way out, eventually erupting and dropping to the ground to hatch, Bernie mystifyingly decided to have the one-inch-long, half-inch-in-diameter larva removed.

Aww. Where's the fun in that?

In the sacred name of some good yuks, I think it was incumbent upon the professor to "stay the course," preferably timing it so the larva would erupt from his cheek in a blood-n-pus froth in some humorous location, like the classroom. Funny and a learning experience.

What a great, wacky way to end a date. "Thanks, I've had a wonderful evening and I hope I can see you agai - is something wrong, dear?" Although I'm guessing it would be the last time she danced with you cheek to cheek.

What a beautiful way to get back at your dentist. "Oh good, I see you've met my friend, Mr. Death Grub. Mr. Death Grub must not have liked the sound of that drill, doc."

What a perfect Halloween gag. "Oh there's my protein shake. Ha ha. It's always in the last place you look."

Sure you would have to endure a little pain for a few weeks, but heck, it was just a botfly - it's not like it was a bite from a botnocerous.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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