Lord of the Flies: Harvard Researcher Films Birth of Larvae From His Skin
Piotr Naskrecki isn’t kidding: once you see the time-lapse video he posted online of a parasite from Central America emerging from his forearm, you can’t scrub the images from your brain.
But he doesn’t think it’s all that creepy or weird.
“It is simply a documentation of an interesting organism, [which] happens to develop in the skin of large mammals,” he said in a blog post about the experience.
Naskrecki, an entomologist and photographer at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology spent the last 10 weeks playing host to bot fly larvae burrowed deep beneath his skin’s surface, as part of a scientific experiment.
For the sake of research, and to dispel the overblown rhetoric that he says paints nature’s “wonderful creations,” like the birth of fly larvae from a person’s body, as disturbing or unpleasant, Naskrecki decided to film and photograph the maggots coming to life using high-powered cameras.
“I wanted to film this for educational purposes. I just wanted to show it’s not as scary as some people may think,” he said. “Obviously if people have a phobia of things living under your skin, it’s not going to change anyone’s mind. But I wanted to produce something as an anecdote to show that it’s just an organism, from the beginning to the end.”
Naskrecki told Boston that the idea to capture everything on film started when he recently returned from a trip to Belize, where he was conducting research for Harvard. Once back in Boston, Naskrecki noticed that some of the mosquito bites he got while there weren’t healing. When he took a closer look at the reddish bites, he noticed something else: larvae was living inside of his arm.
“You very often don’t even feel it. It’s only when the larvae starts doing something out of the ordinary—it starts feeding on nerve endings, and that’s what’s causing the pain—that people notice they have something,” he said.
For Naskrecki, who had two larvae in his forearm and one in his elbow (he removed that one because of the pain it produced), the opportunity to record the sequence from day one in his skin, to the time when they wiggled through the holes in his arm, was too good to pass up.
He told Boston that the human bot fly, which lays its eggs on mosquitos that then inadvertently transplant them onto the skin of mammals, is elusive. “These bot flies—everyone who works in South America sooner or later gets them. All of them have gotten them. But the interesting thing is that even though people get them under their skin, very few people have seen the adult fly,” he said. “It’s very difficult to see them, and fairly easy to grow this larvae, once the larvae leaves your body.”
So that’s what he set out to do, raise his very own flies. “I actually grew to like my little guests, and watched their growth with the same mix of pleasure and apprehension as when I watch the development of any other interesting organism under my care,” Naskrecki wrote.
He said while at times it was uncomfortable letting the insects fester in his body, as they started to grow, and even embarrassing on a few occasions—specifically when his arms would start bleeding profusely in public due to the small holes—he pushed on, and allowed nature to takes its course. “Other than those minor discomforts it was really not a big deal,” he said in his blog post accompanied by the graphic video.
Naskrecki told Boston that because once the larvae emerged it wouldn’t survive in a soil sample from Massachusetts, he sterilized soil so that he was able to grow and raise the adult, “which is a very interesting animal.”
“When I knew the time was coming for them to emerge, I taped containers to my arms to prevent them form falling out,” he said. “That’s pretty much the story of it. When the larvae came out, I placed them in the sterile soil and incubated them and got the adults.”
And now, the Internet is buzzing with reactions to his insect-parenting skills.
“It’s just an organism. Yes, it may be unpleasant, but there’s nothing really super weird about it. There’s no blood, and no ooze. It’s just this larva doing its thing,” he said. “I hope [my video] was able to show that.”