Zombie Deer and the Scientists Behind the War on the ‘Man Eater’

S. Jones,  NC STATE CALS News,  2022.

In the remote jungles of the Panama-Colombia border, sterile flesh-eating flies fall from the sky in the thousands. Released from retired military planes, they embark on a suicide mission for their species, with the sole purpose of duping their female counterparts into mating with them despite their inability to bear offspring. Before this military-like operation became the norm, the New World Screwworm (Cochliomyia hominivorax or “man-eater”) cost livestock producers millions of dollars every year as a merciless parasite. Without scientific intervention, the screwworm’s life cycle weaves a devastating tale fit for classic horror films of a bygone era. After a successful rendezvous with a male screwworm, the female screwworm spends her time drinking the sweet nectar of the forest. When she’s ready to lay her eggs, she emerges from the forest and into nearby farms and pastures on the hunt for a suitable host. Then she spots it: a blissfully grazing cow who just so happens to have a scratch on its head. She lands in the wound, lays her eggs and waits for another generation of screwworms to do its worst, which doesn’t take long. This devilish pest has completely adapted to a parasitic lifestyle, with its eggs developing in a matter of hours at the precise body temperature of a poor unsuspecting cow. “They develop at 40 degrees Celsius, which is really hot for most insects. Most flies won’t develop well at that temperature. These do, and they’re very quick,” says Max Scott, Professor of Entomology at North Carolina State University’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.

More related to this: