Let’s not forget how eyebrows are used in human communication. They are, in my opinion, the most versatile body parts used in non-verbal communication. Think about how they were used by actors such as Jack Benny, Leonard Nimoy and John Belushi to convey totally different moods.

One of my favorite stories is about the advice given to people before a scheduled meeting with Joseph Stalin: “Don’t make his eyebrows move!”

Interesting point, Ursa… Coincidentally, this morning’s Doonsbury cartoon has a joke about twitching eyebrows of a politician.

Despite the apparent similarity … I would just like to note that was not my question being answered!

  • Rick

I have eyebrows! :stuck_out_tongue:

I learned in a college-level anthropology course that eyebrows came to exist on human foreheads due to prehistoric man’s need for an emergency food supply in times of famine. Basically, our ancestors would rub feces into their eyebrows. This would attract flies and cause them to lay their eggs in the eyebrow. After the eggs hatched, all the person would have to do if he was hungry and without food was reach up and pluck a maggot or two for quick and easy infusion of protien. If this seems especially disgusting, bear in mind that most aspects of prehistoric life appear to modern humans as unbearable, and that this early food supply technique was par for the course for those who practiced it.

eraymond, I would like to point out that maggots will also burrow into your skin and slowly eat you alive, leaving behind nothing but bone.

Seems kind of silly to INVITE a maggot infestation, considering the consequences.

And why not just rub feces all over your head, and never have to hunt for another meal?

Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant.

Hmmmmmm…interesting point, Coosa. Maybe I was fed some bogus information. Still, this was made known to me by an anthropology professor, a guy who did not seem to be the type to spread lies. Perhaps the maggots back then weren’t so prone to burrow into human skin. And maybe the cavemen did smear their heads as well as their eyebrows with feces in order to cultivate maggots, but did so only when a feast day was coming up and they knew they’d be needing extra food. I’ll have to look into this further.

Eyebrows as a “holder” for maggots as a food supply sounds dubious to me. For one thing, how would anyone know? For another thing, most critters avoid their own feces; smearing it on one’s forehead sounds far-fetched.

This in no way supports the “magot brow” theory, but I’m pretty sure that magots do not “burrow into your skin and slowly eat you alive”. They only eat dead tissue. I’ve read where they were used by surgeons in days past to consume gangreous tissue, leaving the healthy tissue untouched.

eraymond, I’d be tempted to say your professor was full of **it.

Do you remember anything else about this theory? Did it come from a book of any kind? Was the professor drunk when he said this? Or did he look like Tony Curtis, circa 1960?

I’m with Ursa. Maggots don’t eat living tissue, only dead tissue.

But I don’t buy the theory that eyebrows grew because humans spread feces on their foreheads. Why would they spread the feces so close to their faces, and especially their eyes? That seems to be inviting crap to get in your eyes (you decide on the pun). I don’t know about you, but I don’t like sweat getting in my eyes, much less feces.

If they wanted to cultivate maggots, wouldn’t a better place be their armpits? Chest hair?

And I don’t think they were prone to eat maggots from their own feces? Do we know of any species that does this? Most animals avoid their own feces - it is waste material. (Rabbits are an exception - they need it.) I don’t doubt humans ate all sorts of critters like fleas, lice, maggots, worms, etc, but I don’t think they dug them out of their own feces, much less cultivated them.

(Warning: gross-out material ahead)

With all due respect, Ursa and Irish, either we are talking about different kinds of maggots or you have been mislead.

I don’t have any special maggot-knowledge, but I have worked at a vet clinic for years. I live in the southeast U.S. where maggot infestations are a major concern - employees in one of the local emergency clinics actually run a pool every spring on when the first maggot cat or dog will show up.

While apparently maggots can’t or won’t penetrate normal healthy, unbroken skin, any small abrasion that breaks the outer surface is prone to maggot infestation. Usually an animal will get a slight injury of some kind that it cannot clean properly, either due to location or hair length (we see most infestations in long haired pets). Flies then lay their eggs in or near this broken skin, and when the eggs hatch the maggots begin burrowing into the wound. (Hence the term ‘fly-blown’.)

The most frequent cases of maggont-infestation we see are associated with feces contamination. Usually, an animal is either sick or injured and cannot clean itself, has had severe diarrhea, or has simply had feces matted into some long hair in the perianal region. This feces causes ‘scalding’ - the skin beneath it becomes red and irritated. Flies are attracted to the feces and lay their eggs, and the newly hatched maggots begin feeding on the inflamed, raw skin.

Here comes the gross part! I have seen animals with the skin eaten off of their entire hindquarters. This is usually pretty easy to heal - once the maggots are removed the exposed damaged skin will die and can be debrided, and in most cases will regrow, although there may be significant scarring.

However, in many cases the maggots penetrate the outer skin layers and enter the muscle tissue. Once that happens, the real trouble starts - we had a couple of long haired cats that we eventually had to euthanize because they were pretty much destroyed. One was infested in the shoulder area, and the muscle, etc. was eaten away all the way down to the spine. The shoulder blades were exposed, and we could clearly see tendons and nerves (which must be hard to digest) everywhere. You could stick your hand in between the shoulder blades all the way down to the spine - there was just nothing there.

Another cat had maggots infest its feces covered perianal region and begin burrowing forward. Although the maggots began in that location, they had soon eaten through to the upper back and the abdomen. Since, for some reason, the anus was still intact, we tried to save the cat - if we could kill and/or remove the maggots, most of the destroyed area would regenerate. However, when a bowel movement emerged from the top of the cat’s back instead of its anus, we euthanized it, as obviously the colon had been destroyed.

I would get more descriptive, but bringing the images of what I’ve seen to mind is turning my stomach. It’s spring here, and we expect to see our first maggot cases pretty soon. It is one of the most unpleasant aspects of veterinary work. ::shudder:: (unpleasant doesn’t begin to describe it - I’ve cried and vomited while trying to remove maggots from an infested animal.)

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that whatever digestive enzyme the maggots secrete also contains an anesthetic, since the animals don’t seem to be in the sort of pain you would expect from seeing the damage.

Make no mistake about it - maggots are a serious problem in tropical and subtropical areas, and can certainly kill in a horrifying manner. I imagine that if you investigate the lives of the poorer inhabitants of the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, or talk to a few military veterans who have fought in these areas, you’ll find that maggots are a serious problem indeed.

Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant.

Um, coosa, thanks, I think, for the clear though graphic explanation of maggots. At the moment I’m glad that I’m not a pet owner.

I would surmise from the post that you don’t subscribe to the eyebrows as emergency food source theory.

[[I would like to point out that maggots will also burrow into your skin and slowly eat you alive, leaving behind nothing but bone. Seems kind of silly to INVITE a maggot infestation, considering the consequences.]]

Bummer. Because if not for that, what a great source of fresh food. And you don’t have to leave the couch to hunt or gather!

I saw a picture on a website recently of a person being treated with “maggot therapy.” Can’t remember why, but the docs were using the maggots to clean off an infection - guy had em all over his face. Sorry to be such a tease… I’ll post the link as soon as I find it again.



No pics yet, but here’s a description in case you think I made this up.

Jill, I believe I’ll put maggot therapy on my list right alongside leech therapy - waaay down at the bottom of desperate measures.

I had a chance to ask my vet about maggots yesterday. He said that the maggots we see in this area are botfly larva. It’s true that they only eat dead tissue, BUT - apparently they secrete a substance that destroys tissue, I guess so that they can digest it. He said that he’s not real up-to-date on maggot information, but from what he remembers, the whole process has something to do with heat generated by the maggots when they hatch.

Something like this: animal has a break in the skin of some kind. Botflies lay eggs in or around wound. When the eggs hatch, they generate a large amount of heat (he’s not sure how - some kind of chemical reaction). This heat is sufficient to kill/damage tissue in the area. The newly hatched maggots feed on this tissue by secreting some substance that breaks it down into digestible form. However, this secretion also damages/kills more tissue, which provides more food for the maggots.

So, according to him, Irishman and Ursa are correct that maggots only eat dead flesh, but they have the ability to kill the flesh in order to eat it.

I can see where this would be useful in treating wounds, as long as someone kept the maggots under control and didn’t allow the wound to be infested by large numbers. A few maggots would be helpful - large numbers, uncontrolled, would be disastrous. Most of the animals we see with maggot damage have, literally, thousands of maggots.

Screwfly larva/maggots are a little different - they actually have little teeth that they use to eat tissue. According to my vet, they are MUCH worse than botfly maggots. They commonly infest herds of cattle and cause a lot of deaths, I don’t know if by inviting infection or by damaging vital organs. Fortunately, we don’t have them in our area. I don’t know if they will infest humans or not.

His opinion on the eyebrow/maggot thing? Pretty damn stupid. He suggested that, if primitive humans wanted to keep a handy supply of maggot-snacks around, they would just collect a nice pile of mammoth feces and let nature take its course.

Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant.

My childhood dog once got seriously mangled by a pack of strays. He was in rough shape. Part of what pulled him through was that the massive gashes, skint areas, and other nasty infected injuries on his legs and abdomen got completely maggotty. The critters ate all the festering filth, dead tissue, pestulence, and other nastiness, and having done their job, disappeared. All that was left behind was nice, healthy-looking pink tissue.

This dog hade more lives than a cat. Someone took a shot at him at least once. Survived cancer for almost two years, losing his tail in the process. On another occasion he had to be rescued from a leg-hold trap. Lots of dogs get nabbed in leg-hold traps.

Not many of them get nabbed by the balls.

Dee da dee da dee dee do do / Dee ba ditty doh / Deedle dooby doo ba dee um bee ooby / Be doodle oodle doodle dee doh http://members.xoom.com/labradorian/

From the website JillGat posted

What I gleaned from that site is there are different types of maggots. Most infestations are started by flies laying eggs in infected or raw tissue. The types you probably see are bot fly maggots. The type used medically are blow fly maggots. In medical situations they use the blow flies, which only eat the dead tissue and do not kill new tissue. They also control the quantity, and of course use sterile maggots.

Sounds like it would be a risky practice to allow just any old maggots to grow in feces on your skin.

Irishman, thank you very much! I did some searching on the internet and found a few interesting websites and meant to search some more and come back and post them here, but my part-time job just exploded into full-time-plus due to a fellow workers emergency surgery, and I haven’t had time.

But you said exactly what I learned and was going to say - there are different kinds of maggots, and allowing just any old fly that comes along to lay eggs on you is asking for trouble. So thanks, thanks, and more thanks - I’ve actually been feeling guilty for not getting back here yet with the information.

Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant.


Yes, they will. The screw-worm used to be endemic in the southern parts of the US, especially Texas. About 60 years ago, the Dept of Agriculture started a program to eradicate them by releasing massive quantities of sterile males. It worked, although outbreaks occasionally happen when flies are introduced from elsewhere.

After they eradicated it in the US, they started moving south and have largely eradicated the screw-worm from Central America. I understand they are now trying to do it in Colombia, although the various wars there are making it difficult.

Dan Tilque