Maggots and wounds (yum)

So, do maggots really only eat dead flesh and leave the still living portions of an animal alone? I’ve heard stories where a wounded person such as a soldier was saved because maggots ate away the necrotic portions of their wounds and left the rest alone. I wonder about this and need the straight dope. How does the maggot know to stop eating when it reaches the living portion? And why would it? Is the still living portion not good to eat, or what?


Yes, but they have to be the right maggots. Maggot (fly) species used for medical therapy indeed only eat necrotic tissue, and are very useful for cleaning out wounds (they are reared under special aseptic conditions). They also secrete antibiotic compounds.

Other maggot types will eat the necrotic tissue, then start on the living stuff. You don’t want those!

Yeah, you don’t want (PDF) ocular myiasis.

So sheep nose flies will actually dive bomb your eyes and nose with larva? I’m so glad I wear glasses.

Cochliomya ominivorax (or a close spelling) is the New World (all the Americas and Caribbean) fly that has those maggots. Most of the infestations occur in animals. They’ll enter through some scrape or scratch, and eventually keep going, eating the live tissue, not just the wound/dead area.

It is a foreign animal disease in the US, although rare cases have been reported from animals that travel overseas and get infested.

I’m sure it’s true. Margaret Atwood is no dummy when it comes to bugs, and significant chunks of her last novel have got maggots cleaning wounds.

Sounds horrible, but it actually works very well. My wife is a RN, several years ago when she was working in hospice she went through a certification course in maggot therapy. The process involves using bandages and, sometimes IIRC, a chemical barrier to keep the maggots localized in the area where they’re needed. She actually seemed to enjoy the work, and took to talking about “herding the little critters into their new pasture and fencing them in”… to the point that we dubbed her the “maggot wrangler” (sounds like a worthy screen name for the dope…but I digress.) Anyway, when she started bringing home pictures of her herd of leetle critturs at home on their necrotic range - and showing them at the dinner table - I had to insist on a change of subject.

This week on a very special episode of Myth Busters . . .
(Y’all keep settin’ 'em up for me)