Do maggots make you think of rotting meat, garbage and swarms of flies? Where large piles of organic matter decay, flies follow and maggots result. Maggots certainly feed off carrion and they do spread disease, so it’s not a good idea to let an infestation carry on – particularly since, if allowed to mature, you’ll have a fly problem soon enough.
But despite their reputation as disease-carriers, maggots are actively used in a range of fields including medicine and forensic science.
Maggot Debridement Therapy
Most notably, maggots have been used for years in the debridement of wounds. Known as maggot debridement therapy, larval therapy or biodebridement, it is a process by which live, disinfected maggots are introduced into a wound site. The maggots consume the necrotic flesh, leaving the live flesh largely unharmed.
Popular in Renaissance times, the use of maggots to clean wounds first came about when the neglected wounds of soldiers became naturally colonised with maggots. Doctors noted that the soldiers with infested wounds had a higher survival rate and that their wounds were cleaned effectively and efficiently.
Modern usage came about after Dr William S Baer, an orthopaedic surgeon, conducted a study at Johns Hopkins University in which he concluded that maggot therapy resulted in rapid debridement, a reduction in pathogenic organisms at wound sites, reduced odour levels and optimum rates of healing. Since then, the commercial production of surgical maggots has begun and maggot therapy has been successfully used to treat ‘modern’ bacteria including MRSA, a highly evolved strain of staphylococcus with resistance to multiple antibiotics that causes necrotising fasciitis.
Maggots are particularly favoured for treating wounds and ulcers in diabetic patients, who are prone to developing lower-extremity ulcers due to poor circulation. Diabetics also have poor healing capacity, which makes them mostly unresponsive to conventional treatments. Maggot therapy is useful because the maggots produce an enzyme that stimulates the production of granulation tissue.
The Use of Maggots in Forensic Science
You’ve seen it on CSI, but it really does happen – maggots can be used to determine the time of death. Since flies feast and lay their eggs directly on corpses, the presence of maggots can be used by forensic entomologists to calculate the approximate time of death. Entomologists also take into consideration the species of the fly and the conditions surrounding the corpse.
Because they feed on the flesh of the victim, maggots also ingest whatever toxins might be present in the system of the corpse. This information can then be used by investigators, which is particularly helpful if the body is badly decomposed.
Angling with the Aid of Maggots
An extremely popular bait when trying to catch non-predatory fish, maggots are particularly favoured by European and North American anglers, who throw handfuls of them into the water to attract fish to the area. They will generally use the larvae of the housefly or green bottle fly as these are smaller and hard to hook. They will then use larger maggots, generally from the blue bottle fly, on the hook as bait.
Kahmen Lai is a freelance writer who has written extensively about natural health solutions. She occasionally writes for Insight Pest Solutions about green and pet-friendly pest control.