Many people would say maggots are not one of the cutest creatures on earth. Some people may even use the word “maggot” as a derogatory term. However people may describe them, we benefit a lot from these little creatures. From disinfecting wounds to identifying corpses, maggots have an interesting array of useful skills. Perhaps by reading this blog, you may change your perspective on these little creatures and start to appreciate them more.
Maggots for Healing Practices:
Maggots have helped heal wounds for centuries. During the World War I era, American surgeon William Baer observed that soldiers with maggot-infested wounds usually did not experience the expected infection. Since then, Baer started to use live maggots to treat bone and soft tissue infections. The result have been remarkable. However, in the 1930s, the maggot therapy began to decline due to its nature and people’s perception of it. Nowadays, the efficacy and safety of maggot therapy has been revitalized. Moreover, advanced technology and materials manufacturing have made maggot therapy commonplace. Thus, the effectiveness of Maggot Debridement Therapy has been widely acknowledged and many therapists consider it the most practical way to specifically treat knotty infections and wounds.
Maggot Debridement Therapy goes though the following protocol: First, the therapists select a safe and effective maggot species and strain. Afterwards, the chosen maggots are disinfected with a cleaning chemical solution. They are then applied to the wound and contained. For every square centimeter of wound surface area, about 5-10 maggots are applied. They remain for about 48-72 hours until removal. Many clinical and laboratory studies have shown that medicinal maggots are highly effective at debridement, disinfection, stimulation of healing, and biofilm inhibition and eradication. Furthermore, they have also shown that maggot therapy has had remarkable effects on treating Diabetic Foot Ulcers, Pressure Ulcers, Venous Stasis Leg Ulcers, and a variety of other traumatic and vascular wounds.
Maggots in Forensic Entomology:
Forensic entomology is the study of insects in relation to criminal investigations. For centuries, people from all over the world have used insects to help solve murder mysteries, find corpses, and identify victims. Blowflies are one of the most common insects found in corpses. They are also one of the fastest to arrive as well, for they can find a dead body within hours due to their senses. Blowflies often lay their eggs into the corpse, and these maggots are mainly responsible for the decay in body composition. Maggots can provide much information about the corpse. They are normally found on body orifices such as the eyes, ears, and anus. However, if they were located elsewhere, it could mean that the corpse had serious injuries such as open wounds at that location before death. The age or developmental stage of the maggot can also provide clues as to how long the corpse has been dead. Maggots go under three larval stages and one pupa stage before they become an adult and the entire process takes around 10-16 days. It can be delayed or sped up depending on the temperature of the environment. Temperature linearly affects the developmental rate, and so can estimate how long the body has been there for. Maggots can also help identify deceased bodies whose faces are unrecognizable. According to a study published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, human DNA can be extracted from the maggot’s gastrointestinal tract and be used to identify the body. They tested this on badly burned corpse whose gender was initially unknown. It was apparently a woman who was reported missing by her father, and the father was only able to recognize her from the ring she was wearing. After performing a series of short and tandem repeat typings to compare the DNA of the various maggots found in the body with the DNA of the father, the probability of paternity came out to be about 96%. This result indicated that DNA found in the maggot’s GI tract can be used to help identify the victim. However, this does depend on the quality of the biological material. If the corpse was very badly damaged or burned, this method may not be useful in identification.
Maggots for Fermenting Cheese:
Maggots are not only used for healing practices and forensics, but can also be used to ferment cheese such as Casu Marzu (“Casu Modde” in Sarnadian language or “formaggio marcio” in Italian, which means “rotten cheese”). This is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that contains live insect larvae. Casu Marzu is a type of cheese that is typically soaked in brine, smoked, and left to ripen in the cheese cellars of central Sardinia. Cheese makers set the Pecorino Sardo outside, open and uncovered, in order to allow flies to lay eggs on it. As the eggs hatch into maggots, they consume the cheese and produce enzymes that decompose fats and increases fermentation. Casu Marzu’s taste is rich, highly pungent, and very soft. It tends to have a burning sensation on the tongue. Unfortunately, there have been numerous anecdotal reports of allergic reactions such as crawling skin sensations that last for days. There have also been concerns and cases about intestinal larval infection. These concerns led Casu Marzu to be illegal to sell. However, one can still buy these cheese in black market due to the lack of public attention surrounding it.
Although most of us find flies to be pesky creatures, we all benefit from the maggots. They help heal and disinfect wounds, provide valuable forensics data such as time of death and type of injuries, and can make cheese! So next time you encounter a conversation about maggots, you’ll look at them with new lenses.