What's worse than finding a maggot in your apple?

Probably NOTHING, duh. I just got a chill and my eyes had to squeeze shut to shake off the thought.

I guess when you collect dead things, being grossed out is to be expected sometimes. There is probably nothing more disgusting to me than a pile of squirming maggots! It’s happened to me twice since getting into Taxidermy and insect collecting.

The first time happened when I collected some dead Darkling Beetles (Tenebrionidae) from one of my hikes up at Griffith..

For years I’ve been hiking up there seeing these dead beetles along fire trails. It always made me sad how people pass by squashed or dead insects probably without a second thought. I wanted to commemorate the insects life somehow. I came up with the idea to make a coffee table book of dead insect obituaries. I’d take a photo of each dead insect and write a fictitious story that people might find charming. (I still need to make good on this idea.)

Out of 3 of the Darkling Beetles I collected, two hatched maggots. Thank Robert Smith I decided to put glasses over the pinned beetles while they dried. I would check on them every couple of days and was repulsed (shivers again) at what I saw after about 4 days. I immediately threw out the beetles with their lovely maggot parties and wrote to Richard, Coordinator of the Citizen Science Program at NHM. The beetles and their data have been posted here.

So I got some great information from two of our entomologists. They think that those beetles were NOT parasitized. They think they died, and then a fly laid its eggs on the beetles. Adult beetles are covered in a tough exoskeleton so it is very hard for a phorid fly to inject its ovipositor into them (whereas bees have soft tissue between their bands on their abdomen.) Below are the responses from the entomologists that I talked to.

– Richard Smart

 If the beetles were found dead, it’s quite possible that the eggs were laid on the beetle post mortem and were not parasites. It’s too bad she threw away the maggots rather than rearing them! Beetles in general– ADULT beetles I should say– are not a typical target group for parasitoids (that armored exoskeleton really does its job!) but Emily may know of an example of phorids parasitizing beetles. My gut feeling from the info is that it was a scavenger that laid eggs on the dead beetles.

– Lisa Gonzalez

 I agree with Lisa’s guess that the eggs which hatched were most likely laid postmortem.  Creatures like blow flies, for instance, love all manner of disgusting (dead, fecal, etc.) substrates as larvae, just to give one common example.  Although it’s hard to tell from the photo,  these look considerably larger than phorid maggots/pupae.  I am not aware of any instances of phorids parasitizing adult beetles, for the reasons Lisa already discussed.

– Emily Hartop

The second time I ran into maggots was when I decided to flip over a dead Pigeon(Columbidae) I found in my neighborhood to see how long it’d been dead..

OF COURSE I wore gloves! Underneath was a plethora of wiggling maggots. THE SMELL! THE SMELL! OMG, THE SMELL! Bad, horrible, terribly stupid thing to do. (I think this was worse than when my former dog decided to find a rotting voodoo chicken in a bush and show my friend Mike and I his prize. Mike didn’t take his hands away from over his face the entire time it took to get that chicken out of my dog’s mouth.)

On that note, I don’t think I’ll be cooking any rice tonight for dinner. (shivers)