Maggots for Medicine

Fruit fly larvae

Fruit fly larvae

Maggots—the offspring of flies—are making their way to the modern medicine chest, according to this month’s Scientific American.

The wee young of flies—larvae—munch on dead skin, cleaning bacteria from wounds.

Science writer Carrie Arnold notes the FDA approved medical use of maggots in 2004, in part because some antibiotics have lost efficacy as drug-resistant strains of bacteria populate communities.

I found half-a-dozen studies where researchers reported benefits of using grubs that eat decaying flesh on living patients.

It’s called “debridement” when tissue is removed—or–de-bridled.

And the maggot nostrum?

“Biotherapy” is the mild descriptor you’ll find in the current vernacular referring to bug therapy.

Indigenous peoples in Central American, Australia and Burma are reported to have used maggots in medicine, although native contributions to science are brushed aside in favor of stories of modern doctors who treated soldiers on the battlefield with the flesh-eaters prior to antibiotics.

Because maggots thrive on dead tissue they are often coupled with corpses and burials in literature.

Scottish poet Robert Burns invoked the maggot in Whistle o’er the lave o’t when he simultaneously mocks and praises his lover, wishing she were…

Maggot’s meat,
Dish’d up in her winding-sheet

A winding-sheet is a burial shroud.

Photo used with permission from NSW (New South Wales) Department of Primary Industries, at


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in framing, Indian, Native Science, science communication and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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