Ask an Entomologist: Tumbu Flies

Having a nice weekend? Want to be creeped out?
Hanna alerted me to another myiasis causing fly besides bot flies: Tumbu flies. (Myiasis is the fancy name for a maggot living under your skin.)

These flies (Cordylobia anthrophaga: Family Calliphoridae) are different from bot flies, both taxonomically and in their biology. A related species, the Lund Fly (Cordylobia rhodaini) has similar habits. Both flies are found in central Africa.

The adult flies lay their eggs on wet laundry hanging out to dry, or in the soil or sand. Within two days, larvae hatch, and can remain alive for up to two weeks. During that time, if they come into contact with skin, they burrow in.Tumbu fly

You put your beach towel on the ground–oops. You hang out your sheets to dry, bring them back in–oops. In fact, laundry seems to be the most mentioned way to get infected.

Since not everyone has an electric or gas dryer in the affected area, one solution is to iron all your clothes–including underwear. Quite a drag, but better than maggots inside you.

If you’ve got tumbu flies, the home remedy is quite similar to a bot fly–cut off the larva’s source of oxygen. Like bot flies, they are in you head-first, with their hind end sticking out slightly so they can breathe. By covering the opening in your skin, the hope is to try to make the maggot back out of the skin enough for you to grab and pull them out. Mineral oil or Vasoline seems to be the most common way of covering the openings. Fortunately, these maggots seem to be much more cooperative than bot flies when it comes to removal, and rarely require medical intervention.

Of course, you could just wait the 8 weeks or so it takes for them to mature, and the maggots will come out on their own….

Additional reading:

EDITED TO ADD: I had to laugh at this statement of how to diagnose fly myiasis vs. a cellulitic infection: “sensations of movement within the lesion are important clinical clues to the diagnosis.” Uh Huh. That would be a hint, alright!

10 thoughts on “Ask an Entomologist: Tumbu Flies

  1. I must say I’m very happy to live in a place which gets an occasional frost, and is thus much less hospitable to all of the unfriendly bugs which inhabit the tropics.

    Looking at pictures of myiasis still gives me an urge to move to the Yukon, though.

  2. Great blog. I found your site through the link over at Doug’s Gossamer Tapestry. I’m always amazed at the life cycles of insects and this is no exception. Although it’s different on many levels, it brought to mind the Naegleria fowleri problem that seems to have sprung up this year in the U.S. As global warming continues to take it’s course, I wonder how much more of this will start ocurring in our neck of the woods.

  3. Bot flies are also in Central and South America. They are on the farms that have horses.It’s usually the towels. Hair drying with one puts them right in the head. They are allowed to mature,until they are large enough to be removed. Even when they are allowed to mature, there are usually others growing. The feeding is usually done in unison. One starts and they all feed. It is painful.

    The thing to do is dry clothes indoors. Mineral oil or vaseline doesn’t work. They have to be removed by a doctor.

  4. I think you are confusing Tumbu flies with Bot Flies, Mesc. They are different species, and live in different parts of the world.
    Bot flies usually do require some intervention.

  5. Wow. When i first saw this on about.com i was like AHHH now its kinda scary. I wanted to puke. :/ But none of this is in USA right?
    :O

  6. My wife and our house and her sister and her husband who live in SC, and their house, are infested with tiny black or dark brown bugs which bite and burrow under the skin. They appear to have several stages including larva which evolves into a flying insect about the size of a flea. Somehow the larva have migrated into the intestinal tract of both women. As a side note, the tiny little black bugs love cotton fabrics. So far they have been immune to every pesticide we’ve tried. Any ideas how we might rid ourselves and our environs of these pestiverous bugs.
    Neither my son nor I have been bothered.

  7. Additional info: Hydrogen peroxide applied to the skin will bring the larva to the surface of the skin and the larva can be pulled out with some difficulty. Larva has a small black dot inside. The three sufferers haven’t had a full nights sleep in two months as the bugs are highly active at night. They’ve resorted to microwaving bed linens, underwear and clothing. We’re about at our wits end. Any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated.

  8. Sandy, what you are describing is not consistent with any known insect. I suggest you consult with a specialist, both mental and physical.

    It is common for people in the south to develop pin worms, as well as fleas. Perhaps they have both, and believe they are the same animal?

    Either way, you should be seeking medical help.

    You may find these links helpful:
    Pinworms

    A PDF about unexplained skin conditions:
    http://www.mental.health.wa.gov.au/one/resource/41/delusory%20parasitosis%20Dr%20N%20Hinkle.pdf

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