JANUARY
2000

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

01-27-00

Take Two Maggots and Call Me in the Morning

Insects play a major role in human health. These six-legged creatures cause us health problems because of direct feeding or transmission of disease-causing organisms.

But on the other hand, a few insects and their products have been used by humans to improve health. One example is the ancient technique of using biting insects to suture a wound. Ants and beetles are good for this since they have well-developed mandibles. Many primitive people throughout the world still use this procedure for wounds.

How does insect suturing work? First, you catch the insect and induce it to spread out its jaws. When the jaws of the insect are open, pinch the skin together and let the insect clamp down on the folds. Once the jaws are clamped in place, the head of the insect is pinched off. The head, with the jaws, remains in place and provides a suture. This technique is very much like the metal staples that modern surgeons use as sutures.

For symptoms of a cold, such as stuffiness, phlegm accumulation and headache, try what the Australian aborigines do. They make a liquid concoction out of green tree ants. A swig or two of this mixture is believed to provide relief from the miseries of a cold.

Honey bees also provide some help with human health. For instance, honey has been used for thousands of years as a dressing for wounds. The sugar content and the acidity of honey reduce the risk of harmful microorganisms growing and causing infections.

Many people like to consume locally produced honey to help develop a tolerance to local pollen. This is said to help with people who suffer with hay fever during the plant growing season.

The venom in the honey bee sting has been purported to provide relief from the pain of arthritis. Some people go so far as to induce bees to sting arthritic joints in an effort to reduce the pain. It might be that the pain of the sting overrides the pain of arthritic joints! Whatever the reason, some people swear by the treatment.

One of the most interesting uses of bees or their products for health purposes is associated with royal jelly. This substance is produced by the glands of worker bees and is fed to newly hatched larvae. Larvae destined to become queens receive the substance all through their immature lives.

Everyone knows how vigorous honey bee queens are. So, it is probably not a surprise that the substance so important to their development has been used to cure all sorts of ailments. 

According to the printed material associated with Peking Royal Jelly, each 10 cc vial contains 250 mg of royal jelly mixed in with a couple of herbs. It helps cure loss of body weight and weakness after illness or childbirth. It also helps overcome general weakness in mental and physical energy and overtaxation. Got chronic diseases of the liver or anemia or gastric ulcer? Royal jelly will help.

The most interesting of all insect-related cures is called maggot therapy. It's the use of maggots to help heal wounds and sores. It works like this. Maggots are introduced into the wound. The maggots eat the decaying flesh while their waste material helps inhibit infection. Maggot therapy has been used for almost four centuries.

Colonies of flies are still maintained in some hospitals for use in maggot therapy. But the substance that helped the wounds heal, called allantoin, has been commercially produced. It seems some people are a bit squeamish about having live maggots crawl around in their wounds. I guess you could say that the idea just bugs them!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox