*warning: contains references which may upset delicate sensibilities or weak stomachs.
With all the dangers of the Amazon rainforest real and imagined, the most common ones are the most easily overlooked. Forget the mega-fauna: jaguars (extremely rare), fer-de-lance (rare), white-lipped peccaries or even caimans. You are much more likely to be hit by a falling branch than bit by a snake. But watch out for the little things, like microbes. Or parasites.
Here’s a fascinating bit of natural history that will interest a tropical traveler: the botfly, Dermatobia hominis, is a large, noisy insect, easily detected and deflected. In order to implant an egg into the skin of a warm blooded animal primate (human or otherwise) and get its life cycle going it captures a mosquito on the wing, onto which it lays an egg and then releases. If that doesn’t sound unlikely enough, that mosquito must then find a warm-blooded animal primate (human or otherwise) for the purpose of obtaining a blood meal for its own brood. As the mosquito settles onto the skin and begins feeding, the body heat of the mosquito’s victim hatches the botfly egg. The larvae then drops and crawls into the hole left by the mosquito’s proboscis. There it grows and develops, nourished by the surrounding flesh of the animal primate (human or otherwise). A little miracle when you think about it, no?
[update 7:07 pm. This just in from Dr.Katherine Milton of the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, an authority on botfly infestations in howler monkeys. I thank her for the corrections. She writes: “Dermatobia lives on any mammal–not just primates but cows and cats and dogs and horses and rats and even a report of a turkey! It is not confined to primates. And it captures a mosquito or blood sucking fly (females I imagine in both cases) and attaches a neat row of its eggs to it. . See my October 2003 Nat. History article ‘Something to Howl About’, pages 20-24. Now, as for your film, well, the music you picked was so well suited to the tragedy of that poor little lost larva. I cried buckets! I bet if you could stuff it back into where ever you cruelly forced it out of, you’d do it in a heart beat.” See here for a list of Dr.Milton’s publications- her excellent and lively article is available in pdf form.]
Over the course of our three week expedition your intrepid explorers endured various low-grade forms of discomforts we won’t go into here. But both Mike and I won the lottery, so to speak, when it came to the minor miracle of the botfly. Yesterday I was delivered of a healthy baby bot (and a good thing, too- the 1 a.m. feedings were driving me crazy). The Ant Man knew just what to do: cover the ever-growing mosquito bite/botfly baby bump with a strip of clear packing tape, and leave it on for 24 hours. This caused the larvae to gamely try to catch its breath through the now-blocked hole in the center of the swelling. When he removed the tape, voilà, there was the little critter all visible and catchable with forceps. Before putting it in preservative, it went under the scope for a minute so we could enjoy its rare beauty. And share it with all of you, too.
You know, I rarely entertain, but when I do, I try to keep my guests happy and comfortable. Being a little neurotic about these things I often end up stressing about the details. In this case I needn’t have worried. As it turned out, I was the perfect host.