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Squirrels, Warbles, Bot Fly Larvae

Squirrels Are Not Going Nuts

The following article about Bot Flies and Bot fly larvae in squirrels was written by Lt. Stan Kirkland, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), who has kindly given us permission to include his article on the web site.  The Bot Fly mentioned in this article is not generally considered a general household pest, but our staff wanted to add the article for your general information.
Return to Squirrel Trap Article    Return to Wildlife Article  
Trapping Squirrels  Ground Squirrels 

Squirrels Are Not Going Nuts by Lt Stan Kirkland, FWC

 It's an all-too-common call to offices of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) this time of year."  There's a squirrel in my yard with lumps all over its body and it's jumping in the air, rolling on the ground and acting crazy. What's wrong with it," the typical caller asks.
Although squirrels might be acting a little, well, squirrelly this time of year, biologists say it's really nothing to get alarmed about.  " When people call they describe these unusual antics, as well as large lumps on the squirrel's body that appear to be cancerous tumors," said Stan Kirkland, the FWC's public information coordinator for the Northwest Region.  "The good news is the lumps are not malignant tumors.  In fact, they are caused by 'warbles,' which are Bot fly larvae growing just under the squirrel's skin." In fact, once the larvae emerge in the fall, the squirrel generally recovers without further incident.  However, while the insects are burrowed under the skin, they are a real annoyance to the squirrel. "In the Southeast United States, gray squirrels and other rodents, and rabbits, are commonly affected by Bot fly warbles.  Horses and cattle are sometimes affected by them too," Kirkland said.
What happens is sometime during the summer months the female Bot fly, which resembles a small bumble bee, deposits its eggs on tree limbs or near the entrance to a squirrel's nest or den.  The unsuspecting squirrel or rabbit comes into contact with the eggs and enters the den to sleep.  Then when it grooms itself, its body heat and moisture causes the eggs to hatch.  The newly hatched larvae then penetrate the squirrel through a body opening and migrate to a comfortable spot just below the skin where they cut a breathing hole and continue their development. Sometime during the fall the larvae will emerge from the skin, drop to the ground and then pupate in the ground until next summer, when they'll re-emerge as a fly and begin the process again.  "In gray squirrels, the larvae are most abundant in the late summer and early fall.  This is why people are seeing the lumps right now," Kirkland said.  "A few squirrels may become debilitated if they are heavily infested, but most will suffer no permanent effects from the parasite."  In terms of health issues, there is no threat to humans or pets from the larvae itself or the affected animals.  Most of the time squirrels that have warbles recover fairly quickly in a matter of days.
Florida's small game season for squirrels comes later in the fall and hunters rarely kill squirrels then that have Bot fly warbles.  For the time being, however, the best thing to do if you see these odd-acting squirrels is to simply leave them alone and let nature take its course.  Eventually the problem will take care of itself and the squirrels will go about the business of being squirrels.

For more information contact Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Lt. Stan Kirkland

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