key Deer Fall Victim to Flesh-Eating Parasite

March 16, 2016

A parasitic fly has returned to Florida after 50 years and is devastating indigenous animals. To-date one fifth of the endangered Key deer have been killed by the invader. The fly's larvae, the screwworm, infest and overtake open wounds in animals, nearly always leading to their death. The development is so troublesome because screwworms were thought to have been eradicated by 1966.

To help prevent the outbreak the Florida Department of Agriculture has enacted temporary restrictions on the movement of animals in or out of the quarantine area which extends south from key Largo. Though no reports have been filed outside of the Keys yet, it is still a good idea to be on the lookout for possible infection in pets, livestock, and even people. 

The fly can smell an open wound from miles away. Once the injury is found it releases pheromones to attract other flies. Thousands of eggs can be deposited, quickly releasing the larvae which can lead to death in the animal. Should you find any type of movement or visible worms on a pet's injury, immediately take it to your veterinarian for treatment. This is especially true if you've traveled to the Florida Keys since September of last year.

Eradicating the pest a second time should be possible, especially considering the "locked away" nature of the Keys. Back in the 1960s scientists cultivated and released sterilized male flies back into the wild. Since females only breed once during their lifetime, finding a sterile mate produced no offspring and the population quickly died out. If this method is used again, the flies in the Keys could be eradicated within 10 weeks.

There is only an estimated population of 800 Key deer left and so far 135 have been found killed by the parasite. Since they're wild animals they are not monitored for injuries like livestock would be. This makes them more susceptible.

Again if you have any concerns that your pet may be infected, have your vet check it out immediately.