I neglected this parasite for good reason. In terms of dramatic wildlife experiences, it ranks pretty low. For example, yesterday Adam was 3 inches away from a snake falling from a tree and landing on his shoulders. While I am afraid of real things like rebel groups and ninja terrorists, Adam is afraid of seeing a slithering reptile. Or even knowing they exist. So when one landed with a thud on the concrete behind him, and then proceeded to rear-up and fight off a flock of birds that instantly dive-bombed the poor thing, Adam reached for his smelling salts.
When he got home and I saw his ghost-white face, I knew. "It's raining f-ing snakes," he said. So yeah, pulling a worm out of your skin is amateur hour.
Honestly, it's not really a worm. Here's how it goes down. A mango fly lays eggs on the ground. The larvae crawl around until they come in contact with flesh where they can bury themselves and grow into a more proper worm-like thing, or maggot if you will. Then they hatch out of your skin and go on their merry way. Here's a better explanation (if you care for more detail) including the fact that their scientific name derives from "human eater."
|There were 8 segments on this guy. I guess we'll call it a worm. |
If you look real close, you can see the black mouth or eye or something.
It does sound really dramatic. David Sedaris even has a bit where he tells the story of his boyfriend Hugh, who grew up in the Congo, and the worm that came out of his skin. It's the perfect fodder for David Sedaris, story-teller extraordinaire, known exaggerator. (P.S. Can anyone find this story? I can't remember where I first read and/or heard it.)
Getting a mango worm is a rite of Congo passage. It's a great story to tell at home, without having to endure too much actual trauma. You can almost see it in people's eyes: "Do you think I have a mango worm?!" They say with 80% excitement, 20% fear.
Ex-pat friends even post pictures of "Baby's First Mango Worm." I had one when we first got here. It was on the bottom of my foot and I thought it was just another weird pregnancy symptom. They're quite painful, because after all it is something trying to grow inside your skin. I took my foot to my neighbor who had raised two teenage boys in Congo. She claimed she spent her Saturdays taking worms out of their backs. She even had a device for such extraction. This thing, which is also used to pop pimples. Obviously.
A few weeks ago Charlotte hosted her first mango fly babies. One on her back. One on her leg. Because if you needed to burrow in flesh, wouldn't you choose mushy baby thighs? I tried the old missionary trick of smothering them out with Vaseline. We put her to bed with a glob of Vaseline on the spots, and without fail, the next morning their little heads were poking out for air.
|If you look very close you can see the tell-tale black dot. The sign of the mango worm.|
Maybe someday her boyfriend (or girlfriend, no judgment) can use her story to make millions of literary dollars.
Mango Worm Bonus: While the point of this piece was to debunk the horror of mango worms, you really must check out what happened to our friends' little girl. Seriously. Just. Ugh.