Will bugs eat you if you’re not actually dead?
Here’s the situation: You’re out hiking in mountains alone. You slip and fall off a moderate cliff and break your back. You’re not dead, but you can’t move either. Your cell phone and flare gun are useless because all your limbs are paralyzed. Will the bugs that consume dead bodies try and consume you?
I’ll give you the good news first. Many of the bugs that live on dead flesh are attracted to organic decay itself. The beetles that do the bulk of the eating sense dead animals in a way that is still poorly understood. They are not likely to drool over a live human, immobilized or not. Other bugs, generally referred to as “cheese-skippers” prefer the more advanced stages of decay, after your own digestive juices have gone work on you. The bottom line? If you aren’t stinky rotten, some bugs just aren’t interested.
Now for the bad news. Flies don’t care if you’re dead or not. Neither do ants. Flies will settle and lay eggs on any unmoving animal within twenty minutes. (There’s a pizza delivery joke in there somewhere, but I’ll resist.) Their favorite place to lay eggs? Open wounds. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, actually. Maggots eat necrotic flesh, and a good maggot infestation can actually save you from septicemia and gangrene. Just don’t get them in your eyes. Not all ants will eat flesh, but those that will don’t care if you’re dead or not. Hell, ants don’t care if you wiggle or not, so long as you can’t get away.
This sort of thing happens more often than you might think. Not just to hikers, but to botched suicides and the victims of amateurish murder attempts. But the most frequent subjects of unwanted insect infestation are the elderly and the ill. The most likely causes? Abuse and neglect.
So never hike alone, boys and girls. And choose Granny’s nursing home carefully.
Note: Many off the facts in this entry come from a lecture by David Faulkner, Forensic Entomologist. Any errors are my own.