There must have been flies on the wall, flies in the ointment, and flies just about everywhere. That would explain the white, legless, soft bodied writhing larvae emerging from my kitchen garbage and covering the cabinet bottom and floor when I came home the other night.  These larvae are more often called maggots, and not surprisingly incite disgust and revulsion in most of us.

Their presence in sizeable numbers seemingly overnight flies in the face of all logic, but we do know that the maggots that paid us a visit were not the result of spontaneous generation as once thought. They were, for sure, the offspring of flies buzzing around the house.  Or maybe it was just one fly, since each female fly can produce up to 2,000 eggs. Thus, it isn’t surprising how many maggots we had, though even just one maggot is too many for most of us.

The maggots that emerge in our trashcans come from necrophagous flies. Necrophagous describes insects that eat dead animals or carrion. Flies looking to breed especially enjoy last week’s or even last night’s leftover meat, but also will be attracted to rotting vegetation and even sweets.

It only takes up to 24 hours for eggs laid by flies to turn into the larvae known as maggots. Maggots will be present for just three to five days before they pupate and thereafter emerge as flies to start the cycle anew. Flies are attracted to the methane gas produced from the decomposition of animal flesh and, though repulsive to many, play a vital role in ridding the world of carcasses.

Shinmon Aoki, Japanese writer and poet who penned Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, was very pragmatic about these insects, explaining, “A maggot is just another life form.” 

And a life form on which we truly depend. Decomposition of corpses is just the beginning. Historically (and with a more recent renaissance), maggots have been used as a medical treatment. Wound debridement by maggot therapy describes the technique wherein maggots feed on the dead, damaged or infected tissues of a living person or other animal. Don’t try this remedy at home, since there is only one species of fly approved by the FDA for this cure. If wrongly practiced, the treatment can lead to myiasis, which is the infestation of the larvae on healthy tissue. 

Another bit of maggot magic occurs when the presence and size of these creepy crawlers are used in forensic science to estimate the time of death in human corpses. A maggot use more in line with my interest is as bait for fishing.

Even with these benefits, I would prefer that maggots not share my kitchen or garbage can. Keeping meat scraps frozen until disposal is one suggestion for lessening the presence of larvae. Also try to use the scraps for stock, since boiling them lessens their attraction for insects. Or try these scented solutions: basil, apple cider vinegar, oregano, lavender, with hazel and cloves – all of which are known to deter the flies that want to lay their eggs in your trash. The most obvious solution is to take the trash to the dump often, or maybe, go vegetarian.

I’ll try to forget about the trauma of the insect invasion, but as author Kazuo Ishiguro succinctly asked, “How can old wounds heal while maggots linger so richly?” 

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.