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Creepy Crawlies: The Tsetse Fly

In the first of this series on insect disease vectors, our resident entomologist Eliot talks us through the gory details of the Tsetse fly.

Am I starting this series with something funky, rather than a straightforward mosquito? You got that right! Am I doing this because I think Tsetse flies are cool (despite the fact they’re also jerks)? Also right! Is this annoying self-interrogation style going to continue for the whole blog post? No, thankfully not!

So, what are Tsetse flies? They are flies (...) that can be super testy sometimes. HAHAHA, just a bit of entomology humour for you there. Scientifically, they’re called Glossina sp., and they’re the bad dudes who spread Human African Trypanosomiasis (also known as Sleeping Sickness or HAT). They’re large flies relative to other insects, and have a long, straight probocis (remember this for later, when I'll explain the interesting way that they feed). However, the most awesome visible feature of Tsetse flies is the “hatchet cell” on their wings – a pattern which looks like a cleaver or a hatchet. How badass is that?


As if they weren’t already metal enough, the Tsetse fly is a pool feeder. A pool feeder bites a chunk out of your/a cow’s flesh, leaving a hole in it. It then uses the aforementioned probocis like a straw to drink your blood. That's right, this thing literally makes itself a little pond of blood in your skin, and slurps it up like you or I would drink a milkshake. Brutal.


But why should you care about these little guys? Sure, they seem mean and malicious, but it's not like they can cause you any serious damage, right? Enter Trypanosoma brucei spp. These little monsters cause HAT, which, to anyone who didn’t see that one episode of House, can make you comatose and kill you! If that's not enough, the parasites can get into other mammal vectors, specifically things we like to eat, messing up food supplies. What a fiendish team!


So, in summary: Tsetse flies are big black beasts with a weapon tattooed on their wings, who take chunks out of their prey to drink from a pool of blood, and spread a disease that straight up kills people and destroys food chains. So metal.

Guest Blog: Eliot Hurn, 16.09.2018


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