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Whats the Buzz About Bots?
It reminds you of the bumblebee’s waltz, but it’s not a waltz and it’s not a bumblebee.
One of the signs of summer is the arrival of one of nature’s great imposters. Their appearance signals the beginning of a new season, the time of the Bot Fly. Resembling a large brown bumblebee, Bot flies herald the start of your horse’s summer torture.
These large insects hover and buzz around livestock hosts preparing to lay their eggs and start a new cycle for the insect. Horses in particular are a favorite and the flies aggressively lay hundreds of eggs along the horse’s leg and chest hair. The buzzing sound announces the approach of the fly and the fly touching the horse’s skin often drives horses wild. Jumping, shaking and running to avoid these thrilling invaders is often futile as the flies will continue until they are able to lay their eggs.
In order to propagate the insects, the animal, and sometimes a human, needs to support their eggs where they grow and develop. Safely contained in the host’s stomach, the eggs attach to the stomach wall and remain for 10 months. Here they are fed by the host and nurtured until they hatch into larvae which pass through the intestinal tract through leaves.
The resulting infested dung provides the next stage in the life cycle of the Bot Insects and the larvae now pupate. This stage takes about two months to complete and like a butterfly, the Bot Fly emerges to complete the next stage in the long life cycle.
The adult fly, which resembles a brown hairy bumblebee, flies out in search of a suitable host for the next generation… once mating is complete and the eggs are laid, the insect dies and the cycle is complete.
It is amazing how life evolves to perpetuate itself but in doing so can harm the host. The damage is usually minimal and more studies are needed to effectively evaluate the long term effects but minor damage is done to the stomach wall. A necropsy reveals a puncture site on the stomach wall where the Bot eggs were attached. Usually the stomach heals itself but in severe infestations it can cause colic, stomach ulcers and even death if the stomach ruptures. Infected horses often look ill as the feeding insects drain nutrients and blood from the horse’s system. The horse’s immune system is weaker when it is infested and has more difficulty with illness and the harshness of winter.
So how do you prevent the Bot fly from infesting your horse? It can only be done by breaking the cycle.
In the past horsemen used toxic deworming agents to kill the stomach eggs and special combs or knives to scrape the eggs from the horse’s body.
Now a greener and more earth-friendly (and animal-friendly) product is used. Diatomaceous Earth is an easier and all-natural way to break the Bot Fly cycle. Diatomaceous Earth, often called DE, is bad for Bots but good for horses. Feeding your horse DE daily will kill the eggs, kill the larvae and kill the pupae in the resulting manure and improve your horse’s health as well.
Diatomaceous Earth is the skeletal remains of a microscopic creature. These creatures, known as Diatoms, were tiny algae millions of years ago and left large skeletal deposits on ancient seabeds. Today it is mined and used in many ways for a greener world.
DE works on Bot Flies in several ways. It first kills the eggs and any larvae in the stomach by dehydration and then flushes them from the system. After passing DE will kill any pupae that hatch in the dung and the eggs and larvae of any other fly as well. Using DE will reduce the Bot Fly population as well as the common house fly and deer fly populations as well.
Next the DE supplies additional minerals to the horse’s system. DE itself is a mineral (Silicon Dioxide for bone and hair growth) but it also contains 13 other trace minerals, all of which are essential to overall good health. The trace minerals are calcium, magnesium, titanium dioxide, gallium, vanadium, strontium, sodium, boron, iron, potassium, manganese, copper and zirconium. This mineral supply boosts the horse’s immune system and supports good general health.
DE also cleans the system. Dead eggs and larvae are flushed out of the horse’s digestive system with DE and it also cleans out sand or other debris that is not passed as well. DE will also kill other internal parasites and worms and flush them out as well. A horse with a clean gut is a healthy, happy horse.
Horses should be fed about ½ cup to 1 cup DE each day. This will depend on the size of the horse but adjust accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to feed 2% DE per animal body weight. Always start with a little and work up to the full amount. This prevents a large die-off of parasites that could cause distress to the animal. Start lightly and after 7-10 days gradually increase to the full amount.
A WORD OF WARNINGnot all DEs are equal. DE Food Grade is the ONLY one safe for use with animals. Commercial grade or “swimming pool” DE is actually dangerous for use with people or livestock. ONLY USE FOOD GRADE DIATOMACEOUS EARTH.
DE can be fed during the insect and parasite season or it can be fed all year round. It is gentle on the horse’s system and the mineral benefits make it a basic barn. Once you start using DE you will never miss this particular bumblebee imposter or his waltz again… in fact, the silence that Diatomaceous Earth creates may be the only music you want to hear .
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