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A Tsetse Fly Births One Enormous Milk-Fed Baby | Deep Look Video

August 15, 2020

Mammalian moms, you’re not alone! A female tsetse fly pushes out a single squiggly larva almost as big as herself, which she nourished with her own milk.

Mammalian moms aren’t the only ones to deliver babies and feed them milk. Tsetse flies, the insects best known for transmitting sleeping sickness, do it too.

A researcher at the University of California, Davis is trying to understand in detail the unusual way in which these flies reproduce in order to find new ways to combat the disease, which has a crippling effect on a huge swath of Africa.

When it’s time to give birth, a female tsetse fly takes less than a minute to push out a squiggly yellowish larva almost as big as itself. The first time he watched a larva emerge from its mother, UC Davis medical entomologist Geoff Attardo was reminded of a clown car.

“There’s too much coming out of it to be able to fit inside,” he recalled thinking. “The fact that they can do it eight times in their lifetime is kind of amazing to me.”

Tsetse flies live four to five months and deliver those eight offspring one at a time. While the larva is growing inside them, they feed it milk. This reproductive strategy is extremely rare in the insect world, where survival usually depends on laying hundreds or thousands of eggs.

This is another installment of the PBS Deep Look series. If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.   [Chuck Almdale]

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