Biology Can Be Gross: Peruvian Pelicans and Maggots


WARNING: This blog post has a serious gross-out potential. Not recommended for reading at breakfast.

As you may know, WC was in Peru recently, chasing birds. One of the places we birded was Pucusana, a small village an hour or so south of Lima. From Pucusana Harbor we motored around a small rocky island. Our boatman told us it was called Galapagos Island but Google Earth reports it is Pucusana Island.

Immense numbers of birds roost and nest there. Most of the cliffs are thickly coated in guano – bird poop – and there are hand-built rocky paths that allow the locals to raid the nests for eggs. Among the nesting and roosting birds are Peruvian Pelicans, an even more handsome cousin of North America’s Brown Pelicans.

Peruvian Pelican, Pucusana, Peru

Peruvian Pelican, Pucusana, Peru

A group of five birds posed nice for WC in front of a small panga, complete with color coordination.

Peruvian Pelicans, Pucusana Harbor, Peru

Peruvian Pelicans, Pucusana Harbor, Peru

But WC doesn’t think all is well with Pucusana’s population of pelicans. Some of them are food-habituated, and approached our boat looking for a handout. WC got some nice, tight head shots.

Close-up of Peruvian Pelican, Pucasana Harbor, Peru

Close-up of Peruvian Pelican, Pucasana Harbor, Peru

The things around the edge of the bill looked very odd. So WC zoomed in all the way.

Extreme closeup of Peruvian Pelican Bill and Forehead, Pucusana Harbor, Peru

Extreme closeup of Peruvian Pelican Bill and Forehead, Pucusana Harbor, Peru

WC is not a parasitologist, but those look very much like some kind of insect larvae, what a layman would call maggots. WC warned you this was going to get graphic and disgusting. The Peru coast seems to support any number of flies that lay eggs on warm-blooded animals. The eggs hatch into flesh-eating larvae. That may be what is going on here. WC notes, in passing, that very occasionally these kinds of fly eggs get laid in people.

A brief, uneducated search of Avian Pathology didn’t provide much help. Perhaps one of WC’s readers can identify what’s afflicting this bird? WC has forwarded an inquiry to one of his entomologist buddies – sadly, WC’s primary resource in entomology is no longer with us. If WC learns anything, he’ll pass it along.

It’s not pretty, but nature often isn’t.

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