When people think of insects and bugs, it may make their skin “crawl.” If this is the case then it may also be disturbing to describe how these same insects and bugs can be used in medicine.
This is nothing new as insects have been used throughout history to treat certain medical conditions.
For many years, maggots have been used to enhance wound healing of necrotic tissue. The larvae of maggots have been shown to eat necrotic tissue, produce antimicrobial secretions, and destroy any invading bacteria trying to colonize a healing wound.
Read on to find which insects can and have been used to treat various medical conditions around the world.
When the blow fly lands on an open wound, it lays maggots like any other fly does. The difference is that these maggots secrete a curative chemical known as allantoin. This chemical is used by doctors today to treat osteomyelitis. Although this might not sound very pleasing, it is actually quite effective.
Some doctors, however, don’t even bother extracting the allantoin. Instead, they insert the maggots directly into the open wound. This process is known as maggot debridement therapy (MDT). As the maggots squirm they eat infection-causing bacteria and dead tissue.
2. Silk Moths
Silkworms are a source of a curious biochemical known as Serratia E15. This biochemical helps them transition from slithering abominations into moths by dissolving their cocoons. It can also be used to prevent heart disease in men.
Bee venom is rich in enzymes, peptides, glucocorticoids and other curative components which have been proven to help with everything from rheumatoid arthritis to Multiple Sclerosis.
Bee’s honey may help to relieve and heal burns; it has also been combined with beeswax to relieve psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and diaper rash.
Ant bites contain traces of venom which reduces swelling and eases joint pains. This venom is being harnessed as an alternative treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
The droppings from red ants were also used in ancient times by being sprinkled on wounds to help them heal.
Cicadas ate the biblical Egyptians out of house and home. Somewhere along the line, humans got hip and starting eating the cicadas instead… leading to the discovery that they can cure urinary tract infections. All across the land, the people finally rejoiced that it no longer burned when they eliminated fluids.
6. Cochineal Beetle
Cochineal beetles are not your average insect. They are just downright ugly but they do have their uses. Douse a couple of handfuls of them in alcohol and drink it down as a great cure to whooping cough, urinary tract infection and asthma.
7. Green Tea Ants
A tea made from green ants is a great way of getting rid of headaches and colds, or they can be used to clean wounds. Strangely, the ant brew has about the same gustatory quality as actual green tea.
8. Army Ants
Army ants are used in the jungles of South America and Africa to close open wounds. After the ant bites into the flesh, they rip off the body so the head acts a biological “staple”.
Clean cobwebs have been used as a make-shift bandage since the Middle Ages. There is even talk of using manufactured spider silk for ligament replacement and bone grafting.
10. Blister Beetles
Blister beetles’ healing powers have been known and used since ancient times. Diluted for proper medicinal use, blister beetle secretions actually reduce burning pain sensations commonly associated with urinary tract infections, insect bites, kidney problems, and first and second degree burns and scalds.
Blister beetles secrete cantharidan, which acts as a powerful protein blocker in the human body. Among immunologists, cantharidan first proved effective in treating severe viral infections, because it prevented some viral cells’ reproduction and it reduced other cells’ virulence.
Researchers subsequently discovered that cantharidan reacts with hostile cells’ genetic material, and therefore may be useful in treatment of cancerous tumors most resistant to radiation and chemotherapy.
Cockroach brains contain a powerful antibiotic that can obliterate E.coli and MRSA infections. But you have to eat or drink them.
Malaria can kill you, but syphilis kills you worse. At least, that’s the reasoning to giving syphilis patients bits from malarial mosquitoes. The malaria feeds on the syphilis, leaving the patient healthy.
13. Caterpillar Fungus
Chinese doctors believe that caterpillar fungus can spike energy levels, cure various diseases and jack up sexual drive.
14. Armyworm Moth
The FDA approved the flu vaccine, Flublok, which is derived from cells taken from the ovaries of the fall armyworm moth.
Grasshoppers are dried and ground into a powder, then mixed with water and ash to form a paste that is applied to the forehead
The same technique has also been used with centipedes.
16. Dead Mice and Hippo Teeth
In ancient times, dead mice, hippo teeth, and wolf ashes were used to treat toothaches. Today’s scientists have found that teeth coated with an adhesive substance secreted by mussels can rebuild an enamel-like layer. The substance may prove to be a beneficial ingredient for sensitive-teeth toothpaste.
Termite mounds are dug up – with termites inside – and ground into a paste which is applied to the affected area or mixed with water and drunk.
Whether these cures are lab tested, an ancient art, or just an old wives tale, there is a distinct benefit to the overall study and use of insects in medicine. Perhaps, as is stated in Bugs as Drugs, combining the healing insects with conventional treatment may prove to be of greatest benefit.