October 31, 2018, Morris Animal Foundation
Eggs hatching. Larvae burrowing under the skin and feeding on surrounding tissue. It's like a scene from a horror movie. Only this isn't a movie—it's happening in real life to an extremely endangered bird species, the Ridgway's hawk. The culprit is a botfly in the genus Philornis that is so aggressive it's eating hawk nestlings from the inside out.
Native to the Dominican Republic, around 300 Ridgway's hawks remain in the wild and researchers have been working diligently to save them. Botfly infestations are jeopardizing conservation efforts of not only Ridgway's hawks, but potentially other island raptors as well.
The story, though, is taking a turn for the better, thanks to Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers at The Peregrine Fund. Dr. David Anderson and his team found a way to take on the Philornis botfly—and they're winning. The biologists are taking the fight to the botfly, scaling trees to reach Ridgway's hawk nests high in the canopy to apply an insecticide product. The findings and successes of their work recently were published in Animal Conservation.
"Peregrine Fund biologists found that botflies in the genus Philornis were practically wiping out all the hawk's nestlings," said Dr. David Anderson, Program Director at The Peregrine Fund. "We devised a solution—spraying nestlings with the chemical fipronil, the same chemical we use on our pets to get rid of fleas and ticks—and it seemed to work."