Editor’s Note: Despite our Sea Turtle Healing Center team’s best efforts, Apple Dumpling passed away overnight on October 22.
This blogpost describes in detail the process of using medicinal maggots to treat severe wounds on one of our Sea Turtle Healing Center patients. It also includes photos of the process.
Our Sea Turtle Healing Center doesn’t shy away from seeking out innovative science-based treatments for their patients, from raw honey to leeches. The Healing Center team recently tried a new-to-them treatment on a new patient: medicinal maggots!
If you don’t want to learn more about this treatment – or see photos of it in action, please stop reading now!
Sub-adult loggerhead Apple Dumpling was found stranded along the coast in Cape Canaveral on September 17, or National Apple Dumpling Day. Sea Turtle Preservation Society members who arrived to bring them our team immediately noticed predator bites, likely from a shark, all over Apple Dumpling, with a lot of severe lacerations on their front flippers in particular.
In the days following Apple Dumpling’s arrival, our team worked to stabilize them as they looked into ways to help their flippers, which had dead and diseased tissue. The usual method of debridement, or thoroughly cleaning the wound and removing diseased tissue, was decided to be too intense for Apple Dumpling’s health.
So, our Healing Center team turned to maggots as a gentler method of debridement. Now, these aren’t your everyday maggots. These medical-grade fly larvae are germ-free, a specific species conducive to this therapy and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Maggots not only clean wounds of dead and infected tissue by dissolving it with their digestive enzymes – they also disinfect the area! The organisms leave behind antimicrobial molecules, eat microbes and dissolve bacteria communities called biofilms. Plus, maggots leave healthy tissue alone.
In addition to studying the medical company’s information on applying medicinal maggots, our team reached out to several fellow sea turtle rehabilitation facilities who use this treatment. With a plan in place, we ordered our first jars of medicinal maggots – and bought some pantyhose.
You read that right – pantyhose! Once the maggots were sprinkled over Apple Dumpling’s front flippers, a piece of hosiery was placed over the flipper and maggots. The stockings were sheer enough to let the maggots breathe, but thick enough to keep them contained to the area.
After a few days, the maggots had nearly quadrupled in size. It’s an unsettling sight, but it also meant they did their job of cleaning Apple Dumpling’s flippers. The maggots were removed and the wounds flushed out.
Apple Dumpling still has a long road ahead as we help them heal from their traumatic injuries. While we don’t know where Apple Dumpling’s healing journey will lead them next, we’re cautiously optimistic!