Maggot Facts: Where They Come From and How to Get Rid of Them
What Is a Maggot?
A maggot is the larvae of a fly.
In other words, a fly lays eggs which turn into larvae (maggots), which become flies, which lay more eggs, and so on...
(Full disclosure: I did not always know this. At the risk of sounding like a moron, I’ll admit that I thought they just sort of appeared. Not sure where that logic came from.) After doing some thorough research, I thought I’d compile the basics and share.
Where Do Maggots Come From?
The fly lays eggs, which turn into maggots. "Maggot" is another word for larva. After a pupal stage, maggots turn into flies. Sometimes, it may seem like the maggots appear from nowhere, but it's just that you didn't notice the fly or its eggs. The fly lays hundreds of eggs at a time! They will begin to hatch within a day.
A Fly's Life Cycle
- A female lives about a month, during which time she lays from 500 to 2,000 eggs in batches of about 75 to 150 at a time.
- A day after the eggs are laid, the maggots will appear.
- We usually see them in this first stage while they are still 3-9 mm long and whitish in color (however, they can grow to be 20 mm. Ew!).
- Maggots feed for 3 to 5 days. There are larval and pupal stages, and it takes approximately 14 to 36 days for the eggs to morph into flies.
The fly will lay its eggs anywhere it feels like the maggots will be safe and well-fed. This is why it’s so common to see them in old or rotting food. The maggots need to eat non-stop so the fly will always lay the eggs where there is food.
What Do Maggots Like to Eat?
Maggots like meat—leftovers, discards, pet food, dead animals—any old meat will do. They eat to fuel their growth until they pupate.
How to Prevent Flies (and Maggots)
- Always clean up any food and don't leave any sitting out. Store food in sealed containers. Tie your garbage bags tightly and remove garbage from your house frequently.
- Flies will lay their eggs in your pet’s food as well, so make sure you change their food fully and don’t just top it up. Keep the dish covered when not in use.
- Clean out garbage cans thoroughly. Using bleach is probably your best bet. Make sure their lids are always sealed tight.
- If you compost, be sure to keep it completely sealed.
- If you have a dog, be sure to keep your yard free of dog poop.
- Seal any holes in your screens to help keep them out. They always find a way to sneak in though, don’t they?
How to Get Rid of Maggots (and Flies)
This can depend on your personal preference, as you can use chemical products or do it naturally.
- Remove all food sources, and the flies will lay their eggs elsewhere.
- Pour boiling water over maggots to kill them instantly. If you want, you can add a cup of bleach and 1 1/2 cups of hydrogen peroxide to a gallon of boiling water.
- Dish soap works great as an insect repellant and/or insecticide. Most dish soaps contain a little borax, which is the active ingredient.
- Natural fly repellants include vodka, aromatic herbs like lavender, basil, and bay leaf, lemongrass oil, cloves, witch hazel, apple cider vinegar, and camphor or citronella smoke.
- You can make a trap to catch the flies, hopefully before they lay eggs. Fill the bottom of a container with a couple of inches of water, then add some smelly bait and a couple of drops of liquid dish soap.
- There are certain plants you can plant around your home like marigold, chrysanthemum, lavender, and tansy, which will help keep flies away. (Don't forget the venus flytrap, a carnivorous plant that loves to eat flies, which is a spectacular—if not exactly effective—way to do it!)
- Use an electronic fly traps that plug into your outlets or a fly zapper. These emit a white UV light that attracts flying insects, then zaps them with electricity. Be careful to use these indoors, and only when needed, because they kill all kinds of flying insects, even ones that we really need.
- If you choose to get rid of them chemically, use a product which contains permethrin, a chemical that is used as an insecticide. For example, Raid, which we’re all probably familiar with, is a popular insecticide that is used in households.
- Use a fly gun or a good ol’ fly swatter.
- Get some fly paper, or make your own. (See video below.)
Interesting Maggot Facts
Maggots can be used for many things. Even though you might think they're gross, there are many ways we benefit from their existence.
- They make great bait for fishing.
- Live ones can be used for medical purposes like as cleaning wounds of dead tissue, especially for wounds that are having trouble healing.
- They are very helpful to forensic scientists who use them to calculate an approximate time of death.
To sum it up: If you can manage to not leave any food out, including your garbage, compost, and your pet's food and waste, you’ll likely remain maggot-free.
About Maggots (from National Geographic)
From the Comments
Jordan from Norman, OK left a very helpful comment in the comment section. Here it is in full:
"I did my undergraduate research on decay and maggot development. You summed it up quite nicely! I'm impressed. Here are a few more tidbits on necrophagous flies:
There is only one major family of flies that will oviposit on decaying matter: Calliphoridae. Not all flies are attracted to detritus, but if the fly is shiny and blue or green, chances are it's feeding on and laying its eggs in your garbage. Maggots can only survive on wet substrate, so if you are compulsively changing your dry bin out of fear of maggot infestation, know that they cannot live on a dried chicken bone (or dried anything else)!
Development changes drastically with temperature. It may take anywhere from two hours to three days for them to hatch from eggs; likewise, it may take six hours to five months for them to develop into adults. The life cycle is a six stage process: egg, first instar, second instar, third instar, pupa, and adult.
While these flies are major pests within the home, they are one of the only organisms that rids the world of carcasses. When they are in their natural habitats, they are very helpful, indeed!"
Feel free to leave information of your own in the comments section!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.