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Is This the Grossest Bug in the World?

common house fly

In the 1700s through the last 1800s a revolting species of fly plagued Western Europe, namely Italy. The aptly-named “Bone Skipper” feasted on dead flesh like most flies are wont to do, but the Bone Skipper’s tastes were more sinister. This fly was only satisfied with extremely decomposed flesh, hence its nickname.

Thought to be extinct for over 100 years, the Bone Skipper has popped back up in Italy and scientists are working furiously to try and collect specimens for study. In the 18th and 19th centuries the records of these flies were sparse and not very well cataloged, so much that is known about these bugs has been passed down as legend. Scientists believe it’s a great possibility the flies were never extinct at all, simply unidentified. 

First noticed in what were essentially morgues, Bone Skippers feast on decaying flesh and bone matter. They’re called “Bone Skippers” because they have an odd habit of jumping or “skipping” around as they eat which causes the unnatural sensory appearance of a body being alive with these bugs once it’s covered. It’s no wonder scientists shied away from these flies for so long!

Bone Skippers tend to prefer large decaying mammals which, yes, includes humans. But scientists speculate the reason there are so few available for study may be that the flies were far more common in prehistoric days when large mammals (like Mammoths) were prevalent. Little is known about the bugs’ history or even its path through Europe.

For now, scientists are content to study the three “new” species of Bone Skipper identified with the help of amateur bug sleuths, captured on video, in pictures, and in rare cases, as carcasses themselves. There are few complete specimens of the fly which make it hard to study and even harder to genotype, so it may be years before more is known about this corpse-loving creature.

You needn’t worry about Bone Skippers in your area. The likelihood of these flies in your hometown is slim to none, and even if you did see a Bone Skipper you may not be able to tell it apart from a regular housefly. And since Bone Skippers prefer only decaying meat, they pose no threat to live humans or animals.

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