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Researchers Finally Learn How The African Tsetse Fly Drinks Blood From Mammals

September 27th, 2017

It has long been known that the African tsetse fly (ATF) spreads a disease known as sleeping sickness, but that is not all. This fly’s bite is described as one of the most painful insect bites in the world. Despite the abundance of research that has been conducted concerning the disease that this fly causes to humans, little is known about the anatomy of the mouthparts of this fly. You would think that a fly capable of causing severe pain would have had its mouthparts studied closely, but this has been a difficult task for researchers. Now, thanks to new state-of-the-art equipment, researchers have finally gained some insight into structures what this fly’s mouth contains.

Researchers from the Trypanosome Research Group have recently used a high powered scanning electron microscope in order to gain a never before seen look into the ATF mouthparts, and what they found is just as horrific as you would think. Rows of sharp teeth were clearly visible. These sharp teeth are used by the fly to chew through the skin of a human or an animal. The teeth are designed to tear apart fragile capillaries so that the fly can have access to a heavy stream of blood. What has baffled researchers the most about this fly is how it is able to continuously receive blood from a host. Somehow the ATF is able to prevent wounds from clotting. This way the fly can receive as much blood as it likes. It turns out that this fly spews a saliva that contains an anticoagulant. The saliva is injected into the victim’s wound through a long narrow tube protruding from the mouthparts of the fly. This tiny tube is contained within the proboscis of the fly. At the tip of this tube are finger-like structures that look, and probably act, like suckers.

According to Professor Wendy Gibson from the School of Biological Sciences, these finger-like structures were never before observed, so there is no name for them. Textbooks simply show illustrations of the mouthparts without the finger-like part of the anatomy. These finger-like “suckers” have never been found in any other type of blood-sucking insect. Now researchers can understand why these flies cause so much pain to their bite victims.

Have you ever sustained a bite from any insect that was not an ant? If you have, what type of insect was it?

 

 

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