Screwworm Pestilence Slipping Into Obscurity

Beefs and Beliefs

After one or two generations we’re losing oral and written history of our industry.

Published on: April 29, 2011

This week I spent finishing historical articles for the June issue, a fun but challenging job.

I had this interesting conversation with a lady at the Kansas historical society who seemed quite knowledgeable about her area, the cattle drives, and the importance of cattle and ranching to her state and its history. Yet when I asked her if she knew about the screwworm she said she did not.

Now the fact is I live less than four miles south of the Kansas border and all the old timers here remember the pest. I know it was in Kansas and have found reports it turned up in South Dakota in the summer.

In other words, it wasn’t just a southern pest. Like the fever tick, the movement of cattle and other livestock around the country spread it far and wide. It may not have been good at surviving northern winters, but I can speculate it might have gotten better at it over time. Certainly the nine-banded armadillo has and the boll weevil was creeping north before concerted eradication efforts halted its northern drift.

In fact, it amazed me how many people, some of them in historical societies and such, who don’t know about the screwworm.

Ah, how long is 40 years in the human timeframe, eh?

If you are one who doesn’t know this pest, I suggest you search for it on the Internet and read a little about it – the only fly on the American continent that lays maggots which only eat living flesh. It was so aggressive in its life cycle it could kill animals which weren’t treated. The eradication of it clear past Costa Rica has been one of the great stories of science, animal husbandry and humanitarian effort.

You’ll find this and similar stories in the June issue of Beef Producer when it comes to your mailbox.