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A Tsetse Fly Births One Enormous Milk-Fed Baby | Deep Look

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Channel: Deep Look
Categories: Biology   |   Environmental   |   Science  
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Mammalian moms, you're not alone! A female tsetse fly pushes out a single squiggly larva almost as big as herself, which she nourished with her own milk.

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DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.

Mammalian moms arent the only ones to deliver babies and feed them milk. Tsetse flies, the insects best known for transmitting sleeping sickness, do it too.

A researcher at the University of California, Davis is trying to understand in detail the unusual way in which these flies reproduce in order to find new ways to combat the disease, which has a crippling effect on a huge swath of Africa.

When its time to give birth, a female tsetse fly takes less than a minute to push out a squiggly yellowish larva almost as big as itself. The first time he watched a larva emerge from its mother, UC Davis medical entomologist Geoff Attardo was reminded of a clown car.

Theres too much coming out of it to be able to fit inside, he recalled thinking. The fact that they can do it eight times in their lifetime is kind of amazing to me.

Tsetse flies live four to five months and deliver those eight offspring one at a time. While the larva is growing inside them, they feed it milk. This reproductive strategy is extremely rare in the insect world, where survival usually depends on laying hundreds or thousands of eggs.

--- What is sleeping sickness?

Tsetse flies, which are only found in Africa, feed exclusively on the blood of humans and other domestic and wild animals. As they feed, they can transmit microscopic parasites called trypanosomes, which cause sleeping sickness in humans and a version of the disease known as nagana in cattle and other livestock. Sleeping sickness is also known as human African trypanosomiasis.

--- What are the symptoms of sleeping sickness?

The disease starts with fatigue, anemia and headaches. It is treatable with medication, but if trypanosomes invade the central nervous system they can cause sleep disruptions and hallucinations and eventually make patients fall into a coma and die.

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Congratulations to these fans on our YouTube community tab who correctly identified the function of the black protuberances on a tsetse fly larva - polypneustic lobes:

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Despite looking like a head, theyre actually located at the back of the larva, which used them to breathe while growing inside its mother. The larva continues to breathe through the lobes as it develops underground.

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