You think YOU have problems?

May 20, 2015 • 12:00 pm

Here’s a sad photograph from Piotr Naskrecki’s Facebook page, which you should join as it’s chock full of great photographs. This is one he took in Mozambique. It’s also worth following his website, The Smaller Majority.

Piotr’s caption:

You think you have problems? Imagine that you have to live with a chicken-sized, blood-sucking parasite attached to your head. This poor Miniopterus bat that we caught during the biodiversity survey of Gorongosa National Park has to endure living with a wingless fly Penicillidia, which never leaves its body and loves to hang out on the top of its head.


Note that that is a fly! Matthew, a connoisseur of odd flies, will be over the moon.

I hope Piotr removed the fly, but I don’t know.


102 thoughts on “You think YOU have problems?

    1. It’d deter me!

      It looks like a spider, but the bat has managed to nom a couple of legs in revenge, or as a fresh food source.

      1. I have never seen a live one of these, but I have seen live ‘sheep keds’, which are similar, wingless flies that live on sheep. Funny thing is that although they barely look like flies, the way they move, with quick jerky hops, is exactly like how flies move. That helped convince me.

        1. I used to feed the University of Texas’ large python live freshly-caught pigeons. Wingless parasitic flies would often be seen crawling out on the bird’s tail as the rest of the pigeon disappeared down the gullet of the snake…like that scene on the movie Titanic where people cling to the last above-water rails as the ship goes under.

        2. So maybe someone can help explain to me about this creepy looking creature attached to the bats head.
          Is the bat in any pain, how does this thing attach itself, etc….I’m oddly fascinated & almost repulsed at the same time

          1. “…oddly fascinated & almost repulsed at the same time.”

            That’s the way it usually is for me and parasites as well.

            Didn’t find much (but this picture!) in a brief Google search…

    1. I’m afraid of getting a bat caught in my hair with one of these things stuck to his face! 🙂

  1. Yikes!

    On Wed, May 20, 2015 at 1:01 PM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Here’s a sad photograph from Piotr > Naskrecki’s Facebook page, which you should join as it’s chock full of > great photographs. This is one he took in Mozambique. It’s also worth > following his website, The Smaller Majority. Piotr’s caption: You think > you”

      1. So the bat wouldn’t suffer. I share more genes with the bat than with the fly, so you can think of it as kin selection. Wouldn’t you remove a fly like that from the face of your cat?

        1. My daughter’s Boxer had an ant head stuck in his lip yesterday. He seemed to have been able to knock the body off, but the ant’s head stayed clamped on until daughter pulled it off. My silly feline Carmen Dingle brought me a HUGE (fortunately dead) bumblebee and plonked it on my bed. Lucky it didn’t sting her.

        2. I believe Richard would also have some apt observations here; the very significant number of genes we share with bats are served quite well by having even such distant kin as humans (MRCA ~100 MYA) provide cross-species care. That fly, on the other hand…we still share lots of genes, of course, but we’re separated by ten times as many years, and far more generations.

          I’d happily help the bat at the expense of the fly, without second thought.


          1. “I’d happily help the bat at the expense of the fly, without second thought.”

            So likely kill the fly without knowing whether the bat even care, or whether it’s harmful. It could be the fly provides the bat with unknown benefits. So essentially you’re killing the fly because you don’t like it’s looks.
            Hopefully our alien overlords when they arrive don’t find you as repulsive as a fly. :p

            1. Human and bat physiology is going to be sufficiently similar that the fly is going to be every bit as much of a nightmare as most of us imagine it would be.

              And, haven’t you seen the documentaries? It’s already been established that the Alien sympathies lie with the fly….


              1. Perhaps my problem is I don’t have much affinity for a significant percentage of the human race.
                I vaguely recall an article by Richard Dawkins on speciesism where he discusses the idea of using a Baboon as a donor for a child’s heart transplant. He goes on to suggest that most humans would go as far as causing the extinction of Baboons to save a single human child, which he considers immoral given how plentiful human children are.
                I might go even further, and sacrifice every human infant for the sake of that last Baboon breading pair. :p

              2. Right.

                So, if a baboon had a blood sucking parasite it couldn’t dislodge from its face, would you help the baboon?


            2. Unknown benefits? There is adaptive space available for such a parasite [as we see in the parasitic isopods that apparently amputate a fish’s tongue but nicely take its place]. Here I’d expect the batfly could benefit by positioning itself where it least degrades acoustic performance of the host. Further, anything that could IMPROVE the acoustic beyond the naked bat would increase the nutritional status and longevity of host and ultimately the fly as well.

              Would be fun to model the addition of a sonically-bright chitin medallion to quiet furry surfaces for echo returns.

              1. Would be fun to model the addition of a sonically-bright chitin medallion to quiet furry surfaces for echo returns.

                No need. Mammals are perfectly capable of not only shedding hair but of growing hard bony protrusions on the head. If there were any advantage to something hard and reflective as opposed to soft fur, bats would have evolved an equivalent aeons ago — likely around the same time they developed echolocation in the first place.


              2. @ Ben.

                Not necessarily. Evolution can only work with the material provided, meaning the right mutation/set of mutations has to occur.

            3. I’d scream, then go get someone else to help the bad because that fly freaks me out.

          2. such distant kin as humans (MRCA ~100 MYA) provide cross-species care. That fly, on the other hand…we still share lots of genes, of course, but we’re separated by ten times as many years,

            Sounds about right for the MRCA of bats and hoomins. The MRCA of hoomins, bats and flies, on the other hand, is a much more debatable proposition.
            I see that Prof Parnell (Dr? Is he a Prof yet? Yes, he’s a Prof.) has been prodding his Mesoproterozoic lacustrine stromatolites back into the limelight again. Molybdenum availability in lacustrine environments much higher than in marine environments ; Mo critical to N fixation ; therefore lacustrine environments may have been important to development of nitrogen fixation, and therefore to the large majority of the amino acid molecules on this planet.
            Those stromatolites are about 1.1 Gyr old (+/- 50 odd Myr), and if they’re near the root of nitrogen fixation, then they’re also likely well earlier than the MRCA of mammals and insects. But the dating of any of these events is severely hampered by the paucity of the fossil record (OTOH, the PreCambrian fossil record of the UK has tripled in size since I was at school, so … we’re trying.

            1. Thanks for the details. I should hastily add that all of my MRCA figures come straight from TimeTree and are rounded to one significant figure…so at most about 100 MYA for nearly all mammals and 1 BYA for vertebrates and invertebrates.

              …in the same spirit as the way that I date the Big Bang to a baker’s dozen billion years ago. If I get both the mantissa and the scale right, I figure that’s as good as I’ll get.


              1. Order of magnitude argument. That’s fine, but we are trying to work our way into the second decimal digit of accuracy, and maybe the 4th or even 5th binary digit of accuracy.
                Ten more (binary) digits and we might be in competition with the physicists and biologists. Though I doubt they’ll sit still waiting for us to catch up.

              2. I’m all for lots of significant figures. I just have a difficult time managing more than one or two, myself. That’s what computers are for!

                …now, where’d I put that laptop, again? Oh, yes. Right in front of me. And I even seem to be typing on it….


        3. “Wouldn’t you remove a fly like that from the face of your cat?”

          Yws, but I like cats. I feel no affinity for bats. I guess my thought process when you said you hoped he’d removed it was “wouldn’t that kill it”? I suppose if the fly will end up killing the bat, or it can live with it, I’d feel differently.

      1. Nah, flies have compound points of view.

        [But – yeesh! I’ve never felt bad for bats before, they usually look able enough, except when they show the fungal attacked ones. And now this.]

    1. And yet we have no sympathy for the point of view of a smallpox or polio virus. Well, most of us.

  2. I’m somewhat surprised these bats don’t groom the parasites off each other; I know many species are pretty fastidious about grooming themselves.

    1. My thought, too. Anything like that would have a very short expected lifespan once it came into contact with any social primate I can think of.


  3. I think that might be the scariest looking fly I’ve ever seen. Looks more like a spider. Imagination ain’t got nuthin on evolution.

        1. Personally, I don’t mind admitting I’m a species-ist. I don’t like flies. And I dislike that particular fly more than any other fly I ever saw!

      1. I think inevitably we are all species-ist. Even if someone is a vegan who only eats locally grown organic produce, they still require other species to be pushed out of the way in order for their food, clothing and shelter to be provided. Other lifestyles may have a greater impact on our fellow species but the belief that we can ever meaningfully accord equal rites to other species is hopelessly doomed.
        The best we can do is to recognise our de facto mastership of the earth and choose to exercise it as wisely and benignly as we can.

        Personally, I have no problem with the idea of swatting a mosquito but I’d be a lot less happy about a scheme to rid them altogether from the neighbourhood.

        1. Right, and as a gardener, I have to wage battle against the invasive species (Weeds!) that are now trying to take over the yard. I understand that they have some nutritional use, such as dandelions (I’ll eat the leaves and the flowers can be used to make a sort of honey); colt’s foot and horsetail have some benefits too but I can’t be bothered to figure this out. I just want them gone!

    1. Proportionately. The ratio of fly/bat is comparable to the ratio of chicken/human.

      But I think that is a bit of an exaggeration too! It looks like the bat could fit that fly it its mouth, maybe some legs sticking out, and I’ve never seen a human that could fit an entire chicken in their mouth! Well, maybe Mick Jagger. Or Carley Simon.

      Oddly enough that brings to mind that, The King
      is dead. Did you notice that Jerry? A fan of the Blues at all? I really liked B.B. King. Saw him live more than once, all at small, cozy venues. He put on one hell of a show.

  4. That is gruesome. Yet the 12 year old heavy metal fan in me is enthused that bat-face-blood-sucking-wingless-fly is an actual thing in ti world.
    Can’t get much more metal than bat face bloodsucker.

    1. This is actually the cover for the next Spinal Tap album – “Bug Face”.

      Can’t wait!

      1. I think you’ll have a long wait. One of the band members died recently (footnote 1) – I think it was the drummer (2), in a spectacularly implausible incident(3).

        (1) true, I think
        (2) by no means so sure ;
        (3) not true.

  5. Where are the bat’s eyes. Or does the spider [fly] see for her? Talk about symbiotic relations!

      1. Ah. I see (said the blinded reader).
        Looks like the fly foot might disturb the bats vision, but, maybe echolocation comes to the rescue.

  6. At least I know what my nightmares are going to be about for the next week.

    What really makes it creepy is the drops of liquid at the tips of it’s legs. It reminds me of acid blood from Alien.

    As others, I also wondered if they took it off. Sorry, but I don’t have much sympathy for large creepy face grabbing parasites.

  7. I was going to ask where the fly’s head was, but it turns out it’s that little nubbin between the forelegs. I suppose it’s the tiny, nearly invisible head, combined with the big legs, that makes it look like a spider.

  8. Bats are one of my favorite animals. It hurts to see the fellow like that. Fliess are one of my least favorite (sorry Mathew). Strangely ants are one of my top five favorite animals. Sill, I hope the fly dies.

  9. I hope that, if Piotr picked the fly off the bat he pickled it! That is such an outrageous looking thing. Are the flies rare? Do we know where, in the world of “flydom”, this thing belongs? Does it have a genus and species? We have batflies here in the US but they LOOK like flies, with wings… “normal” flies!

    1. Dunno the species, but the genus is (as labeled in the photo caption) Penicillia and the family is Hippoboscidae. The whole family are parasites on mammals, mostly. Some of them are flightless, some fly, and some fly once, seeking a host, and then shed their wings when they find one. I suspect there might also be species in which only one sex has wings. But this is the weirdest-looking hippoboscid I’ve seen.

  10. *Trigger Alert*
    That photo is gonna make me hurl. Where is my parasite-free safe zone?

    For the love of mammals and all that is decent and good in the world, execute that freakin’ insect with extreme prejudice and liberate that bat!

    Comments about parasitic right-to-life are absurd. Thanks for calling people out on it, Jerry.

    For the parasite lovers, why not protect the poor bacteria from your vicious, pathological immune system and let them ravage your body to death? The poor dears.

  11. Brings to mind Darwin’s observation:
    “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.”

  12. I just want to put in a word for the good work naturalists and conservationists are doing to protect beautiful one-of-a-kind places like Gorogosa National Park. One way to support them, the people who live around them, and your own sense of adventure is to make a visit. It is probably a lot easier than you might imagine.

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