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Photo: Tusklike mandibles protruding from the screwworm larva's mouth rasp the flesh of living warm-blooded animals. A wound may contain hundreds of such larvae. Link to photo information

Storytelling CD-ROM Documents Screwworm Eradication Science

By Len Carey,
January 31, 2001

The Agricultural Research Service’s National Agricultural Library has published a CD-ROM that tells the science story behind the eradication of the screwworm--one of the great successes of agricultural research and American agriculture.

The CD is called “Stop Screwworms: Selections from the Screwworm Eradication Collection.” U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologists Raymond C. Bushland and Edward F. Knipling received the World Food Prize in 1992 for their development of the sterile insect technique and other technologies which made possible eradication of the New World Screwworm, Cochliomyia hominivorax (Coquerel), in the United States, Mexico, and Central America as far south as the Costa Rica/Panama border.

The National Agricultural Library’s CD-ROM is a multimedia sampler of scientific reports and correspondence documenting the history of the eradication effort, including USDA documentary films and excerpts from an interview with Knipling.

The adult female screwworm mates only once and lays eggs along the edges of wounds on warm-blooded animals. Left untreated, the egg masses hatch into swarms of larvae, which consume the host's living tissue and fluids. If the infestation remains untreated, the host animal has little chance of surviving the secondary infections that often follow.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the U.S. livestock industry benefits by more than $900 million a year as a result of the eradication of the screwworm. A 1995 Texas A&M University study evaluated the direct benefit to Central American livestock producers at $73 million a year and overall economic benefits to the region at $257 million annually.

Added benefits include improved human and animal health, increased standards of living, a better chance of survival for endangered wild species, and reclaiming land for grazing.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency in USDA.

Contact: Susan H. Fugate, Special Collections, ARS National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-5876, fax (301) 504-7593,