By Cindy Scheer
Curatorial Assistant - Aboriginal Studies Program

Royal Saskatchewan Museum

What started as a pleasant afternoon visit to the Native Plant Garden at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum soon turned in to the things that nightmares are made of.Garden

Dr. Cory Sheffield, the Museum’s Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, was keen to share his excitement over the large number of bees visiting the natural garden right now so we headed over to have a look.

The garden is alive with colour and with life. Many of the natural plants are in bloom right now and hundreds of bees are visiting the garden. Cory explained that at this time of year, the bees are producing next year’s queens, and also males to mate with them.

Cory is a bee expert and a bee fanatic, and his excitement was hard to contain as he shouted out names of the various species he spotted; Bombus huntii, Bombus perplexus, Bombus terricola, and Bombus nevadensis. Meanwhile I offered my equally educated comments such as “Holy moly that one is huge” and “Aww look, it is furry like a teddy bear.”

Bee Bee
            Male Bombus Terricola                                   Queen Bombus Perplexus    

The warm fuzzy feeling started to change as I spotted one, then another, dead mouse on the walking path. I felt that we should remove the mice and I collected some rubber gloves and a plastic bag which I quickly handed over to Cory as I am not one to infringe on this biological territory.

Cory picked up the first mouse and wondered out loud what had caused its death. Poisoning is not allowed in the park so we knew the cause was not poison. Suddenly he exclaimed, “It has a botfly larvae and it is emerging from the mouse. We need to get a picture of this!” Forgetting that he wasn’t with one of his entomologist friends, he quickly thrust the bag in my direction for me to have a closer look. I reeled in horror as I saw some kind of wormy thing making its way out of a dead mouse carcass.

Botfly

He quickly gathered the second mouse, also a victim of the botfly, and we headed back to the RSM Annex so that Cory could share his find with the other members of the zoology department who were likely to share more in the wonder of this discovery than I.

Proudly sporting his neon green rubber gloves Cory held on to that bag like a six year old carrying the treasured loot bag from the best birthday party ever.

While Cory ran upstairs to share his find, I curiously googled ‘botfly’ for some more information. It isn’t pretty folks. Amazing, but not pretty. The botfly is an internal parasite of mammals. It lays its eggs on a host and the larvae grow on the flesh or in the gut of the host eventually killing it.

The Museum’s Native Plant Garden will never be the same for me. While I will always marvel at the beauty and the ever changing display of colour, I am now more aware of the dark side, the horror that lurks beneath the Prairie Coneflower.