Maggots & Meat Experiments

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Maggots & Meat Experiments
Certain maggots grow in rotting meat. (Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

A maggot is the larval stage of various types of flies. It has a pointy end and a blunt posterior that has the spiracles through which the maggot breathes. Rotting meat and other organic substances attract flies and provide positive environments for them to develop. Science experiments with meat and maggots are useful in forensic studies as they help to determine time of death at a crime scene.

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The Redi Experiment

One of the most famous experiments with maggots and meat was performed by Italian doctor Francesco Redi. The reason for his experiment was to disprove the concept of spontaneous generation. Since the fourth century B.C., people had believed that nonliving things could generate living organisms. For example, they believed that worms and other creatures could spontaneously be formed in mud and sand. Food left out gave rise to maggots and it was Redi's task to prove that the maggots were produced not from the food, but from flies. Redi took three jars and placed meat inside them. The first jar was left open, the second was covered with netting and the third was sealed from the outside. In the first jar, flies were seen laying eggs on the meat and maggots later developed. In the second jar, flies were seen laying their eggs on the netting and maggots developed on the netting. In the third jar there were no maggots. This proved Redi's theory that maggots were not the result of spontaneous generation.

Growing Hairy Maggots

In this experiment, maggots can be raised by using fish meat. Hairy maggots, also called chrysomya, are attracted specifically to the decaying flesh of fish. Take some tinned sardines and set three or four on a meat tray made of foam. Be sure to use baked and not pickled sardines in this experiment. Place a layer of sand about 2 inches deep in a lunch box and then place the sardine tray into the lunch box on top of the sand. Take the tray outside and leave it uncovered for a couple of days. The chrysomya maggots will develop and once you can see them, bring them inside and cover the lunch box with some type of netting like tulle or mesh. The maggots' life cycle can now be observed and monitored.

Liver and Calliphora Maggots

To raise calliphora maggots you will need to use some liver pate as your substrate. Calliphora are smooth maggots that are attracted to meat such as liver. Be sure to conduct this experiment on a temperate day as soaring hot temperatures are not conducive to breeding. Place the liver pate on a meat tray made of plastic or foam and then place the tray on top of dry sand in a lunch box. Leave the lunch box outside and uncovered for a few days. When you see signs of maggot development, bring the box inside, cover with a net and watch the calliphora maggots develop. Raising live flies brings this topic to life for students and is more interactive than looking at pictures in books.

Meat, Seawater and Maggots

This experiment examines whether seawater has any effects on the growth of maggots. Collect wild fly eggs by leaving a piece of beef liver outside for a day. Set up four containers, each with 10 grams of liver and twenty maggots. One container should be the control, while one should contain meat soaked in seawater for an hour. The third and fourth container should hold the liver soaked in seawater for two hours and four hours respectively. Observe, monitor and record the growth of the maggots in each of the containers. Use your results to determine whether the seawater has slowed or sped up the growth of the maggots. If the results show no significant difference then you can conclude that forensic scientist need not worry about salty conditions affecting their time of death estimates.

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