‘Curiosity’ Book Giveaway: Here Are the Winning Entries, Including the Grossest Maggot Story We’ve Ever Published*

Curiosity is a wonderful monograph by British science writer Philip Ball. He chronicles how, many centuries ago, under the influence of religion, curiosity became a shameful characteristic, a twin to arrogance (mostly because being curious signaled you weren’t content to merely gawp in gratitude at God’s creation). Eventually, to humankind’s credit, curiosity morphed into a trait celebrated for its role in scientific progress.

At my request, Ball’s U.S. publisher, the University of Chicago Press, sent me three hardcover copies to give away to readers of this blog.**

To make it interesting, I asked you to share your favorite autobiographical story involving curiosity, and you did!

Here are, in my highly subjective opinion, the three most entertaining submissions, in no particular order.

Mario Strada: Reading a newspaper underwater

As a kid (and likewise as an adult) I could not pass up a chance to read anything put in front of me. I was a voracious reader and to prove that point, I was once scuba diving with my uncle and my dad. While exploring the depths off the coast I saw a newspaper on the sea bottom and I decided to go down and retrieve it (even back then I hated trash). As I grabbed it, I realized it had an interesting article about something (forgot what) and I started reading it until both my dad and my uncle caught me. It has been part of family lore ever since: reading the paper 40 feet deep.

Joan Opyr: Water and electricity don’t mix

When I was seven, I decided to perform an experiment with my sister’s baby bottle. I filled it with water, put the nipple on, and then dripped water onto a hot light bulb. It took ten drops for the bulb to explode. When my mother discovered the soaking wet socket, I went on to do an ethnographic participant-observer study of corporal punishment. Was it worth it? Yes. I constructed my later experiments more carefully and learned not to reveal too much to outsiders in the early stages.

The final story is not for the squeamish. Consider yourself warned!

Lou Jost: I gave birth to a maggot

I noticed I had an odd mosquito bite on my arm, and it kept getting bigger. One day, I looked closely at it and was shocked to see a tiny breathing tube bobbing in and out of my arm. I instantly knew this is the larva of a human botfly, which lays its eggs on a mosquito’s belly. When the mosquito bites a mammal, the warmth of the victim’s body makes the egg hatch. The little maggot then digs into the mammal’s body and sets up shop.

No one ever sees the fly. I was curious about it, so I decided to raise my maggot to adulthood. It made an egg-sized lump near my shoulder, always with that infernal breathing tube bobbing in and out of the breathing hole. Bits of blood and pus would leak out, but I made a plastic dome over the hole so my shirts wouldn’t get bloody.

One night I gave birth. My maggot wanted to bury itself after it emerged from my arm, so I put it in a cup with soil. Three weeks later the adult fly emerged! Of course I took father-and-son pictures of it on my finger.

***UPDATE, Monday morning*** For what it’s worth, we’ve been informed that a recent episode of the Fox TV series Bones (Season 9, Episode 8) features a character who “gives birth” to a maggot in just the way Lou describes. Here’s Lou’s plausible comment on that.

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* We’ve never published any maggot stories, an oversight that is hereby corrected.

** Thanks a bunch to Carrie Adams at the University of Chicago Press.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Lee Miller

    The maggot story might be worth an extra copy of the book thrown in for good measure.

    • Taneli Huuskonen

      I’m sure the author is quite a bookworm.

      • Greg G.

        In school, he was one of the top pupas.

        • Crash Override

          Did he graduate Magna Cum Larvae?

  • paulalovescats

    What’s the maggot-boy doing for a living now??

    • Lou Jost

      Thanks for asking. I went on to become a botanical explorer and jungle guide, discovering lots of new species of plants (especially orchids but also some cool trees) in he Andean mountains. My friends and I then started a foundation (EcoMinga Foundation) to make reserves to protect the forests where my new species live. You can see news about that at

      ecomingafoundation.wordpress.com
      Most recently I got curious about the mathematics of biodiversity, and discovered that biologists have been misquantifying this fundamental concept, potentially leading to bad conservation decisions and theoretical misinterpretations. I’ve been writing lots of articles in ecology and genetics journals about that lately.

      Terry, thanks for the book!

      • Terry Firma

        Hi Lou:

        The writers of the TV series Bones found the tale of giving birth to a maggot interesting too; they used it in an episode that aired a couple of weeks ago.

        http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/2013/11/bones-recap-a-sperm-donor-and-a-botfly-in-the-dude-in-the-dam.html

        You must have published your account before, and they came across it somehow.

        • Lou Jost

          Yes, I have described it many times elsewhere, for example here in this super-gross post about using botfly larvae to lose weight (I am at Comment 4):

          http://www.biodiversityinfocus.com/blog/2013/02/23/no-bot-flies-are-not-a-viable-weight-loss-solution/

          But I am not the only biologist who has raised one of these. Biologist Jerry Coyne famously did the same, as reported in the book “Tropical Nature” by Forsyth and Miyata. But I may be the only one who managed to actually obtain the adult fly. That required a bit of insect psychology, obtained from rearing many other larvae in my youth. I realized that the newly-emerged maggot was trying to dig, and I knew what would make a decent substrate for pupation.

        • Lou Jost

          Here’s Jerry Coyne and I discussing the botfly breathing tube last year:

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/the-panoply-of-nature-more-bizarre-flies/

          Mine is a subcomment on Comment 6.

          I expect Jerry’s widely published story was the inspiration for any TV show about this.

          • Terry Firma

            You’re probably right that that’s how it happened, Lou. Thanks!

            • Lou Jost

              Actually, we could probably figure out where they got it by looking at the details they included.

  • Mario Strada

    Wow, I won something!!!
    But I have to say it would be hard to beat Lou’s story.
    I have recently visited a “farm” where, among other things, they raise maggots. They have several rooms with maggots at different stages. Full grown flies are everywhere. I mean, E V E R Y W H E R E .
    Turns out Flies don’t believe in birth control. At all.
    I felt things crawling on me for almost a week afterwards.

  • Lou Jost

    I’ve just found some actual video of a botfly’s birth from someone’s flesh!

    http://www.denimandtweed.com/2010/12/birth-of-botfly-maggot.html


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