The Name You Go By

What’s in a name? If you are a “sunflower maggot” (also known as a “sunflower maggot fruit fly”) a lot of baggage unfortunately. Maggot typically refers to a Dipteran (i.e. fly) larva, especially one that develops in decaying matter like dead animals and garbage. In that sense alone, it inspires revulsion, which makes it an easy leap to its usage as an insult from one person to another (such as, “You maggot! You are a disgusting, worthless weakling!”). It also has an archaic usage found in many dictionaries under something like “a whimsical fancy.” Apparently the origin of this usage is in the 1620s from a “notion of a maggot in the brain,” basically meaning a fanciful idea stuck in a person’s mind. “Fanciful” or “whimsical” probably have no place in our contemporary culture’s space for wormlike infestations of vital organs (we would reserve that for horror), but those speaking 17th century English obviously had a low opinion of maggots even if they could use the specter of burrowing, immature insects to make light of a person.

Certainly maggots can cause ugly problems, especially in unsanitary conditions, but it is unfortunate a beautiful bug like this one should have to carry such baggage. As the name implies, the larva of this species develops inside the stems of sunflowers from which (barring an extreme infestation) the yellow fly with the magic eyes emerges with no significant or life-threatening damage to the plant. Unless a person happens to see this fly up close, they are probably not going to ever make a positive association. So, as usual, I implore everyone to take a look once in a while, and make it an extra long one, because the names you fly by without a thought sometimes are simply bad titles to a good story. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but no one is going to get close enough for a whiff if you tell them it is a maggot.

So yeah, I guess what I am saying is, stop and smell the maggots. You’ll be glad you did.

(As an addendum, maybe we could avoid all these unfortunate associations and go with the taxonomic nomenclature, Strauzia longipennis — though given what I’m pretty sure that name stands for, the repulsive associations might give way to more puerile ones.)

Sunflower Maggot Fruit Fly

Sunflower Maggot Fruit Fly

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