Fun with Bot Eggs
It's time to have a little educational fun while helping your horse. Those curious little bee-like flies known as bots have been buzzing around your horse, depositing their pale yellow eggs on the ends of hairs. These oblong bot eggs, no bigger than a pinhead, are sprinkled on your horse's knees, legs and elsewhere. They need to be removed so your horse doesn't lick them, hatch out the larvae, then ingest them and get bot worms, or Gasterophilus parasites.
Normally the eggs of the common horse bot hatch after a 2- to 5-day incubation period, often stimulated by warmth and moisture from the horse's tongue or from the horse rubbing his face on his legs. Eggs of some species may hatch without this stimulation. Newly hatched bot larvae find and enter (or are taken into) the mouth. They spend possibly 3 weeks in the soft tissue of the lips, gums, or tongue until they are ready to travel to the stomach or small intestine. When there, they attach themselves using their sharp mouth hooks which can damage the lining of the stomach or small intestine and cause other digestive problems. This major part of their life cycle lasts about 7 months until they are mature and are passed with the manure. They enter the warm soil for the next stage as pupae and emerge as adults 2 to 8 weeks later. The adults don't eat; they just mate, and the females deposit their eggs, usually from August through the first frost.
There are methods and grooming tools to remove the eggs from the hairs, but if left lying around, the eggs can still be ingested or can readily hatch out and seize the opportunity to latch onto a nearby muzzle. Using insecticides may or may not kill the larvae inside their protective casings, and exposing your horse to these harsh chemicals is defeating the purpose if you want to 'help' your horse.
Now that we know what happens, we can try to fool, or at least mimic, Mother Nature. If we can get those eggs to hatch but not let them get into the horse's mouth, we can break the cycle. What is it like inside a horse's mouth? Warm, moist, and dark.
1. Get a small bucket of warm water, about 105 degrees (so that it is warmer than horse temperature but not too hot), a small bucket of hot water, and a dark, smooth cloth.
2. Dunk the cloth in the warm water and fold up 'til thick enough to hold it's warmth.
3. Pluck one or two bot eggs (hair too if it comes out) from your horse.
4. Open warm cloth, place eggs on it, and close it quickly to hold in the warmth.
5. Hold closed one minute. Get ready for the educational part.
6. Open cloth. Watch eggs carefully. See them stretch and change shape against the dark background?
7. Observe the larvae pop out and start crawling around. Imagine what that feels like inside your horse's mouth!
8. End of class (unless you want to experiment with different herbs to see which inactivates the larvae the quickest!)
9. Go get some rosemary, thyme, garlic, or insect-repellent herb of your choice (see Herbs: The Buzzword on Biters, Issue 4, NHM). Use fresh or dried (or essential oil) and add plenty to the bucket of warm water (add more hot water if needed to keep it warm). Crush the fresh herbs well.
10. Dip and rinse cloth in the warm herbal water.
11. Hold warm herb-soaked cloth against bot eggs on your horse for one to two minutes. Only after the larvae pop out will the herbs have an effect on them. Dip and rinse cloth in herb solution after each application to debilitate larvae. The herb solution will also help debilitate any larvae that remain crawling on the horse.
12. Do this every day for five days (in case there are any immature ones not yet ready to hatch) then every other day (incubation is 2-5 days). *
*If you find the task burdensome, think about them squiggling inside the horse's mouth!!