What Do Rat Tailed Maggots Turn Into? Unveiling Their Surprising Transformation

Rat-tailed maggots are an intriguing subject in the world of insects. These unique larvae are best known for their distinctive “tail,” which is actually a breathing tube called a siphon. Found in shallow aquatic habitats with high organic content, you might wonder what these unusual creatures turn into as they grow and develop.

As rat-tailed maggots mature, they undergo a fascinating transformation. Their journey leads them to become adult drone flies, which closely resemble the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. Interestingly, drone flies are not only known for their bee-like appearance but also for their ability to mimic the honey bee’s behavior.

In fact, the rat-tailed maggot’s transformation into a drone fly showcases one of nature’s most impressive examples of insect mimicry. As you delve deeper into the world of rat-tailed maggots and their metamorphosis, you’ll discover how these captivating larvae become expert bee impersonators in their adult form.

What Are Rat-Tailed Maggots

Rat-tailed maggots are the larval stage of a drone fly, specifically Eristalis tenax. These unique larvae can be recognized by their elongated, thin, and flexible tails, which are actually breathing siphons.

These maggots can be found in shallow aquatic habitats with high levels of organic matter. The breathing siphon allows them to adapt to their environment by extending it to the water surface to access oxygen.

Rat-tailed maggots have some interesting features:

  • The extendible tail or siphon can be several times the length of the larva’s body.
  • They use their siphon to breathe while submerged in water.
  • The body of a mature larva is about ¾ inches long.

As they grow and complete their larval stage, rat-tailed maggots will eventually metamorphose. They turn into adult drone flies, which imitate the appearance of honeybees and serve as important pollinators. Keep in mind that although these creatures may seem off-putting, they play a significant role in maintaining the balance in our ecosystems.

Life Cycle of Rat-Tailed Maggots

Egg Phase

The life cycle of rat-tailed maggots begins with the egg phase. Female adult flies lay their eggs in aquatic environments or moist areas with decaying organic matter. You can expect the eggs to hatch within a few days, revealing tiny rat-tailed maggots.

Larval Phase

During the larval phase, these maggots grow and develop in their aquatic habitats, feeding on the organic matter. The most distinctive feature of rat-tailed maggots is their long, tail-like breathing tube called a siphon. Some key aspects of the larval phase are:

  • Larvae can be around ¾ inches long
  • The siphon can be several times the length of their body
  • They breathe through the siphon, which takes in oxygen from the water’s surface

Pupal Phase

Once the rat-tailed maggots have reached their full size, they enter the pupal phase. In this stage, they leave the water, find a suitable place to pupate, and undergo a complete metamorphosis. During this process, the maggots transform into their adult form – the drone fly.

Adult Phase

The adult drone flies resemble honey bees, making them excellent mimics. Adult drone flies play essential roles as pollinators, feeding on nectar from flowers. Some notable characteristics of the adult phase are:

  • Adult drone flies mimic the European honey bee in appearance
  • They were introduced from Europe around 1875
  • They are important pollinators, feeding on nectar from various flowers
  • Adult flies lay eggs to start the life cycle again

Overall, the life cycle of rat-tailed maggots includes four distinct stages: egg, larval, pupal, and adult. Each stage has unique characteristics, allowing these fascinating creatures to thrive in their environments.

Rat-Tailed Maggot’s Habitat

Rat-tailed maggots can be found in a variety of locations. You are likely to come across them in contaminated water sources, where they thrive in environments rich in organic material. Examples of these habitats include:

  • Lagoons
  • Stagnant water
  • Manure pits

The reason for their fondness of these places is that they feed on decaying organic matter, such as feces, soil content, carcasses, and various types of organic matter. Don’t be surprised if you spot rat-tailed maggots in places with piles of wet, rotting leaves or clusters of decomposing plant materials.

In addition to these habitats, they can also survive in soil that contains enough moisture to support their growth. Keep in mind that larvae are usually found in areas with decaying organic matter as well.

If you’re curious about their transformation, rat-tailed maggots eventually metamorphose into adult drone flies. These flies are pollinators and are beneficial to the ecosystem, despite their unappealing maggot phase. So, even though the larvae might not be the most pleasant sight, remember that they’ll grow into helpful insects later on.

Role in the Ecosystem

Rat-tailed maggots belong to the Syrphidae family and are the larval stage of the drone fly, scientifically known as Eristalis tenax. You might find it interesting that these maggots eventually turn into an important group of pollinators known as hoverflies.

As part of the Eristalini tribe, they have a special relationship with flowers. When the rat-tailed maggot matures into an adult hover fly, it mimics the appearance of honey bees. This is an intriguing strategy of display, as it helps them avoid predators by copying a more dangerous species.

In their adult form, hoverflies help in pollination by visiting flowers. These insects land on flowers to consume nectar, and in the process, transfer pollen from one flower to another, aiding plant reproduction.

Here are a few key features of hoverflies and their role in the ecosystem:

  • They are both predators and pollinators.
  • Hoverflies are part of the Syrphidae family, which includes other bee mimics like bee flies.
  • In the larval stage, they are called rat-tailed maggots.
  • As adults, they pollinate flowers by consuming nectar.

The role of hoverflies in our ecosystem is not only limited to pollination. As predators, their larvae feed on pests like aphids, helping in biological control. This dual function of being pollinators and predators makes the rat-tailed maggots, and their adult form, hoverflies, incredibly significant.

In conclusion, rat-tailed maggots play a remarkable role in our ecosystem. When they mature into hoverflies, they serve as efficient pollinators that share similarities with honey bees and bee flies. In the process, these insects contribute largely to the richness and balance of our environment.

Impact on Human Life

Rat-tailed maggots, the larval stage of some hoverfly species, can have a variety of implications on human life. Although they primarily feed on organic matter in stagnant water, they can occasionally find their way into places where they are unwelcome.

For instance, you might encounter these maggots around dead animals, affecting hygiene and creating an unpleasant sight. They can also cause accidental myiasis, a parasitic infestation where the larvae feed on living tissues or unintended hosts.

In rare cases, these larvae can cause intestinal myiasis, where they infiltrate the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to potential discomfort, as they might make their way towards the rectum and anus. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, vomiting, or indigestion.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that rat-tailed maggots are not generally harmful or dangerous to humans. Their presence can be considered a nuisance, but the risk of infection or any serious health complications is relatively low.

To minimize the risk of an infestation or encountering these maggots, maintaining proper hygiene and cleanliness is crucial. This includes properly disposing of dead animals and keeping stagnant water sources clean.

In summary, while rat-tailed maggots can create uncomfortable situations or minor health issues, respecting nature and following hygienic practices will help you avoid any negative encounters with these larvae.

Control Methods

Rat-tailed maggots turn into drone flies, which resemble European honey bees. By controlling their breeding sites and using barriers, you can prevent their infestation. Here are some effective control methods:

Insecticide Treatment

  • Use permethrin spray as a common insecticide against rat-tailed maggots and other pests like house flies.
  • Apply the spray on breeding sites, such as stagnant water, to control their population.

Physical Barriers

  • Covering garbage bins and drains can help prevent these pests from accessing food sources.
  • Regular cleaning and maintenance of your surroundings decrease the chance of infestation.

Biological Control

  • Some predators, such as birds and other insects, can help reduce the rat-tailed maggot population.
  • By encouraging their presence in your garden, you may be able to control the growth of maggots naturally.

Breeding Site Elimination

  • By eliminating stagnant water sources, you can disrupt their breeding cycle.
  • Proper waste management also helps remove potential breeding sites.

By employing these control methods, you can keep rat-tailed maggot infestations at bay and maintain a pest-free environment. Remember, short term solutions are less effective than consistent prevention practices. So, stay vigilant and act accordingly to keep your surroundings clean and safe from these pests.

Rat-Tailed Maggots and Other Insects

Rat-tailed maggots are the larval stage of the drone fly, an insect that mimics honey bees. As maggots, they have a distinctive “tail” used for breathing underwater. This feature, along with their appearance, sets them apart from other fly larvae.

Drone flies belong to the family of hover flies, which are harmless, beneficial insects. These flies are known for their incredible Batesian mimicry, a survival strategy where a harmless species adopts the appearance of a harmful or threatening species, such as wasps, to avoid predators.

Adult flies in the hover fly family are often found feeding on nectar and pollen. They have a particular preference for aphids, making them useful allies for gardeners plagued by these pests. Drone flies and other hover flies are not considered dangerous and do not sting or bite.

Let’s compare drone flies with other common flies:

Drone Fly House Fly
Larval Rat-tailed maggot Regular maggot without a tail
Appearance Mimics honey bees and wasps Distinctive black and grey
Diet Nectar, pollen, and aphids Decaying organic matter
Threat Harmless, no sting or bite Can transmit diseases
Habitat Gardens and aquatic habitats Human settlements and waste areas

In short, rat-tailed maggots turn into adult drone flies, which are harmless insects that can actually benefit your garden. They are different from many pests and are often mistaken for bees or wasps due to their impressive mimicry. So next time you spot a drone fly, remember it’s a friend to you and your plants!

Interesting Facts

The rat-tailed maggot, known scientifically as Eristalis tenax, is quite fascinating. These aquatic larvae eventually transform into an adult called the drone fly, which interestingly mimics the appearance of the European honey bee.

Rat-tailed maggots’ distribution extends from regions like Florida in the United States to various parts of India. Although they might seem alarming in appearance, these creatures can actually be quite beneficial for your garden and plants. They help break down organic matter and recycle nutrients in the environment.

In the media, you might even come across references to these insects in manga stories or other pop culture sources. It’s truly intriguing how they’ve captured the imagination of creators.

Their physical characteristics include a unique, elongated breathing tube at their rear end, resembling a tail. This tail is particularly useful for their aquatic environment, allowing them to obtain oxygen while submerged in water. As adults, drone flies have legs and wings which help them maintain balance and achieve flight.

A noteworthy aspect of rat-tailed maggots is their adaptability to various temperature conditions. They can be found in diverse habitats, including polluted water. This speaks to their resilience and impact on ecosystems.

In summary, rat-tailed maggots offer unique contributions, from being beneficial decomposers in gardens and aquatic environments to getting featured in various media forms. Their impressive ability to adapt and survive in different conditions is truly something to appreciate. So, when you encounter one of these curious creatures, don’t judge them solely by their appearance.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Rattailed Maggots

 

Weird water caterpillers with tails?
Location: Ypsilanti, Michigan 49198
May 15, 2011 9:05 pm
So my friend has a ”backyard pond” that gets cleaned at the begining of spring every year and that’s really about it. Its more like a cement hole with water. There is no fish or plants just water. Anyway, his 15 year old sun was cleaning the ”pond” out today and found these things that look like worm/caterpillars with a long thin tail. They wriggle in the water and swim slowly about. The smaller ones were close to the top of the 3 foot deep pond but the bigger ones started to come up when he had removed half the water. Can you help us identify them?
Signature: Shellin and Damon

Rattailed Maggots

Dear Shellin and Damon,
These are Rat-Tailed Maggots, the larva of the Drone Fly.  They are often found in stagnant water and the “tail” is actually a breathing tube.

Letter 2 – Syrphid Fly

 

Bee like Fly
Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 7:23 PM
Every day I walk by a hedge coming out of my front door and always notice bees flying around collecting pollen and nectar, you know, their daily chores. Every now and then I notice a strange pollen or nectar collector as in the picture of the one I have sent you. It appears more like a fly but behaves like a bee. He has very short antennae and an odd mandible looking mouth just under the eyes. I have also attached a second pic showing a honey bee to provide a scale of his size. I live in southern California out near the Ventura coast and it has been quite a warm winter this year and even now, the flowers are blooming everywhere and the bees are a buzzin. I know there are several species of flies that behave like bees and this must be one of them.
Bee-wildered
Southern California

Drone Fly
Syrphid Fly

Hi Bee-Wildered,
We believe your fly is a Drone Fly, Eristalis tenax, one of the flower loving flies in the family Syrphidae. Sadly, the angle of your photograph adds a bit of uncertainty to the identification. Drone Flies are excellent Honey Bee mimics. Drone Flies are perfectly harmless and do not sting nor bite.

Correction: From Eric Eaton
The “drone fly” from southern California is indeed a syrphid, but in the genus Copestylum. Without the specimen I can’t give a species.
Eric

Update: Syrphid
Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 6:16 PM
I wanted to thank you for your prompt help with the information on my ‘Bee-wilderment’. I was able to go onto the BugGuide site and from their pictures I was able to determine that my fly is of the Species Copestylum avidum. I have attached another picture that might confirm this but it is slightly out of focus.
Thanks again…..!
Bee-wildered
Ventura, CA

Syrphid Fly
Syrphid Fly

Letter 3 – Rattailed Maggots

 

Subject: rattailed maggot safety
December 21, 2013 6:43 pm
we have found rattailed maggots in our soaking seaweed and also in our fish fertilizer barrel. My questions are these.
Would these not be there unless a fly had accessed the water?
How safe are these maggots to feed to chickens( who love insects)?
Humans safety:Is there any problem with watering our vege garden with this water? with these in it ?
Signature: Margarette

Rattailed Maggots (from our archives)
Rattailed Maggots (from our archives)

Hi Margarette,
Rattailed Maggots are the larvae of Drone Flies and they are generally found in situations associated with decomposition, like foul water or compost piles.  To the best of our knowledge, they do not pose any threat to humans and you should be able to use your fertilizer as well as feed the chickens.  We once wrote an extensive response to someone who found Rattailed Maggots in a Comfrey Tea they were brewing.  You are correct that the female Drone Fly would have been attracted to the decomposition in the water and laid the eggs.

Letter 4 – Solitary Bees and a Drone Fly

 

Subject: BEE IDENTIFICATION
Location: Stanwood WA USA
April 12, 2013 11:12 am
Hello Bugman! I am an adiv gardener in Stanwood WA, USA about 50 miles north of Seattle. I love flowers but I have really become passionate about photographing critters that grace my garden, especially Bees. I was hoping if I include some photos, you could tell me what they are. Photo 1 has extremely long antennae and I have not seen this critrer since i took the picture, two years ago.
Photo #2 is a an almost triangle shaped bee that I call the Guard bee. This bee seems territorial and chases other bees away. Agressive even.
Phto# 3 is a larger bee that I named mickey mouse due to their large eyes and funny shaped wings. I have so many more! Let me know if you would like to see them! ~ Tracy
Signature: Tracy Sellers

Longhorned Bee
Longhorned Bee

Dear Tracy,
Your first photo of the bee with the long antennae is a Longhorned Bee in the tribe Eucerini which you can view on BugGuide.  We have several photos in our archive of male Longhorned Bees roosting communally in a formation commonly called a Bachelor Party.  Your third photo might be a Leaf Cutter Bee. 

Bee
Bee

We will continue to research that.  Your second photo, the one you called a Guard Bee, however is not a bee.  It is a Drone Fly, a nonstinging fly in the family Syrphidae.

Drone Fly
Drone Fly

Daniel, Thank you for the identifications. The Drone Fly was a surprise , but now that I think about it, it’s behavior does more closely resemble a fly.  I am excited to be able to put a name to  the Critters that grace my garden!
~* BEE Happy
Tracy

Letter 5 – Square Headed Wasp preys upon Drone Fly

 

Subject: Predation
Location: Andover, NJ
July 28, 2016 8:16 am
I was lurking around my butterfly garden this morning and happened to see this small wasp (Eumenine maybe?) subduing a large syrphid. Amazingly, the wasp took off with her prize with seemingly little effort!
Signature: Deborah Bifulco

Square Headed Wasp preys upon Hover Fly
Square Headed Wasp preys upon Hover Fly

Good Mornind Deborah,
What an amazing image.  This is a Square Headed Wasp in the subfamily Crabroninae, and we believe that based on this image from BugGuide, that it is in the genus
Ectemnius.  According to BugGuide:  “most nest in decayed wood (logs, stumps), sometimes in sound wood; provision the nests with Diptera.”   The prey appears to be a Drone Fly.

Thanks so much, Daniel!  I was a bit off on my wasp ID, wasn’t I?  Even with multiple field guides, I still find it rather challenging to get the subfamily correct.  But it sure is fun trying!  I just wish our summers lasted longer – once winter comes, I’m lucky to find a shield bug.
Debbi

Letter 6 – Square Headed Wasp takes down Drone Fly

 

Subject: Predation
Location: Sussex County, NJ
July 31, 2017 8:44 am
I witnessed a square-headed wasp (Family Cabronidae, I believe) take down a large syrphid fly this morning and thought I’d share the photos. Also, wondering if you might be able to narrow down my ID on the wasp for me?
The attack was remarkably fast with the wasp landing on the fly and quickly subduing it. Eventually the wasp dropped the fly as it seemed that it was too large for the wasp to carry more than a very short distance. Interestingly, an hour later, the body of the syrphidae was gone – so did it recover or did something else come along and dispose of it? Fascinating.
Signature: Deborah Bifulco

Square-Headed Wasp and Drone Fly Prey

Dear Deborah,
Thanks for sending in your amazing images that are greatly enhanced by your written observations.  Speculate is the best we can do for the subsequent exploits of the Drone Fly, but we can be certain that it was alive after the encounter.  We would like to speculate that after that spectacular attack, the Square-Headed Wasp partially glided, and partially dragged her prey to her nest to serve as fresh meat for her developing brood.  Of the Square Headed Wasps in the subfamily Crabroninae, BugGuide states:  “Some nest in hollow stems or in abandoned galleries in wood, others burrow in the ground. Prey is mostly flies, but some utilize other insects.”  Exactly a year and two days ago, you submitted a very similar Food Chain image. that appears to be of the same species, both predator and prey, and at that time, we identified the genus as possibly
Ectemnius.  We will look into this more thoroughly.

Square-Headed Wasp and Drone Fly Prey

Hi Daniel,
Thanks so much for your very informative response!  And forgive my senior moment in forgetting the photo I sent to you last year.
I actually wondered if the wasp had just paralyzed the Drone Fly, or if it was dead.  But it certainly makes sense that it would be alive, especially as it would be a food source for the wasp-kids.  I have a small colony of Great Golden Diggers and frequently see them carrying very large katydids into their nests.
I have found with insects that the more I learn, the more I want to know.  J
Best,
Deborah

You are most welcome Deborah.  We can always depend upon you to send in great images.

Square-Headed Wasp and Drone Fly Prey
Square-Headed Wasp and Drone Fly Prey

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

35 thoughts on “What Do Rat Tailed Maggots Turn Into? Unveiling Their Surprising Transformation”

  1. I just want to say that the flies that come out of these maggots are pretty cool and helpful to pollination so they do not have to be chicken food.

    Drone flies, Dead Head Flies, etc., are quite pretty even.

    Reply
  2. I just want to say that the flies that come out of these maggots are pretty cool and helpful to pollination so they do not have to be chicken food.

    Drone flies, Dead Head Flies, etc., are quite pretty even.

    Reply
  3. m and my friend were at a pond in calgary alberta and found one sitting on our blanket! my friend at first thot it was a mouse! lol

    Reply
    • Adults are pollinating insects, so they are beneficial. Larvae help to break down organic matter, so they are also beneficial.

      Reply
    • They certainly look strange , but wait till they mature into flies. Then they are quite charming. They do not annoy you at all, and hover in one place for seconds , before darting off to who knows where.
      Having planted up my pond , I don’t have any this year, maybe they need stagnant water ?.
      I have however got lots of “wood ” bees , with what I understand as lots of males fighting each other endlessly, even when it is raining.
      These too do not bother humans. They “Buzz each other endlessly until they drop to the ground exhausted . I have given these fallen ones honey, and it seems to revive some of them, but then they fly up again and continue fighting. This has been going on now for 7 weeks or more.
      I’m half expecting them to nest in my loft, as this is where the activity is.
      Any comments?.

      Reply
    • They certainly look strange , but wait till they mature into flies. Then they are quite charming. They do not annoy you at all, and hover in one place for seconds , before darting off to who knows where.
      Having planted up my pond , I don’t have any this year, maybe they need stagnant water ?.
      I have however got lots of “wood ” bees , with what I understand as lots of males fighting each other endlessly, even when it is raining.
      These too do not bother humans. They “Buzz each other endlessly until they drop to the ground exhausted . I have given these fallen ones honey, and it seems to revive some of them, but then they fly up again and continue fighting. This has been going on now for 7 weeks or more.
      I’m half expecting them to nest in my loft, as this is where the activity is.
      Any comments?.

      Reply
  4. I found some in my little make shift pond that also had some water beetles in it. there really cool i doing a report on them.

    Reply
  5. Found some in my kids wading pool. First time for everything! Bizarre little fellows. My five year old was calling them Rat Tails. Apparently he knows more than mommy! Drewsey, Or

    Reply
  6. I found some In my laundry room. My AC is leaking and the water is coming in through the door. My 2 yr old daughter pointed it out as I was pulling clothes from the dryer. Should I be concerned with my babies in the house? I live in Florida. Sincerely, Momma of a full house.

    Reply
  7. Have found rattail maggots in a bucket of soaking weeds which we use as fertiliser on the garden. I didn’t know what they were, & put them in bran like you do maggots for fishing but some died so put the others back in a jar of water with plant cuttings & they are ok & growing longer tails.l’m in my 70s , gardened all my adult life but have never seen these maggots before.

    Reply
  8. I discovered a bunch in the Hollywood Hills, near the HOLLYWOOD sign in a large pot in my yard that had some stagnant water from the last rain. Glad they are harmless.

    Reply
  9. My 3 year old brought me one while we were picnicking outside. We have been watering our lawn and there are puddles of sitting water for a few days now. I’m sitting on our bench and they are crawling all around the ground. Ive never seen these before. Northwest, Montana. June,2017.

    Reply
  10. Just read this thread as found these creatures in a bucket holding wood, it’s rained and the wood has been sat in water…have to say they weirded me out! Southampton, UK

    Reply
  11. Was treating the secondary septic tank in the system with beneficial bacteria tonight. Lifted the cap out of the lid and found them swimming around in the water. About 2 inches long and a quarter wide. Undulating and pale, slightly translucent. Amazing but creepy.

    Reply
  12. North Dallas, Texas.: After a rain I found them in the gutter in the remaining rain water. They were burrowing into the sand/soil in the cracks and crevices in the concrete. 8/5/2017

    Reply
  13. Found in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. had no idea what they were, thank you for the info. Excellent website. Are drone flies also called horse flies?

    Reply
  14. Found them in a ditch in Wellington, Florida after Irma. My son and I were biking around the neighborhood and he stoped by a large pile of debris to show me some starfruit because he didn’t know what they were. He noticed these and pointed them out. I had never seen them before. Thanks for helping me answer his question. I’m a den leader for the scouts and I saved your site, I’m sure it will help me again.

    Reply
  15. I found these in Louisiana in some very dirty buckets full of very stagnant water and what I think was cigarette butts. I had never seen anything like it before and I was a little creeped out. I was going to have my husband get rid of them, but thank to this site, I’m going to leave them alone and let them grow into flies. Thank you for teaching all of us about these interesting little creatures!

    Reply
  16. I found some in Grapevine, TX. I had a tote bin with some old magazines in it that I was intending to take to recycling. I didn’t realize that the lid leaked. I opened it, it was half full of stagnant rainwater, waterlogged magazines & those weird critters. Beneficial or not, they really creeped me out! I set them free in the storm drain. Thanks for the identification, at least I won’t have nightmares now.

    Reply

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