Skin Warbles in Elephants

Summary Information
Diseases / List of Parasitic Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names
  • Skin myiasis in elephants
  • Skin maggots in elephants
  • Cutaneous fly larvae infestation
  • Warbles
  • Parasitic boils

See also: 

Disease Agents Fly larvae:
Infectious Agent(s)
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s) --
General Description Clinical signs: 
  • Skin swellings, local or over the whole body. (B214.3.7.w3)
  • Swellings or "warbles" over areas of the body; these can be found in all areas and may be variable in size. Before larval emergence the swellings become inflamed and develop suppuration. Openings appear in the swellings and larvae emerge. In heavy infestations, scars where larvae have emerged may be numerous and close together giving the skin a pitted appearance. (B212.w26)
  • In a case of infection with Ruttenia loxodontis in a female Loxodonta africana - African Elephant calf of about four years old in Dvur Kralove, Czechoslovakia, which had been wild-born in Uganda, initial signs visible when the calf was imported consisted of pale specks on the skin of the thighs and the abdominal areas of the sides. Six months later the light spots developed into small swellings, which then burst over a period of five days, revealing fly larvae, seven to 10 mm long. (J3.107.w5)
  • In a tamed elephant in Congo (Zaire), swellings developed over the dorsum, abdominal flanks and chest. (J3.107.w5)
  • In a group of 20 Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant in Nameri National Park, Assam, affected elephants had eruptions, 1cm in diameter and 2-3 cm apart, covering the whole skin, producing an "oily appearance" of the skin; it was possible to squeeze a maggot from each eruption. The elephants were also weak and anaemic; seven of the group of 20 elephants had died. (J324.17.w1)
  • In Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant in a training camp in northern Thailand, "bumplike skin irritations" were reported as a major problem. Solid swellings were present on the shoulders, neck and subabdominal regions and ranged in size up to "the size of a child's fist." Affected elephants had multiple scar-like lesions, 2.0 to 4.0 mm diameter over the body and among these, some "oozing vesicles"; fly larvae 3.0 - 7.0 mm long could be removed from these vesicles using an elephant hook. Some elephants showed severe itching, rubbing themselves on trees and using their tails to scratch themselves (causing abrasion of the tail tip hair). (P6.1.w3)
  • Another description from Thailand describes skin nodules which were numerous, 1.0 - 5.0 cm diameter, usually oozing with moisture, from which Estridae larvae about 1 cm long could be removed by application of pressure. (J11.42.w1)


  • Elephants of all ages may be affected. Old, sick and debilitated elephants may show the heaviest infestations; these individuals may be less able to repulse the adult flies. (P6.1.w3)

See also the description in Elephants and their Diseases- A Treatise on Elephants - Part IV - Chapter VIII - Diseases of the Skin (continued) - External Parasites

Further Information Diagnosis:
  • Diagnosis of ectoparasite infections in elephants is by observation of clinical signs together with identification of the parasite involved. With skin myiasis, larvae of oestrid flies are found within the skin lesions. (B10.49.w21)
  • In cases of infection with Ruttenia loxodontis, diagnosis has been made by identification of larvae from skin swellings of affected elephants. (J3.107.w5)
  • In elephants in northern Thailand, investigations indicated infection with Elephantoloemus indicus. (P6.1.w3)
  • Physical:
    • In the case of infection with Ruttenia loxodontis in a female Loxodonta africana - African Elephant calf of about four years old in Dvur Kralove, Czechoslovakia, reported treatment involved removal of maggots from swellings when they burst. (J3.107.w5)
    • Pressure around each swelling assists in removal of the larva. (B212)
  • Chemical:
    • Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant in Assam, in a group in which seven of 20 elephants had died, the remaining elephants were treated with 21 mL ivermectin injected subcutaneously to kill the fly larvae, together with an antihistamine, chlorpheniramine meleate (30 mL per elephant, intramuscularly), for three days (to avoid illness due to histamine release when large numbers of fly larvae were killed) and "mineral mixture" orally with food for 30 days as treatment for the accompanying anaemia. (J324.17.w1)
    • Elephants in northern Thailand were treated with ivermectin at 0.2 mg/kg bodyweight, injected subcutaneously behind one ear. Larvae were reported to die two to three days after treatment, sometimes leaving pea-sized abscesses. (P6.1.w3)
    • Note: Treatment of all elephants in a group is required for long-lasting success of the treatment; reinfestation occurs if only some animals in a population are treated. (P6.1.w3)


  • When elephants were treated prior to transport from an infected area to another camp with different climatic conditions and different vegetation, no infection occurred in the elephants more that a year after transportation. (P6.1.w3)


  • Infection was reported in a tamed elephant in Congo (Zaire), in which swellings developed over the dorsum, abdominal flanks and chest. (J3.107.w5)
  • Severe infection was reported in a group of 20 elephants in Nameri National Park, Assam; seven of the elephants died. (J324.17.w1)
  • Infection with Elephantoloemus indicus is recognised as a cause of severe skin infections in camp elephants in northern Thailand, causing severe skin problems particularly in the rainy season. (P501.2001.w4)
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken).

(List does not contain all other species groups affected by this disease)

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