By Carla Lord

They sting, they bite, and, well, they just creep a lot of us out! But sometimes, insects and other critters can be beneficial to our health and lives, and even fashion (after all, we'd have no silk without silkworms). Test your wits on these helpful creepy-crawlies in medicine.
  1. What larvae have been found to be helpful in removing gangrene? The fly larvae, or maggots, can actually kill harmful bacteria. As we know, they eat dead tissue, and even field doctors during the Civil War used them to treat wounds. In fact, a study started in the late 1980s showed that maggots cleaned infected wounds better than other nonsurgical treatments. And, to top it all off, the maggot treatment appears to help the wounds heal faster, too! There's even a more clinical name for the maggot treatment—maggot debridement therapy, or MDT.
  2. What insect's sting is being studied for purportedly relieving symptoms of arthritis and multiple sclerosis? The bee (honeybees in particular). Apitherapy (the medical use of honey bee products) is still primarily considered more anecdotal than scientific. From pollination to beeswax to royal jelly to delicious honey, bees are truly man's best friend in the insect world. That's why their recent mysterious disappearances have rung a global alarm. The main active "ingredient" in bee venom is mellitin, which is an anti-inflammatory agent that's considered to be 100 times more powerful than hydrocortisone. Before you run out to get bee-sting therapy, however, make sure you're not allergic first!
  3. Which parasitic creature, once used quite popularly, is still being used in medicine? The leech. History shows that the first usage of leeches in medicine occurred about 2,500 years ago in Egypt; since medieval times, people have used leeches for everything from stomachaches to headaches to draining "impure blood" and curing illnesses. Nowadays, they're making a resurgence: they reduce blood coagulation (which can help prevent strokes and heart attacks) and stimulate circulation (helpful after reattachment surgeries and in the distribution of local anesthetics in the bloodstream), and are even being used to treat varicose conditions.
  4. What creature's venom is being tested for possibly slowing the growth of cancerous tumors? Snakes . . . Why did it have to be snakes? They may be no friends to Indiana Jones, but recent studies have shown that there's a compound in snake venom that causes certain types of cells to separate from each other, and when they do, they die—which can be very beneficial when applied to cancerous cells. And, of course, snake venom is also used to create antivenom, which helps save the lives of snakebite victims.
  5. Which insect is one of the most commonly used "model organisms"? Drosophilia melanogaster, or the common fruit fly. A model organism is a species that's widely used in research on the causes and treatments of diseases that affect other species, particularly humans. The fruit fly has been helpful in studies in genetics and heredity, physiology, and even life history evolution! Thomas Hunt Morgan won the 1933 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discoveries in the relationship between chromosomes and genes with the help of these winged creatures. Recent research at Queen's University in Canada has shown the fruit fly to be helpful in the way birth defects are studied.