"Bicho de pé" (Tunga penetrans)

If you are spending any time in Brazil during the fall and summer months, and are in the habit to walk around barefoot or in flip-flops like many of us do; you should be aware of this pesky little critter. You can run across them in plantations, grassy areas and sandy areas. Almost anywhere you would find common fleas.

The Bicho de Pé (Tunga penetrans) is in the same order as the flea, it is extremely small and almost invisible to the naked eye.. The female of the species will bite and burrow into the skin (usually on the foot, most often the sole, toe or between toes) and thus the name. She will lay her eggs there using humans or other mammals as her host.

The site where the Tunga has burrowed into the flesh looks rather like a corn or wart, perfectly circular and whitish in color. The only real difference in appearance is that there is a dark spot in the center that makes it look like a tiny eye. In fact, the spot is called the "olho de bicho".

While the bite itself is painless, the ulceration from the bite is extremely itchy and as the tunga and her larvae grow can be painful. Care must be taken in removing the parasite since leaving any of its eggs or larvae behind can lead to further infestation. It is a slow process that involves getting under the whole insect and surrounding eggs/larvae (a unit) with a needle and slowly prying it out until it comes out as a whole. You should also use a cuticle cutter to cut away the skin that surrounds the sac. Removal will leave a small bloody crater in the flesh. The removal process can be a bit painful so be prepared.

VIDEO:  Removing a Bicho de Pé

Hi William

Are you suggesting that people perform this surgery themselves?? I noticed you didn't make any mention of a doctor and also the video that was on YouTube seemed to be being performed in someone's house and not by a doctor and even under less than sanitary conditions (i.e., that foot didn't look completely clean, if you ask me) even though I saw the alcohol being used for the utensil.

Or if you are suggesting that is it because this is so very common that people DO do it themselves vs. go to a doctor for it?

It's really only necessary to have a doctor remove them in severe cases of multiple infestation. Usually a person notices the first one and they have a friend or family member remove it. Not a complicated procedure at all, in fact I had a friend remove one from my foot ages ago and just removed one myself this week. Almost everyone here in Brazil knows about them and how to remove them, especially anybody with kids. Of course sanitary conditions are required, the video was about the only one available and I agree, the conditions were far from ideal.

Ok thanks for clarifying that.

And I'm glad you agree about that vid...!

Actually, I think if you went to one of the public clinics here to get one removed the doctors would be surprised and ask if you don't have any friends!

That is of course if you could get into a clinic to see a doctor in the first place.


The only time I ever got one, I thought I had a splinter. My wife looked at it and said, "No, you have a bicho de pé!" Her aunt removed it.