Horsehair Worms

Last week when it was a bit milder and we had some rain, I spotted this piece of thread on our sidewalk.  At least I thought it was a piece of thread – except it was moving like a snake – even rearing its head up off the ground.

Odd.  I’d never seen any snake quite so small, so I of course started researching.  The closest I found were called thread snakes, but all the photos of them on the net were so much larger.  I emailed this photo to the  KY Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Info Center, which forwarded my inquiry to Herpetologist John M.

John kindly filled me in on these weird critters – not snakes at all but a parasite called a horsehair worm. These worms begin life in the bodies of crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, roaches and similar insects.  When they reach the adult stage of development they break out of the host body to live in damp soil or shallow water.  The adult worms reproduce, laying eggs that are in turn eaten by the cricket or beetle, thus repeating the cycle.  The amazing thing is that the worm is able to force the host insect to go to water before it dies, so that the adult worm has the suitable habitat to live and reproduce.

Apparently they got their name because the folks who first encountered them thought they were horse hairs that fell into the water and turned into snakes or worms.  Really?  Were our ancestors really that dense?

When I saw these worms in our yard I didn’t know about the host insect, but supposedly when you see one there’s probably a dead cricket or grasshopper in the water nearby.  I’ll be on the lookout for this strange little drama unfolding in my yard after the next warm rain…

Oh, and they are completely harmless to humans and animals – good thing, since we have both on our property.


11 Responses to “Horsehair Worms”

  1. Lynne at Hasty Brook Says:

    That is so cool! I’ve never heard of such a thing.

  2. Laura Says:

    Very cool! Glad to see you back at blogging!

  3. Nina Palin Scheffel Says:

    Actually..When I went outside this morning, I checked the outside water dish. What do I see..a dead cricket, & what looks like a horsehair in the water. as I”m watching it, the horsehair keeps twisting & moving around. WOW, all I can say is at first I was really creeped out. It’s taken me 2 hours of internet research to find this page and all I have to say is THANK YOU. this is the only page I’ve found that that has a decent photo of this little critter. Wish I knew how to post a photo if mine in here. it is kind of unnerving to watch this thing. i haven’t touched it, nor do I think i will, but as I was transferring in to a jar, I noticed it made a raspy noise as it rubbed up against the glass.

  4. obi4240 Says:

    Lynne and Laura – thanks for visiting…

    Nina – Oh yeah, they can sure creep you out at first. I doubt I’d pick one up either. Glad I could help out, and thanks for stopping by.

  5. Horsehair worm Says:

    Creepy little thing.. really hate worms of that type, makes my skin itch 😦

  6. Artful abuela Says:

    a friend of mine has these in her yard. i’m going to email her this link. pretty interesting.

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  8. Julie D Says:

    I found one once in Lake Charlevoix when I was about in the 8th grade. Showed it to my dad and he said they used to find them in the Rouge River when he was a kid.He called it a horse -hair snake.
    And that the kids said back then, that if you put a horse hair into the water, it would turn into a horse -hair snake……hence it’s name.

  9. Lyle B. Says:

    As kids, we found such creatures in the irrigation ditch water near Greeley, Colorado back in the early 1940s. We would put them in a jar and watch them wiggle around. They were quite plentiful, and we called them horsehair snakes.

  10. Tren Says:

    Its wierd how many people never seen a hair come to live just pull one of ur hair make sure it has its root then just put it in some water for 5 to 10 min

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