Bad Hair Day

Published on: Jul. 22, 2010

Horsehair worm

An e-mailer recently described to me an odd encounter she had with wildlife. She killed a cockroach by stepping on it. Before she could dispose of the dead cockroach, a narrow, worm-like organism that was several inches long crawled out of the cockroach and began weaving its body like a snake on the her floor. She had killed a cockroach that contained a parasitic horsehair worm. Not surprisingly, I guess, there are already several YouTube videos posted by others who have made similar observations. I don’t recommend viewing while eating. Other persons have recently reported seeing horsehair worms in lakes or wet ditches.

Also known as Gordian worms or hairworms, the organisms are a type of long worm that is related to nematodes. The name “horsehair worm” originated with the old superstition that the worms resulted from horse hairs that came to life when they fell into water. They do look like living hairs and, lacking heads and mouths, it’s easy to see why people have been confused about them.

The adult worms do not feed and can be found in running or standing water or on damp soil. Their eggs are laid in water or on damp soil. The larval forms can enter a variety of arthropod hosts, including beetles, cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, centipedes and millipedes. They are either ingested or can penetrate the host’s body. When full grown they exit the host when it is near water--or prematurely, when the host is stepped on by a human.

Although not very lovable creatures, horsehair worms do not injure humans or plants. They may be considered beneficial in helping to control populations of their host species. To me, they are just another of those surprises that nature throws at us to keep us from getting too complacent in our knowledge of the natural world.

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On November 12th, 2010 at 9:00am Sarah Miller said:

I was mildly amused when I first saw one after my son pointed it out in one of our camping trips. Haven't seen one until this picture today.

On October 24th, 2010 at 12:59am Brian of Increase Hair Growth said:

Ewww... That's look creepy to me. I have killed a lot of cockroaches but never seen anything like this. Though, it's good to know that it doesn't harm human.

On October 5th, 2010 at 5:38pm Susan "Hair Loss Treatment Woman" Adams said:

Yuccckky! I don't like worms, really. And thanks for the information, have not seen one yet.

On September 20th, 2010 at 12:55pm Heidi said:

Wow. I am glad I never stepped on a cockroach! I prefer the traps or life traps.

On September 14th, 2010 at 7:57pm Anonymous said:

Wow those bugs are creepy! Worms still freak me out a bit

On September 14th, 2010 at 12:50pm automatenspiele said:

Hey yeah! Just blog hopping!

On July 28th, 2010 at 12:01pm Anonymous said:

i live near roaring river state park. i see these in a small ditch by my house every time it rains. i have been wanting to know about them. thanks tim

On July 23rd, 2010 at 12:37am tungsten bands said:

Oh, those creepy bugs, disgusting. Welcome to our site. Thank you!

On July 22nd, 2010 at 2:52pm Stacey said:

I remember as a kid we found one in our little swimming pool. I always wondered if I'd misunderstood the name seeing as I was a little kid of about 10 or so. I have not, to my knowledge, seen one since.
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