1/4-Inch Black Worms in the Apartment

carpet beetle larva

Recently we received a highly detailed question from a reader about the 1/4 black worms she is finding in her apartment. The small, black worms are generally found on the carpet, although the reader is also finding them on the baseboards of her home. The reader is wondering what the quarter-inch worms are so she can look into how to get rid of them. She also wants to know if the worms are harmful. If we correctly identify the small, black worms, we might be able to answer all of our reader’s concerns in one sitting, as it were.

Of course, though, the word “if” in the previous sentence is crucial. We aren’t entirely sure what our reader found, in large part because no picture was supplied to us. Even so, we are reasonably confident our reader found carpet beetle larvae, which we think because essentially everything the reader wrote is consistent with this suggestion.

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To begin, the physical description of the creature given by our reader matches that of the carpet beetle larvae, which are always small (under a half an inch in length normally) and are sometimes a very dark color. In general, carpet beetle larvae aren’t entirely black – they tend to be tan or brownish color with darker stripes – but this isn’t true of every species. If the body color and stripes of the larvae are dark enough, they basically look like small black worms. For the record, carpet beetle larvae, being larvae, are not in fact worms, although our reader’s use of the word “worm” to describe them is hardly unusual. What is somewhat unusual is that the reader specifically mentioned she didn’t find any larvae. However, we suspect the reader mistakenly thought the larvae were adults, which explains why no larval form was found in addition to the larvae themselves.

The reader also mentioned that she is finding the “worms” on the carpet and the baseboards in her apartment, and that they seem to “prefer darkness over light,” and both of these facts further imply that she is dealing with carpet beetle larvae. Carpet beetle larvae are, well, carpet beetle larvae, and they are very frequently found in or under carpets and rugs because they feed on them. They also stay more or less out of sight, preferring to spend their time in dark places, like under furniture or in closets. That said, they aren’t hidden all the time, and in fact they can even be found in quite open spaces (e.g., on top of a counter), so finding them in view on something like a baseboard isn’t strange.

The reader didn’t ask us for any advice about how to get rid of carpet beetle larvae, but she did mention this as a goal, so we can say a couple of things about the topic. The first thing our reader should do is vacuum her apartment thoroughly, and this must be done with some frequency to keep carpet beetle larvae at bay. The reader should also make sure that there aren’t any piles of clothes or other materials, even if they are clean, lying around for extended periods of time. (Carpet beetle larvae eat a variety of fabrics, not just carpet.) The overall aim of the cleaning process is to wipe out a generation of carpet beetle larvae so they can’t reproduce. In general, carpet beetle larvae aren’t really harmful to humans, but some people have skin sensitivities to carpet beetle hairs, and moreover they can cause damage to fabrics, so it is definitely a good idea to get rid of them.

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Carpet beetle larvae are one of the most common creatures readers write to us about, and this most recent question has given us the occasion to write about them once again. Hopefully we have correctly identified what our reader found so she can begin the process of getting rid of them. We wish her luck and trust that the problem will be brought under control if the reader is diligent about addressing it.

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