“I hope you are able to help me”, writes Julia in her submission regarding a whole host of problems and organisms. “After nearly two years of doing my own research I am still unable to identify these organisms. I say that because I’m not sure if they are in fact worms or possibly the larvae of another insect?” Now, first off, we want to thank Julia for the array of photos, of which we chose the most distinct and clear ones. Photos are always invaluable when it comes to trying to identify organisms. Secondly, we have to say that this is, by far, the most amount of context we have ever received regarding a worm-related situation. For this we are also grateful, as it is equally important to provide context when trying to get an organism identified. That said, it can be a lot for our other readers to process, and we also want Julia to get the information and answers that we can provide as soon as possible.
So, the way this article will be structured is that we will succinctly answer her questions to the best of our ability, and then we will quote her entire story afterward for any of our other readers who wish to get the full story. To summarize, Julia has been finding organisms all over her home, and believes that they are eating through all kinds of materials, such as blankets, clothing, and even rust. She fears for her health and sanity. Without further ado, she asks first if these are worms or larvae. To our knowledge, there are no worms or worm-like organisms that eat rust, so we cannot attest to those organisms. She also mentions arthropods, but they do not feed on metal or rust either. When it comes to worm-like organisms found on clothing, blankets, and other textiles, the most common pest to find in such locations are indeed larvae, specifically clothes moth larvae or carpet beetle larvae. The best way to get rid of them is to launder the infested items (and the items nearby the infested items) and to thoroughly vacuum one’s home. We cannot say for certain if the organisms feeding on her textiles are any of these species of insect, as the photos she submitted do not explicitly show these organisms. That said, the photo of the black, stringy-looking object could very well be a casemaking clothes moth larva in its silken-tube (which they construct themselves). If that’s the case, we assume the photo was taken in bad lighting, as these tubes are typically white.
Next, she asks if it is possible that the worms are changing color “depending on what they devour”. This is not entirely impossible, though we would rather suggest that they are changing color as they mature, which is a very typical phenomenon amongst both worms and larvae. Her last question is rhetorical, and is about how it is possible for there to be an organism that eats any kind of material and lives in aquatic habitats, as well as terrestrial ones. Although her question was rhetorical, we do just want to clarify that, as far as all worm-related academia and research is concerned, there are no such worm-like organisms that do eat all of these materials. The only organism we can think of that remotely fits this description is the black soldier fly larvae, which has been known to ingest microplastic that are already present in their typical diet.
Lastly, before we quote the rest of her story, we have some recommendations for Julia as to what she can do about the situation. She mentions white flakes in her tap water: we recommend contacting Florida’s Bureau of Environmental Health and reporting this. Likewise, since Julia is worried about her sanity, she should contact a medical professional who specializes in mental health, such as a psychiatrist. Likewise, if she is worried about her physical health in relation to these worms, we suggest consulting a medical parasitologist. To find a medical parasitologist or other health care provider who can actually help, Julia can do one or more of the following:
– Visit our parasite care resources page here: https://www.allaboutworms.com/get-medical-attention-and-tests-for-parasites
– Search for a medical parasitologist in her area using this directory of medical parasitology consultants: https://www.astmh.org/for-astmh-members/clinical-consultants-directory.
– Search for a local parasitologist by doing a Google search for “medical parasitologist (name of the closest big city)” or “tropical medicine specialist (name of the closest big city)”.
Likewise, if she is worried about her dog and cat, we advise taking them to the vet for evaluation, as we can neither identify worms that negatively affect the health of pets.
Here is the rest of Julia’s story: “Whatever they are, I also assume they are either acting out of character (lol) and do not normally infest homes and personal items of people, or are either a new or undiscovered variety of some sort of pest. I have even considered, in my exhaustion, a secret invasion of an alien race which has come to turn us into pod people (I kid you not, but sanity prevails). A little over two years ago I started getting an allergic reaction of hives and such which has since cleared up, although the source was never identified. It took about eight months of ER visits and even an EpiPen due to the seriousness of my reaction. I am not sure what changed but I no longer have any physical reaction or condition although I have found others online who do.
“Today my concerns are completely regarding my sanity and the unwavering infestation of my home and pretty much everything I own. These things are tiny, and seem to eat or at least infest all different kinds of materials: the strangest seems to be metal or rust. I find them in great numbers, almost caked together in a sticky substance (maybe produced by them after feeding on the rust) that is red or orange but isn’t rust. Inside of the “goop” I find layer upon layer of these things! To add to the oddity, I have also found them in a off-white, cream colored “crust”. This makes me think perhaps their color changes depending on what they devour? These things seem to be eating anything with rust, the wood (furniture) in and around my home, the palm tree in my front yard, and random things like dry kibble pieces my dog and cat leave on the floor. I have even found them floating in cups of water or my pet’s water bowls, which is alarming to say the least, although neither have seemed to have health issues.
“Also, I have found the grout between tiles is starting to crumble suddenly and I find them caked there. My clothing and blankets, even those that have been thoroughly laundered and packed away for a month, in sealed bags, are infested with these things! They must also be eating the fabrics because there is an excessive amount of lint and pilling of all my sheets and blankets and clothes and it produces a strange odor when I dry the laundered items. I worked in the hotel industry for many years and have seen (and smelled) bedbugs and these resemble worms or arthropods, not bed bugs. They hide in seams of clothing but are not lice. They are eating the tree leaves like mites or beetles, but don’t seem to be anything that fits the pests described by plant groups or pest control pros (none of them have been able to even dent their population). Also, any professional that I explain all this to immediately thinks I am insane or at least obsessed and compulsive, and imagining at least part of the infestation. Even my doctors two years ago, and the vets I took my pet’s to, looked at me like I needed some serious psych drugs or some time in a rubber room. For that reason I gave up on the professional approach and stopped explaining everything involved when speaking to the pros and collecting possible insights.
“I will say, they seem to be eating decay of any kind of material. They seem to go through several stages of growth like an arthropod of sorts. I have not seen any larger than about a half inch, though most are one millimeter-ish. They do not seem to die from the heat of the dryer and may even be attracted to heat. They also seem to live through most cleaners and soaps, although I have had some luck using peroxide in concentrate (Clorox 2 ect.) And straight ammonia. They can and do seem to live in water, though I don’t see any movement like swimming. To help with a little reference, I am in south FL which is where most but not all other posts seem to be located (or at least warmer states). I did have issues with mold in my AC unit, although I had both the unit and ducts professionally cleaned. Also, my ex husband often imported exotic plants, most of which came from other countries. He also spoke about garden pests and the process of ordering and releasing insects that could naturally eliminate those pests, although he denied ever actually doing so. Unfortunately he was also involved in importing illegal plants with psychoactive qualities, many from third world countries which may be a factor when trying to identify. I have noticed when doing image searches, there are matching results, mostly in Russian or Chinese, but when I click those links it always says ‘this content has been removed’ or ‘website not available’. I will also add that there have been some issues with broken water pipes, and I have seen white flakes floating in our city tap water (not well water). There also seems to be something degrading my plastic storage containers and leaving a strange white pitting on them. Almost like it’s eating that as well. I have had to replace nearly all of my storage containers.
“I know all of this sounds impossible together. I mean, what in the world can be eating fabric, metal, rust, plastic, and wood, lives in water, as well as on solid ground, and infests EVERYTHING known to man? Like I said, an alien invasion has been considered. I realize this has taken up quite a lot of your time and I do so appreciate it. I would be grateful if you have any information, or even an educated guess that could help identify this pest/nightmare that seems dead set on devouring my home/world. Even if you know the variety of insects that could be responsible and capable of evolving or modifying what they consume to such an extent, in order to survive, maybe that could at least guide me in the right direction. I have contacted the environmental agencies near me but I get no response. I assume, like everyone else, they roll their eyes and twirl their fingers and resolve that I must need a mental evaluation. Here are the best pics I can offer, taken with a microscope application on my phone. One more thing, There are a few more details I would have included but I am aware of the limitations you have and liabilities you would face and so I omitted those details. I hope that will suffice for an explanation. I have heard some insects are able to attach fibers to themselves to help hide from predators… who knows. Thanks again! Your site has offered more insight and reference than all other sources combined! You have at least proven I am just one of a growing number of people suffering from issues that, at least to me, seem to be caused by the same pest. I have read similar posts, although, due to health-related issues, most were in need of more help than you could offer. Thank you for taking the time to listen and share your insight with not just myself but everyone out there with critters like these or simple curiosity. You are a Godsend!”
To sum it all up, it seems that Julia is dealing with a lot. We are not able to provide conclusive answers for a number of reasons; we cannot identify organisms photographed through a microscope as microscopic organisms are outside our area of expertise. Likewise, we are neither qualified nor legally able to identify organisms that cause medical concerns, which these organisms reportedly are doing. Nonetheless, we hope that the information and recommendations we have provided prove useful to her. What we will say is that, given the variety of materials and items that are infested, we doubt this is just one organism. She could have multiple infestations going on. For example, she could have casemaking clothes moth larvae infesting her textiles and causing the pilling, meanwhile the mold that was in her AC has returned and is infesting other items such as the metal (there are species of mold that can look like rust). Then, when it comes to her wooden furniture, these could be termites or wood-boring beetle larvae. That leaves us with our final recommendation: Julia might want to get her home professionally cleaned out, maybe pest control. In any case, the organisms could very well be a product of the exotic plants her ex-husband was importing, though that depends on how long ago the plants were introduced versus how long ago the infestation started. If the infestation started shortly after the plants were introduced, there is a likely causation here. However, if the two situations are far apart, they are definitely unrelated: worms and larvae do not take that long to hatch. That said, there have been so many cases of invasive species brought to Florida, so it might be one or many of those as well. We wish Julia the very best.
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