We received a question from a reader a while ago about a small black and white worm he found in a carton. Actually, he didn’t ask a question so much as write us a statement, which went as follows: “worm found in sealed carton the color was black and white and about a half inch long.” (That’s the entire email.) We presume the reader found the worm in some sort of food carton because we don’t know any other carton one would likely find a worm in. (A milk carton? A cigarette carton? These seem like less inviting places for a worm.) As you can see, the reader didn’t directly ask any question, but we’re assuming he’s curious what he found. So, what is the black and white worm that our reader found in a (food) carton?
Unfortunately, the reader did not submit a picture along with his question, which decreases our confidence in the suggestions we’ll put forward. It would have been especially nice to have a picture in this instance to discern exactly what is meant by the worm being “black and white.” Obviously, these are diametrically opposed colors that when combined together form grey. However, the reader didn’t describe the worm he found as “grey” (or “dark” or “off white” or anything that suggests a blend of the two colors), so we’re assuming it must have had white and black stripes (or something like that). And if it did have black and white stripes, we’re perplexed, as the common worms in the pantry or larvae in the pantry aren’t colored in this way.
For instance, our first thought was that our reader found a pantry moth larva (a “waxworm”), which are of course the larval form of pantry moths. While these creatures are about a half an inch long and are commonly found in pantries all over the world, they are not “black and white.” Instead, they basically look like maggots, but are sometimes slightly darker, with a tan or light brown color. Another possibility that came to mind is that our reader found a flour beetle larva, which are also known as “mealworms”. Mealworms are found in pantries and they are a little darker than pantry moth larvae; however, it would be strange to call them “black and white,” as they are essentially a brownish color, although they can have darker brown stripes relative to their body color. The same is true of carpet beetle larvae, which are generally found on carpet in dark places around the house (like under furniture), but they can occasionally make their way into stored foods. Since carpet beetle larvae and flour beetle larvae can have striped bodies, perhaps the reader just described their light and dark bodies as “black and white.” (Maybe he saw them in low lighting?) Of the two possibilities, we’d lean toward carpet beetle larvae because mealworms are generally really small (much smaller than a half an inch), but in truth we can’t be particularly sure about either.
Alas, we are unable to definitively answer our reader’s “question.” We are fairly confident he is finding a common pantry pest like the three possibilities listed above, but his description of the creature as “black and white” gives us pause. In any case, we are pretty sure he is finding a larva, and not a worm, not that people are particularly mindful of the definition of “worm.” We encourage our reader to look into the creatures we named above to see if any of them match what he is finding.
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