“Can you please help me identify this black (sometimes white) feather looking wormy thing that moves when I uncover it?” asks this reader in her query. From the photos our reader sent us, there seems to be what looks like a gray feather, and a small, ovate organism-looking piece of matter that our reader states may be the same organism at a different stage of its life cycle.
Our reader clarifies that the feather-looking worm moves because it is exposed to light, and it was found hiding in a box of papers toward the bottom. She is based in Oregon and has been noticing these creatures around her house for two years. Her spouse thinks the creature is a feather, but she insists that it moves and is thus an organism. Now, upon looking up feather-looking worms/larvae, there are not that many results that pop up. We have furry caterpillars such as the woolly bear caterpillar and puss moth caterpillar, but both of these species have far longer ‘fur’ (which are actually bristles and are not safe to touch in the case of the puss moth caterpillar) and do not look like this organism at all. Furthermore, most other worm-like creatures that resemble feathers even somewhat happen to be marine organisms, and would not survive in the dry climate of a house, let alone a box of papers.
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That being said, eventually we did stumble upon this fantastic video of a caterpillar mimicking a feather in order to escape the detection of birds that would prey on them. When we saw this, we thought that this might just be our guy. Oddly enough, no one seems to know what species of caterpillar this is. Now, whilst the feather in our reader’s photographs is gray, the caterpillar in the video is a bright white color, but then again, our reader did mention that she also found white feathers. That said, the feather in our reader’s photos is also very thin, and probably too thin to house the body of a caterpillar. In the video, we see a profile shot of the caterpillar which clearly shows its two rows of feet and bright green body, which should also be visible to our reader. We urge her to try to see the feather from the side, and see if it looks at all like the caterpillar in the video linked above, and furthermore if it moves in a similar fashion too. That said, we doubt that this is the caterpillar from the video.
When it comes to the other, small organism pictured below, we also cannot say what this might be. It looks like it might be the pupa of some creature, in which case our reader may be correct in assuming that this is the same species but at a different stage of its life cycle. On the other hand, it could very well be something else. Its lack of distinct features makes it difficult to say anything for certain; to the naked eye it looks merely like a pebble. What our reader could do is put this organism in a sealed container with some air holes and organic material for food (such as leaf litter) and wait to see what it grows into. If it does mature into something, our reader is more than welcome to send us more pictures or provide an update in the comments section below.
Alternatively, our reader’s spouse may be correct on this one; this might just be a feather. What our reader can do to check if this organism truly moves on its own is put it inside a big box and inspect it to see if it moves. The thing is, a feather –as light as they are– is bound to move if our reader is consistently disturbing the location in which it was found; they will move with the slightest of drafts or motions. Perhaps our reader’s spouse has just been leaving feathers around the home for two years to scare our reader, or perhaps this really is some unknown organism and our reader is the first one to discover it. Either way, we recommend taking precautions if and when handling the feather in the case that it is an organism, as the feathery strands may be bristles, which are often toxic on worms and larvae and which can cause allergic reactions.
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To conclude, the feather-looking “wormy thing” moving in our reader’s apartment could be a number of things; it could be a caterpillar disguising itself as a feather, it could be a new organism that our reader had the fortune to discover, or it could simply just be a feather. If any of our other readers have any ideas as to the identity of this feather, or the identity of the caterpillar in the video linked above, feel free to share your input in the comments section below.