Groups of Maggots

We write about maggots a lot. We’re not entirely sure why, but many a reader question centers on the ubiquitous (or so you would think) maggot. We’ve written about maggots on the bathroom floortwice – and we’ve also touched on maggots found in bone marrow and maggots and dogs. What’s more, all of these maggot-related articles were written recently, within the last half year or so. Clearly, there is no shortage of reader queries about maggots.

Update: Our reader may have found fungus gnat larvae, which are in fact fly larvae, as we speculated below. Readers who found the present article should also read our more recent article to see if it helps with their identification.

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And so starts another article about maggots, or rather, groups of maggots. The topic was raised in a question that a reader sent to us. Actually, it’s not so much a question as a detailed description of what this person saw (although the description is basically framed like a question, starting with details and some commentary that in most cases culminates in a question – not in this instance, however). As a consequence, we don’t really have any answer to provide, as an answer implies a question. (We suspect we are in the ballpark of a zen proverb – to be enlightened is to provide an answer to a question that wasn’t asked…or something like that.) Our reader’s email was quite interesting, however, so we figured we would pass on his observations to our audience in case anyone has witnessed something similar.

The story begins with a conversation between a man (the reader) and his wife, the latter of whom found what appeared to be a “dead snake rotting with maggots all over.” This led the wife to contact her husband, who was instructed to get rid of the maggots upon his return. When he (the reader) got home, he saw the maggots (or what “appeared” to be maggots – the reader has a circumspect way of wording things), but he speculated that the dead creature they were consuming was a mouse or chipmunk. The reader left for about 20 minutes, and came back to the same spot, but he noticed that the group of maggots had moved. They were traveling a bit like The Blob, according to the reader’s simile.

At this point in his email, the reader shifts to calling the creatures he found “worms,” perhaps because he wasn’t entirely sure what he was dealing with. He described the “worms” as about a half an inch long, skinny (1/32 of an inch, to give the reader’s startlingly precise approximation), and white with a black head. They were “wiggling over” each other as they moved about. The reader got rid of the living pile by throwing it in the woods, but his wife recently found more of the creatures coming out of the ground around their flower bed. The reader tells us that they kind of look like “maggots on a diet,” and they don’t wiggle sideways, and move more like a snake. Again, normally a question like “what are these things?” comes next, but no.

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Let’s suppose that question came. This is what we would say: our reader is dealing with maggots, at least in the first instance, the one involving the dead animal and the moving pile of “worms.” (A maggot is actually not a worm at all, but the larval form of flies.) The physical description of the creatures matches that of maggots perfectly, and maggots routinely eat decayed flesh. Doing so is kind of their role in what Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice called the “Circle of Life.” We are as sure that our reader found maggots as we are of virtually any answer we have ever supplied. But that leaves two unanswered questions: why were the maggots moving together like The Blob, and why are they coming out of the flower bed?

With respect to the first question, we aren’t entirely sure, but we do know that worms can often crawl together as a group by sense of touch, so maybe something similar is happening with the maggots. Also, if the pile of maggots were merely moving around aimlessly, like a blob, then that might just have to do with the nature of swarm movement. If tons of creatures (a heap of maggots) are interacting with something small (a decaying mouse) and they are exerting pressure and shifting about, it seems reasonable to suppose that a group of maggots wouldn’t stay completely stationary. A swarm, in short, might tend to move. The second mysterious matter – the maggots of the flower bed – is a little strange, but our response is simple: if the creatures coming out of the ground are the same creatures the reader found consuming the dead animal, they are maggots. Why precisely they are in the flower bed is a matter that calls for more investigation (a buried dead animal?), but there can be little doubt that they are in fact maggots. If they are not identical, then of course our reader may be dealing with something else, but since we know nothing of this matter, we can’t say anything else.

That is our answer to the question that was never asked.

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