How Did a Gordian Worm End Up in My Toilet?

Did you crush a cricket and toss it in the toilet? How about a katydid? A cockroach? Did you stick around to find out what happened to the dead insect after flushing it, um, “away?” If not, and you later returned to find a long, skinny worm swimming around in your toilet, chances are it escaped from the insects body that had been its home anywhere from 4-20 weeks. So what’s the deal with this weird parasitic worm? Well for starters, the Gordian worm goes by several different names including, Cabbagehair, Gordiacea, ,Gordiid, and Horsehair Worm. It is parasite that lives inside crickets, cockroaches, grasshoppers, beetles, katydids, and other anthropod pests. They do not infect humans, animals, livestock, or plants.

These odd threadlike creatures can grow up to 3.2 feet (one meter) and only 0.03 inches (3 millimeters) in diameter, which is about as wide as a kite string. If you have observed the horsehair worm emerging from the body of a larger animal or anything other than an insect, it was probably inside of the cricket, cockroach or beetle that was just ingested by the larger animal.

UPDATE! All About Worms has partnered with HealthLabs so that
you can get tested for parasites at a fully-qualified lab near you,
no doctor's visit required
! Check it out at HealthLabs.com!

The horsehair worm belongs to the roundworm family. This unique worm earned the name based on the way it looks. The horsehair worm looks like the thin hair of a horse tail. Horsehair worms are typically dark brown in color, but some are tan, yellow or black. They usually peak during the late summer as well as during the fall months. Finding horsehair worms in odd places is not uncommon. They have been spotted emerging from a cricket on the kitchen floor of homes or in the toilet after a cricket has been dumped there, and they have even been spotted in pet’s water bowls. They can also be found swimming around in lakes, rivers, streams, and garden ponds.

The life cycle begins when a male and female horsehair worm mate in soil or freshwater. The female can lay as many as 10 million eggs. She typically lays her eggs in water plants. Once the eggs hatch into larvae, they live inside cysts in vegetation — vegetation that is ingested by crickets, grasshoppers and other insects or bugs. Once ingested, the cysts dissolve inside of the grasshopper or cricket gut. The parasite makes its way into the body cavity of the insect where it absorbs nutrients from the insects’ food through the body wall. The horsehair worm is so thin that it can develop and grow to its maximum length inside the body cavity of small cricket. However, the usual length of time that a horsehair worm will develop inside the host is 4-20 weeks. Amazingly, once the horsehair worm reaches maturity inside of the host, it can live out the rest of its life from the nutrients and energy obtained from the host. Another amazing thing about the horsehair worm is its ability to manipulate its body into many forms. The horsehair worm can even twist itself into a ball that resembles a Gordian knot, hence the name, Gordian Worm.

When the horsehair worm is ready to exit its host, usually when the host is near or in water, it will wiggle out of the nearest opening. This is not always the case, however. They have also been known to exit on dry land. Once the horsehair worm exits the body of an insect (and if it does not find another host), this emerging actually completes the life cycle. If you dare, you can witness the horsehair worm exiting the body of a cricket here. Warning: this is not a pretty sight.

No Paywall Here!
All About Worms is and always has been a free resource. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or make you give us your email address, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to pay our research authors, and to run and maintain the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep All About Worms free?
Click for amount options
Other Amount:
What info did we provide for you today?:

How to Get Rid of Horsehair Worms

Horsehair worms can only parasitize suitable insect hosts, so after crushing pests such as crickets, millipedes, or centipedes, the worms will quickly exit the body and crawl for cover. Unless you kill them right after exiting the body, they parasitize another insect. That said, because they are not harmful to humans and because they actually kill harmful pests such as grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, beetles, millipedes, centipedes, snails, slugs, etc., no control measures are recommended.

If you have a horsehair worm problem, you can:

  • Use plain water to get rid of them (you can spray them)
  • Install a mesh filter or screen to keep the worms from water pumped from a surface supply such as a farm pond or canal
  • Treat domestic water supply systems by filtering and treating with chemicals under the direction of the local health department

To keep parasitized insects out of your home, you should caulk or seal entry sites. If you kill an insect, make sure you take it out of the home immediately. If you flush it, the horsehair worm will escape from the insect’s body through the toilet. You can also place an insecticide barrier around your house foundation to kill any arthropod pests infested with horsehair worms.

1 Comment

  1. Show me pictures of all worms found in humans in the U.S. Is there a particular worm in humans that looks like a grub worm? How are worms treated in humans? How do humans contract worms and are they deadly?

Leave a Comment (but to submit a question please use the "Submit a Question" link above; we can't respond to questions posted as a comment)

Menu / Search

All About Worms