How to Get Rid of Horsehair Worms

If you have ever seen a super thin worm wiggling it’s way out of the body of an insect such as a cricket or the nose of an amphibian, chances are it was a horsehair worm. Also called: Cabbagehair, Gordiacea, Gordiid and Gordian Worm, the horsehair worm is a parasite that lives inside crickets, cockroaches, grasshoppers, beetles, and other anthropod pests. These odd threadlike creatures can grow up to 3.2 feet (one meter) and only 0.03 inches (3 millimeters) in diameter. 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. Before we talk about the horsehair worm in detail, let’s talk first about how to get rid of these interesting creatures.

How to Get Rid of Horsehair Worms

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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 feel that you have a horsehair worm infestation and they need to be controlled, 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.

About Horsehair Worms

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Horsehair worms belong to the roundworm family and they earned the name because they look just 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.

8 Comments

  1. The Top Worm

    Dear Tonya – this is a free, non-professional website, offering a free, non-expert, NONMEDICAL service. If you need medical advice we suggest you contact either Dr. Omar Amin at the Parasitology Center at parasitetesting,com or Dr. Vipul Savaliya of Infectious Disease Care (“IDCare”) at idcarepa.com.

  2. tonya

    why are we leaving comments and getting no answers, D.R didnt and still dont believe me about these horsehair worms. I almost committed my self to a mental hospital. When I shower, I use a scrub brush. I cake my self in oil which makes them come out, Ive taken baths in lysol, emptom salt also works but theres always more and more. I have holes in my face along my jaw bones, forehead and all my bones and jpoints along all my limbs shoulderblades and spine. I have to get them out of the house before every one else ends up with them. the dog already has them and idk what to do for the poor guy

  3. Robnie

    My girl friend had thenm in her feet shes tried water but difnt work what else can she try or use to get them out of her ft

  4. Margie fortner

    Im infested with horsehair worm l got it in Costa Rica..please help!

  5. I have a horsehair worms infestation. How do I get rid of them?

  6. Vivian Hunt

    Everything I own is infested with horsehair worms. What do I do? I’ve battled these things for years now and I’m sick of them. Please help!!!

  7. Anna Lee Coffmon

    Do flies carry horse hair worms

  8. Cole

    Hi, I have found a horse hair worm in my pond and I put it in a tub what should I do with it I am worried about my fish cause some are expensive so what should I do?

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