Today we received a question from a reader about a white, segmented larvae with a large head that she found on a poplar tree stump in her backyard. (Technically, the reader said she found a “worm bug like thing,” but since we know she found a larva, we’ll refer to it accordingly.) The most notable feature of the larva is its large head, which looks like it is designed to bore into wood, and indeed it is, as we are pretty certain our reader found some sort of wood-boring larva – either the larval form of a beetle (one of the woodboring beetles) or of a moth (e.g., a clearwing moth). The reader was only curious about identifying what she found – she indicated that she has never seen anything like it – so below we explore larvae that bore into wood in more detail.
First, let’s take a look at the photo our reader submitted along with her question:
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As we said, the head of the larva is its most prominent feature, and it looks a bit like a drill bit. We aren’t sure how large the creature is, and we also aren’t sure where our reader lives. Both of these details could potentially help with a precise identification, but even with this information, it would be difficult to offer a precise identification. There are thousands and thousands of different larvae that bore into wood, and the differences between them can be minute. So, all we can say with any degree of confidence is that our reader found a larva that bores into wood, which is why she found it on the stump of a poplar tree. Perhaps this is all she wants to know – a wood-boring larva is a more precise identification than “worm bug like thing,” after all – but we can offer a couple of more notes before concluding.
As we said, wood-boring larvae can be the immature form of either moths or beetles. If what our reader found is a moth larva, it probably belongs to the Sesiidae family, which is made up of so-called “clearwing moths” (because the moths have clear wings), of which there are over 1,000 species. However, there are other moth larvae that bore into wood, like the relatively common American plum borer (Euzophera semifuneralis), which bores into the wood of fruit and nut trees.
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Although lots of moth larvae bore into wood, this practice is more common among beetle larvae, at least in terms of the total number of species that engage in wood boring. There are around 100,000 species of “woodboring beetles,” a term that ranges over several major beetle families, including longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae), bark beetles and weevils (Curculionidae), and flat-headed borers (Buprestidae). Overall, we think our reader found a beetle larva, probably one of the flat-head borers because of the size of its head.
We can’t be sure what our reader found, but hopefully we’ve at least pointed her in the right direction. She found some sort of moth or beetle larvae that bores into wood, and she can take it from here if she is inclined to learn more.