We recently heard from a reader in South Africa. She wrote, “Could you help me identify this worm? I’m not even sure if it is a worm or something else because it has 6 little legs and it is really small but very red and scary looking. I live in a thatch house and keep finding them.” The first photograph she sent shows one of the organisms in a glass jar:
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We can’t see a ton of detail from this photo, but there are a few clues. Upon zooming in, we notice the faint presence of cercus, which are two small appendages that protrude from the end of this creature. In the next photo, we can see that the creature has a segmented body with a distinct head and 3 prolegs on each side:
We believe that our reader has discovered scarlet malachite beetle larvae, also known by the scientific name Malachius aeneus. While these are known to be predatory beetles, they aren’t often considered pests. In other words, they don’t typically eat stored pantry goods, clothing, or furniture. We don’t know why these beetle larvae have taken a liking to our reader’s home. Since she lives in a thatch hut, keeping them fully out will probably be an impossible task, but she can try to eliminate any extra debris that they might be attracted to. Luckily, these beetle larvae aren’t harmful or dangerous.
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To sum up, we believe that the “scary red worm” our reader has discovered is the larva of the scarlet malachite beetle. Scarlet malachite beetle larvae are predators of small arthropods, and the adult beetles are flower beetles, which means they eat pollen. Although their presence is surely annoying, our reader might find some comfort in learning that these larvae aren’t usually destructive house guests.