We received an interesting question from a reader the other day via the All About Worms Facebook page about “some sort of short white maggot” crawling out of the abdomen of a cricket. The reader feeds the crickets to his chameleon, and recently gnats have been found in the “chameleon’s habitat.” The reader speculated there might be a connection between the gnats and the short white maggots – indeed, he thought the maggots might be the gnats themselves – and asked us to weigh in on the matter. What type of short white maggot could be inside a cricket?
This is a perplexing question. Half of what our reader says implies this is a classic case of horsehair worms, and half of what he says implies this is a classic case of gnat larvae (insofar as there are “classic cases” of either). We would be confident in offering either identification, except for the fact that half the information we have contradicts whatever identification we make.
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The fact that the reader saw the creature crawling out of the cricket suggest he is finding a horsehair worm. Crickets, along with insects like grasshoppers and beetles, are one of the primary hosts for horsehair worms. (We have actually specifically written about crickets and horsehair worms before.) Hidden inside cysts in certain types of vegetation, small horsehair worm larvae are inadvertently ingested by insects, and then the worms slowly mature inside their hosts. When they are fully mature they will exit the insect’s body (as long as it is near some type of water source), a process that kills the host. The thing about horsehair worms is that they have extremely notable body dimensions – they look like the hairs found on a horse’s tail, and thus do not resemble “some sort of short white maggot.”
What may look like a short white maggot is a gnat larva, which is in fact a maggot, or the larval form of a fly. (Some people only use “maggot” to refer to the larval form of Brachyceran flies, like houseflies, but it can be used more generally to refer to any fly larva, and hence a gnat larva is a maggot, as gnats are flies.) Obviously, there are compelling reasons to think that gnat larvae might be around given the reader’s recent gnat problem. However, we don’t know why one gnat larva would be found emerging from a cricket in particular. It is not that a dead cricket is an impossible place to find a gnat larva, but gnat larvae aren’t cricket parasites, so its presence in the cricket would be incidental. Also, when one finds maggots, they tend to be scattered around an area because of the prolific breeding habits of gnats and other flies. Why a single larva would be emerging from one cricket is strange.
So, the dilemma is this: it sounds as if there is some connection between the dead cricket and the larva within it – i.e., the larva used the cricket as a host – and this would be perfectly explained if our reader found a horsehair larva. Horsehair larvae target crickets to use them as hosts, killing them in the process. However, the creature that emerged from the cricket doesn’t appear to be a horsehair worm (based on the reader’s description), and moreover the presence of a horsehair worm would be entirely disconnected from the gnat problem. This is, as noted above, a perplexing question.
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Unfortunately, then, we can’t offer our reader a definite answer. We recommend he look into horsehair worms and gnat larvae, and since he knows more about his situation then we do, maybe he’ll be able to figure out what he found.