Small Red Worms that Shed Their Skin

Molted skin
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A reader wrote to us via the All About Worms Facebook page to ask us about some small red worms that she recently found on her bedroom wall. The worms appear to have a cocoon or shell, or perhaps they just shed their skin (the reader mentioned all three as possibilities). The worms also seem to be legless and hairless. The reader reports that she has seen the small red worms before when she was younger; they were generally under stuffed animals that were on the floor, and again she noted that they seemed to leave behind their molted skin. In light of their repeated appearance in her life, our reader wants to know what the small red worms are, if they are even worms at all.

To begin, let’s take a look at the picture our reader sent in:

Molted skin

This doesn’t actually depict the worm, but rather the skin/cocoon/shell that is mentioned above. What could this belong to?

As is often the case, the reader’s description of what she found pulls us in different directions. When we first looked at the reader’s message, we were fairly certain she found some sort of larvae, as the majority of the “worms” that people ask us about are actually larvae. Indeed, we still think that our reader found larvae (more on this in a moment), but the fact that the creature is (or seems to be) hairless and legless is consistent with her finding some sort of worm. However, this is basically the only detail in our reader’s message that suggests she found a worm, and other details of her message effectively rule this possibility out. Most notably, worms’ bodies are made of a flexible collagen, which means they don’t molt, and the capacity to molt appears to be the hallmark of the creature our reader found. (We do think that what is pictured above is molted skin and not a cocoon or shell.)

As we said, we think our reader found some sort of larvae, potentially a carpet beetle larvae, a creature we write about with ludicrous frequency because we are asked about them all the time. We are primarily drawn to this suggestion because carpet beetle larvae are very common and they molt as they grow into beetles. In fact, one of the best ways to determine if you have carpet beetle larvae is to look for molted skins in the places they congregate (like under furniture). This suggestion is bolstered by the fact that the reader has found these creatures in the past under her stuffed animals, which is a fairly attractive place for the larvae to hang out and feed. They eat various types of fabrics, including carpets and probably the materials that stuffed animals are made out of, and for the most part they stay out of sight. However, it wouldn’t be unusual to find them crawling on the walls, which is where the reader found the creature under discussion.

The “carpet beetle larvae” hypothesis is not without its flaws. For one, the molted skins of the larvae tend to look like the creature’s body – they look like empty molds of their bodies – and the picture above shows something more amorphous. Carpet beetle larvae also have hair and legs, although you would have to get close to see these body features. And finally, carpet beetle larvae are generally more of a brownish color, but some can be a reddish hue, so a larvae could conceivably be described as a “small red worm.” So, it is far from clear our reader found carpet beetle larvae, but there is some support for this suggestion, and nothing seems to definitively rule it. Regardless, we are fairly certain that what our reader found is some sort of larvae.


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Small Red Worms that Shed Their Skin
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Small Red Worms that Shed Their Skin
Our reader wants to know what the small red worms are, if they are even worms at all.

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