Small White Worms in the Garden

We just wrote an article about small green worms in the garden, so it is fitting that our next question is quite similar: what are the small white worms you find in your garden? This question came up in an email from a reader in southwestern Colorado, where his garden is located. In his 27 years of gardening, he has never seen the recently discovered small white worms in his garden. (The reader put the point much better: “I’ve never seen the likes of this [the small white worms] in 27 years of gardening!”) This is quite the statement, making us curious about what our reader could have possibly found. What are these small white worms in the garden?

Let’s start with a few more details. By “small,” the reader means about one inch, which is always good to know. As we point out with almost embarrassing frequency, words like “small” and “big” are close to meaningless in the realm of worm identification because these words mean different things to different people. Second, the reader says that when the worm is moving, “it goes all twisty and jumpy.” We’re not entirely sure how to picture such desperately erratic movement, but we get the basic point: the worm moves strangely. And finally, the reader’s garden plot consists partly of sheep manure, in case that’s relevant (which it doesn’t seem to be, but it’s an interesting detail just the same). So, we clearly have some good information to work with, although we weren’t sent a picture. This isn’t necessarily devastating for identification purposes, but a clear picture is always of great assistance.


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Although we have been referring to the reader’s find as a “white worm,” there is a good chance he didn’t find a white worm at all, which means we don’t think he found the creatures that are commonly known as “white worms” that are in fact worms. The approximately 40 species of white worms belong to the genus Enchytraeus; they are annelids, which certainly fall under the broad term “worms” (and rightly so, argues our article about the word “worm”).

Instead of a white worm, we suspect our reader found a white larva. More precisely, we suspect our reader found some type of grubworm, which is the larval form of several types of scarab beetles (of the family Scarabaeidae). Here is what they look like:

grubworm

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The alternative names used for grubworms are illuminating: they are often called “white grubs” or “curl grubs,” which both seem to point fairly well to the creature our reader found. Of course, the mere fact that grubworms curl up doesn’t exactly mean they twist and jump, but they do exhibit some noteworthy body movement. Furthermore, grubworms are about an inch long (in general) and they are commonly found in gardens. In fact, they are regarded as a pest because they eat the roots of various types of vegetation, so our reader should perhaps look into ways to get rid of grubworms if he did find them.

To conclude, we think there is a reasonably good chance that the small white “worms” our reader found are grubworms, which ironically aren’t worms at all. Our biggest hesitation in putting this possibility forward is that our reader says he has never seen anything like these creatures before, leading us to wonder if he found something strange and rare (and grubworms are neither, at least for many gardeners). Then again, if he did find something strange and rare, it is fairly likely we wouldn’t be able to identify it anyway. Maybe our reader has just been lucky in his gardening career so far? So, we’ll stick with our answer, and wish our reader luck if he now has a grubworm problem on his hands.

2 thoughts on “Small White Worms in the Garden

  1. white worms are in nys gardens in corn fields and other fields that u can dig up and they very in size up 2 inches as age and you r right they are very active

  2. I can also say, I have never before seen anything like these. I judge them to be about 1/8 inch. They curl up, then jump and appear to be flying. They came when I was watering in one bed. I also suspect they are a larva, but of what, I have no idea. (since I’ve done a lot of sewing, I’ve been trained to see the 1/4 inch seam, so I think it’s a good guess) Very creepy. I’d appreciate any help on what to do.

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