“I was wondering if the white, string-looking thing in the attached video was some kind of worm”, writes this reader about the creature pictured below. “I saw it in a bucket of dirt/rocks I’d brought home from a stream in South Dakota. They were visibly moving in the water but shriveled up quickly after taking out and putting it on a rock. Thanks for the help.” Based on the context, as well as the excellent photo and video, we would say it is possible that this is some type of worm. The only thing that has us questioning this is the video: the way that worm is blowing in the wind as if it’s a dry noodle seems a bit odd. We’re not sure a worm would be blown about quite so easily in the wind, even if it was dried out. But then again, we haven’t had a lot of experience with dried worms blowing around in the wind, so who are we to say?
Assuming this is a worm, we think it’s possible that it is a horsehair worm. Our reader might have heard of horsehair worms: they have caused quite the stir on the internet over the past few years. They have been labelled dangerous parasites that inhabit humans for years on end. However, there is a lot of misinformation that’s spread about these creatures. They are indeed parasites, but they don’t infect humans, at least not on purpose. There are cases of humans excreting horsehair worms, or coughing them up, but that is due to the accidental ingestion of the horsehair worm: usually through the ingestion of an infected insect. And when humans have ‘contracted’ horsehair worms, they don’t experience any symptoms other than the feelings of having a worm stuck inside your body. So, in short, we don’t recommend ingesting a horsehair worm, simply because it’s not a pleasant experience.
Horsehair worms initially live in bodies of fresh water (such as the stream our reader found this one in), as they are aquatic creatures, but they then infest insects that drink from those bodies of water, consequently maturing in their bodies and feeding off their nutrient. Once the worm has fully matured, they burst forth from the body of the insect and roam free, looking for a mate to start the cycle all over again. What we find strange about this case is that the worm shriveled up on the rock. Even though they are aquatic creatures, horsehair worms should be able to survive on land. That said, our reader did send us this query during the summer months, so maybe it was simply too hot for the horsehair worm to survive out of water.
In conclusion, we think our reader found a horsehair worm in the stream. Though they are parasites, they are not dangerous to humans or any mammals for that matter. We hope this helps, and we wish our reader the very best!
All About Worms is always free, always reader-supported. Your tips via CashApp, Venmo, or Paypal are appreciated! Receipts will come from ISIPP Publishing.