After being gone for three days, this reader came back to his home to find “three groups of these critters” on his family room ceiling. The critters in question appear to be a dark gray color, with bulbous, glossy black heads and segmented, bristly bodies.
Before we say anything about the worms, we first want to address how excellent these photos are. We thank our reader immensely for these brilliantly detailed shots, as they not only help us identify these creatures now, but will make an excellent addition to our library. Now, with regard to the worms, our reader states that since he was not sure what they were, he used paper towels to wipe two of the groups of worms off his ceiling, and then took pictures of the last group, which are the ones we are seeing. He asks that we tell him what the organisms are and how he can control them. Thanks to these photographs, we can definitely fulfill our reader’s request.
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The worm-like creatures on our reader’s ceiling are fall armyworms (or FAW). Given their size and lack of features, we would say they are newly hatched. It is curious, our readers seem to be finding fall armyworms somewhat more often than usual this summer, but there is a good reason for that. The fall armyworm, an infamous agricultural pest, is named the fall armyworm for a reason, namely that they become most prevalent during early autumn (or late summer). Although the fall armyworm prefers to live its mature larval life at a farm or large garden, where it can infest the soils and chew through the stalks and leaves of various plants, the adult moth has been known to lay its eggs in all kinds of places, from trees to cars to the walls and ceilings of people’s homes. It would make sense for a moth to fly into the stable environment of an urban home to lay its eggs on the ceiling, where the eggs can hatch peacefully. Of course, our reader found three clusters, but that does not necessarily mean that there were three moths that laid eggs. In fact, the adult FAW moth can lay hundreds of eggs in her short two week lifespan.
Despite the large quantities in which you can find them, and their notoriety amongst farmers, fall armyworms are not a direct danger to the health of those whose homes they inhabit (for the short while they do), nor are they a threat to one’s pets, or even house plants. As soon as the larvae have gotten big enough (when fully grown, they are an inch long and come in various shades of green, brown or gray), they will spin a silken thread for them to climb down to the ground, where they will start their search for food. It is best to get rid of the larvae when they are still clustered together as our reader found them, rather than have them come down and begin wandering around. That said, even if one were to only discover them after they have left the ceiling in search of food, one does not have to worry about them being scattered throughout the house. The armyworm gets its name from the label given to a group of caterpillars, an army. They received this name because armyworms travel together, forming one long train of caterpillars.
Regardless of what stage one finds the fall armyworms at, we urge our reader to safely take the armyworms outside to a tree where they can finish maturing (far from his garden if he has one). Scooping them up onto a dustpan should do the trick. We do not encourage wiping them off with a paper towel, as this would kill the organisms, and there is a far easier and humane solution to the problem. Other than that, there is not much else one needs to do to control armyworms in the home, as the indoors are not prone to infestation from armyworms. Now, if they had infested our reader’s garden or farm (provided he had one), that would be a different question altogether, but that is not the case here.
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To conclude, the three groups of critters our reader found on his family room ceiling are fall armyworms. Given that the greatest threat they pose is to outdoor environments, our reader need not worry about a long-term infestation, though we understand that finding hundreds of worm-like creatures on one’s ceiling can give that impression. He needs also not worry about his or anyone else’s health. Simply moving the caterpillars outside will rid his house of them, and he can continue with his life as usual!