17 Jul

The Curious Case of the Horsehair Body Snatcher

All across America, something strange is happening. Long, hair-like creatures are taking control of their hosts and then bursting out ala that creepy scene from Alien. As a human you have nothing to worry about, unless you have Jiminy Cricket as a friend… then you might need to be concerned for him. Horsehair worms do not target humans–nor can they–however, crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, mantids, cockroaches, and some beetles are perfect hosts. You can find horsehair worms in fresh water. Cattle troughs, swimming pools, puddles, streams and cisterns are all plausible locations to see a horsehair worm; you might even spot them swirling around in your toilet.

What, on earth is a horsehair worm?

Once a horsehair larva enters its host, it grows inside as a parasite. Safe inside the body, it has no reservations about making the insect do all of the legwork. When the horsehair worm has reached the appropriate size, mind control begins. It takes over the brain of the insect and gives it a sadistic charge to become fatally obsessed with water. An infected cricket will stop eating, search out the nearest puddle and drown itself. If that means a dog watering dish or your toilet, then so be it. Poor Pinocchio is going to have a hard time watching his effervescent buddy transform into a twenty inch writhing worm. If the horsehair worm is big enough, the slightest bit of water can be enough to draw it out. You might be mopping your floor and if a cricket wanders through, the worm could emerge.

Life as a horsehair parasite

As it grows, the parasite eats the non-vital organs of the cricket and takes up nearly all the available inside space. An adult Horsehair worm can fill 90% of the host body. The parasite supercoils itself into tight loops, takes control and waits for water. For an appropriate size reference, the Horsehair worm is as long as the distance from the tip of your finger down to your elbow. Seeing something that lengthy dance its way out of a cricket, would make anyone nervous. For the worm, it is simply another step in its amazing life cycle. Once its host has tracked down some water; the worm escapes, finds a suitable partner, mates, a gooey mass of eggs are laid, and the entire process begins again.

Who decided to name it Horsehair?

The parasite is a little bit thicker than a strand of hair. People used to think horsehair would come alive and it would swirl around in troughs, ponds and streams. Horsehair worms do just that; they slip and squirm around, knotting their long bodies into impossible shapes.

Horsehair worms might be disgusting; finding one in your toilet might make you think you’re the one with the parasite. Don’t fret, that swirling mass of worm signifies there is one less cockroach or cricket in the world. Next time you’re mopping and hair-like creatures begin dancing across your floor you’ll know that some insect has been body snatched.

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