At first, it may look like hair, or something stringy. Then, it starts to wriggle and writhe around almost in an alien-like way. What are these things, and why are people finding them on Minnesota lakes?

The scientific name for these gross things is Nematomorpha. It's better known as the Horsehair Worm. Why do they call it that? Because it looks like the hair from a horse.

According to the Minnesota DNR, these worms are usually 6 to 10 inches long, but they can grow up to 2 feet! GROSS!

Kari Felderward WCCO
Kari Felderward WCCO
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They are found in aquatic habitats like lakes and rivers. They can even be found in small puddles and water containers.

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The adult female horsehair worms release millions of eggs into the water. Those then hatch and find a host insect. Depending on the insect and the circumstances, the horsehair worm will grow inside of them. Sometimes they even take control of the host insect! This is truly something out of a science fiction horror movie.

The good news is that horsehair worms aren't parasitic to humans. At least that's what the Minnesota DNR says. They also admit that they don't know a ton about them in Minnesota because the group isn't well-studied.

The University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources has done some more extensive studies. They say that they are harmless to vertebrates, like humans, and pets like cats and dogs. So, I'm going to cross my fingers they are 100% right on that.

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They also don't infect plants, so you are likely not to ingest one by accident eating a salad. (Oh my God, gross.) If you were to somehow ingest a horsehair worm, you would get an upset stomach, but that's about it.

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