Maine Woman Films 'Disgusting,' Writhing, Snake-Like Mass of Larvae on Lawn

A Maine woman who spotted a snake-like creature in her yard has discovered that it was in fact a writhing mass of fungus gnat larvae.

Denise Bechtel first saw what looked like a single creature on her lawn in Litchfield on Tuesday. She said it measured around 6 inches in length and was between a quarter inch and a half inch wide.

"When I first saw it, I didn't have my glasses on so I thought it was a huge slug," she told Newsweek.

Bechtel shared a video of the "slug" to the Maine Wildlife Facebook page—which she said was populated by well-informed naturalists—to see if anyone could explain what it was.

She wrote in a comment beneath the video: "Disgusting but honestly a bit mesmerizing."

She soon learned that what she had seen was a bunch of larvae.

"Once I read about the larvae, I disassembled the group to see what would happen and they were completely disorganized and couldn't seem to find each other in a small space 6 to 8 inches in diameter," she said.

"When I returned to the spot a few hours later, they were gone. I'm not sure if they found their way or were perhaps eaten by the many birds we have here.

"I had never seen anything like this before and have since heard that sightings are rare."

The mass is what is known as a sciarid snake, which can be made up of hundreds or thousands of fungus gnat larvae, according to local paper Bangor Daily News.

Fungus gnats are winged insects whose bodies resemble a mosquito's. Their black-headed larvae are transparent and grow up to a quarter of an inch long. As the sciarid snake moves, the larvae crawl over one another.

Jim Dill, a pest management specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, told the Daily News: "It's their way of getting from point A to point B to set up new housekeeping… I have never seen one myself, but it is an interesting phenomenon for sure.

"Some people say they are mimicking larger things like snakes so predators leave them alone. But I'm not really sure fungus gnats are that smart."

Army ants and army worms can travel in a similar way, he added.

"The gnat lays its eggs in the soil and when they hatch, the larvae feed on the fungus in wet soil," said Dill. "Especially when conditions are wet, like they have been lately, if you get too many larvae in one place they pick up and move en masse."

fungus gnat larvae, stock, getty
Stock image showing the larvae of a fungus gnat. A moving mass of the larvae—as filmed by a homeowner in Maine—is called a sciarid snake. Getty Images