Woodworm Metamorphosis - A "Coming of Age" Story
GROSS-ALERT: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS IMAGES AND VIDEOS CONSIDERED TOO GROSS FOR YOUNG AND SENSITIVE VIEWERS. DISCRETION ADVISED.
So my parents bought a new cot made of a variety of jungle hardwood that has proven notoriously difficult to identify. A few months into the purchase, strange periodic noises emanating from within the cot began to torment their sleeping hours. It sounded like tiny creatures constantly scrapping away at the woodwork from within. No puncture marks could be detected on the cot surfaces. After a couple of months of tolerance testing, we called in the local carpenter for a check-up. He theorised that the invaders were a wood-boring species that most likely are restricted to the easily accessible soft-outer/younger parts of the wood in the cot’s central beam. So the bed was overturned and he began hacking away at it. 12 minutes later, we came away with a dozen of these.
I managed to capture about 3 live worms and stash them in a plastic container. It was time for the analysis to begin!!!!
At first glance, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the sandworms of Dune (refer: Frank Herbert’s Fiction Writing).
These little buggers were about an inch long, white, articulated and lacking in endo/exo-skeletons. Their movement seems based on hydrostatic pressure transfer through a fluid base. They were blind, had no limbs, or any other phenotype besides the mouth. They kept obsessively writhing about and munching their “jaws” on air, as if desperately ruminating.
Then it occured to me, that these hatched out of eggs laid in the timber long before the tree was cut down to make us that cot. If they are to spend a significant part of their lives in this form, buried deep within wood, then they wouldn’t need any other senses. There’s no light, and hence no need for sight. Food is plentiful, so no need for smell sensing. They are likely to bite down on wood no matter where they turn and chomp. But once exposed in this manner, suddenly, they look like darwinian losers. Genetic mistakes that can’t find delicious splinters of wood placed a centimetre away, much less navigate to it. I had to identify the species, and so I went hunting on the internets. The closest match I could find is this:
Longhorn. And to think Microsoft nearly named an operating system after it. So, I could expect to watch these grow into some beetle-esque abominations. Groovy!
A little further research lead me to all sorts of woodworm species descriptions. This larval stage is meant to last months, sometimes years. And in all that duration, these organless wormies feed on dry wood. They survive on moisture in dry wood!!
That’s probably not that startling to anyone who is familiar with silverfishes surviving on paper from old books in the attic.
So at this stage, much like silkworms eating leaves, their purpose in life is to feed and accumulate enough nutrients for the transformation to occur. The worms were actually very inactive for the most part. Its not like they ingest much energy to be capable of anything other than grub.
Over the course of three months, they started to die out on me. The lone survivor (a.k.a. Kwizat) had suddenly seized to feed and was shrinking in size and had grown restless, wiggling as if in a struggle. Sick with a stomach-ache perhaps. I thought his number was up.
But then, one day, I woke up to something really strange:
Not only had he grown larger, into some low-density shape, but he appeared to be growing legs and a head, with antenna and everything.
He’d wiggle in an attempt to shed his old skin.
It was time to get him out in the open.
What followed was a miraculous transformation. It was a delight, specifically because ideally, this was supposed to occur deep within wood, away from voyeuristic eyes and lenses. They say that a butterfly transformation, if interrupted by damage to the pupa, will forever be incomplete, resulting in a failed half-breed creature. But this thing was changing in the open…. How I wished I had mastered time-lapse.
The legs kept getting thicker. The eyes, darker to the point where he’d wiggle when I turned the lights on early morn. The head and mouth became more detailed, and the signature long-horn antenna curled in anticipation. Twenty days later, he was unrecognisable.
He was beginning to show some activity, as if waking from a slumber. He was rolling his own discarded skin into a ball. I wonder if it was programmed instinct. Maybe in more natural conditions, he would have some use for it (nutrition?). Also notable was the wing on his back (presumably defunct, a relic of his genetic ancestry).
And within ten days, the transformation was complete:
I decided to release the fellow. I think they reproduce asexually, though I’m not sure if he was capable of laying eggs into polished, seasoned funiture wood in the locality. In any case, I hope its not an invasive species. He’s probably bird-food by now.