FEBRUARY
1996

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

02-22-96

A Worm is a Worm is a Worm (As the Worm Turns)

Many children have, at some time or another, chanted the little ditty that begins: "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play peek-a-boo on your snout!" Like sayings of all kinds, this one is repeated generation after generation without appreciating the underlying message. In this case, it's that, in nature's grand scheme, even mighty human beings ultimately end up as nothing more than food for fly maggots. While it might not be a comforting thought, that's the way it is!

The word worm has been used in reference to several creatures throughout the centuries. Almost any soft-bodied, long, slender and legless creeping animal qualifies for the term. Historically, snakes were even included.

Most people are familiar with the squirmy fishing bait called the earthworm that lives in the soil. There are also mostly-microscopic creatures known as nematodes that are sometimes called worms. And there are those animals known as roundworms, many of which are parasites that live in the digestive systems of mammals, including humans.

Most of us are familiar with the immatures of insects also called worms. These worms are primarily caterpillars of butterflies and moths and larvae of flies called maggots. Insect "worms" have created havoc with the human population over the centuries. Consequently, we tend to think of worms in less-than-favorable terms.

There are 20 references to worms in the Bible, and they were always raising Cain. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:39 we find what might be caterpillars eating the crops: "Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them."

Sometimes food in the Bible was destroyed by worms, in Exodus 16:20 it is reported that manna was left sitting over night: ".... until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them."

Sometimes worms, probably maggots of flesh flies, attack a person in the Bible, as is related in the 12th chapter of Acts, verse 23: "...because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten by worms, and gave up the ghost."

The most common references to worms in the Bible relate to the role of maggots in decomposing dead bodies. For example in Isaiah 14:11 we read: "Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee."

Edgar Allan Poe trumpets the same ending in his poem "The Conqueror Worm." He writes about the end of life for a person. In the last stanza we read:

"Out — out are the lights — out all!
And over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm."

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann