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Curious migration

Lead Summary

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

I stayed up at the cabin writing a brief while Greg took the dogs for a morning walk. I was lost in my thoughts and time as the words flowed from my fingertips.

I did not even look up when the cabin door opened and my husband and two rain wet dogs stood before me.

"You will not believe what we found," Greg smiled, reaching into his back pocket for his cell phone.

I finished putting my last thought to words and then looked up at my husband scrolling through his phone. He found the photo app picture that he wanted to share with me and handed me the phone.

"Now, what do you think this is?" he asked with a grin.

I held the small phone in my hand and zoomed in on a video of what looked like two writhing snakes, head to tail. Every scale on their bodies seemed to pulsate. They looked as though they would explode.

"Snakes?" I asked.

"No, definitely not snakes," said my husband.

I continued to watch the video as Greg's hand reached into the frame and placed a six-inch metal machinist's rule, that he often carries in his back pocket, beside the undulating snake-like thing.

The creature was about six inches long, and, as I watched, it advanced along the rule. Within a short time, it had passed an inch or more beyond the end of the rule. The video stopped.

"Come, let's check it out. Your brief can wait."

He was right. My curiosity had chased my legal reasoning away. I grabbed one of our large farm umbrellas and we headed down the hill to the road.

"Where is it?" I asked.

It felt good to be outside and I twirled my red-and-blue-striped umbrella as we walked. I wondered if I would ever be too old to twirl my umbrella.

It was not really raining, but it was definitely heavily misting. Greg dodged my umbrella's twirled drops as he explained to me that these odd things were all over the road, everywhere. He went on to say that they were curiously hard to see, however, because they blended into the wet asphalt.

We turned right at the tobacco barn and walked no more than a few steps when Greg found the first one. We bent down for a closer look. It was about the width of a finger and perhaps six inches long.

As I looked closer, I could see that it was made up of hundreds of small, one eighth of an inch long, translucent worms with tiny black heads the size of a sharp pencil point. The worm at the lead was quickly overrun by the three or four immediately behind it, and those were then over crawled by the 20 or so behind them, and so on, and so on, and so the whole undulating miniature worm train inched its way across the road.

We walked a few steps farther and came across another writhing worm train, and then another, and another. It would have been easy to step on them. They all seemed to be heading from the field toward the creek. In those spots where there were no trees along the field, we found no worm trains, but where there were trees, we found many.

Perhaps in all, we found 100, maybe even more, of these odd, almost alien, miniature marches to the creek.

We had no idea what they were, but finally our curious observations were quelled and we returned to the cabin. We sat on the porch swing, the rain falling behind us, searching the Internet on our cell phones, and finally we found them. They were the larvae of the black winged fungus fly, a small harmless fly that feeds on, yup, you guessed it, fungus.

Our curiosity called us back to the road that afternoon, hoping for another look, but they were gone, and we found none the next day on our rain wet morning walk. I could not help but wonder how we could have missed this odd, early summer migration for the past 10 years we have walked the creek, and then I excitedly wondered how much more learning the creek held in store for us over the seasons and years still ahead.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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