This snake-like creature is actually thousands of gnat larvae moving together en masse. This formation was spotted in September 2021 in Litchfield, Maine. Credit: Courtsey of Denise Bechtel

No, that’s not a snake.

It’s a sciarid snake, a mass migration of hundreds or even thousands of fungus gnat larvae. One was spotted on a Litchfield lawn on Tuesday and according to one of the state’s top bug experts, it’s a pretty rare sighting.

Fungus gnats are tiny, thin flies in the Sciaridae family that feed on fungus and molds in the soil, according to Jim Dill, pest management specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“The gnat lays its eggs in the soil and when they hatch, the larvae feed on the fungus in wet soil,” Dill said. “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.”

It’s a similar traveling behavior used by army ants and army worms, Dill said.

Unlike the ants and worms, which travel in what look like tiny military formations, the fungus gnat larvae are crawling all over each other as the group moves along.

“It’s their way of getting from point A to point B to set up new housekeeping,” Dill said. “I have never seen one myself, but it is an interesting phenomenon for sure.”

Outside the larvae are not doing much harm, Dill said, since all they are doing is eating the fungus in the soil.

He said there is a lot of speculation as to why the larvae travel like this, including it being a defensive strategy.

“Some people say they are mimicking larger things like snakes so predators leave them alone,” Dill said. “But I’m not really sure fungus gnats are that smart.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.