"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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 When Is A Hickory Nut Worm Not A Hickory Nut Worm?
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

When is a hickory nut worm not a hickory nut worm?

A good question. And it may require a confession that will make me the lone candidate for the chairmanship of Goofeydom. But as the old saw goes: Confession is right next to innocence, so here we go.

Those who have read my stuff (some call it rantings) over the years will be aware of my esteem for hickory nuts and all that goes with them, including hickory nut worms, and hickory nut pie. 

You will recall that I have come woefully close, at times, to waxing poetic about the exciting reproductive process in which the "hickory nut weevil" deposits its eggs in the bloom of the hickory tree, and how this beautiful, chubby little maggot (worm) hatches inside the developing nut and uses the kernels of said nut for sustenance until it chews its way out of the nut in the late summer or fall. And how, at that time (if I may break up that horrendously-long sentence), it burrows into the earth, encases itself in a tough pupa shell, and emerges as an adult weevil the following spring to déjà vu the process.

So what's the big deal?

The big deal, as I see it, lies in the fact that I have been a purveyor of, at the very least, some questionable information over the years. It is time to come clean; to admit my guilt and ask the court of readers for lenience in judging me.

As best I can tell now, there is no such critter as a hickory nut weevil. There are as many weevils as there are sparrows, warblers, Heinz soups, and doctor golfers on Wednesday afternoons. But there is no hickory nut weevil.

It is likely--or at least possible--that the weevil to which I have credited "fatherhood" of the hickory nut worm actually is the square weevil (Attelabus nigripes). If you go out looking for this critter, take your magnifying glass. My dog-eared copy of The Common Insects of North America says this weevil species ranges in size from 0.15 to 0.18 of an inch. This more or less translates into the fact that if you could place them end-to-end, it would require a smidgen more than six bugs to span an inch; not to mention that there probably would not be enough of them to circle the earth.

For the record, the hickory nut worm usually is a tad less than half an inch long and about one-eighth inch in diameter. It is filled with a whitish-cream colored paste that does not necessarily tickle one's palate.

I should also point out here that while I have at least inferred that this pupal stage of the weevil is peculiar to hickory nuts, the aforementioned insect authority cites walnut and some oaks as potential host trees.

Matter of factly, it was a chance encounter with an oak tree a couple of years ago at Salamonie Reservoir that precipitated the investigation that led to these new facts and ultimately to my confession and shame.

It was a beautiful fall day, and while I awaited whatever I was there for, I leisurely strolled under an oak tree (one of the white oaks) and noted a bumper crop of beautiful acorns on the ground.

Quite naturally, I wondered if the acorns contained edible meats. So I picked up an acorn, pulled out my possum-skinning knife and got to the meat of my curiosity.

When I opened the acorn, I found (gasp) not one, but three, hickory nut worms. Unbelievable! 

So I admits it. I did give you some bum dope on this bug thing. But I stand by my guns on the fact that those cuddly little maggots can be kept for lengthy periods at refrigerator temperature (don't freeze them) in 35 mm film cans or empty pill bottles. Furthermore, I was dead right, as in correct, when I pointed out that bluegills and other finny citizens love them (the worms) when presented on tiny ice jigs in the dead of winter. 

Also, quite reliable was my suggestion that those 35 mm film cans should be stored in a warm spot like a shirt pocket when ice fishing, and that one or two of the little fellows with cream-colored, segmented body and shiny brown heads could be awakened from their frigid slumber by storing them (smokeless tobacco fashion) between the lower lip and the gum. The cold of the refrigerator seems to arrest the propensity to pupate.

The defense rests.

Exhibit A

A hickory nut worm emerges from a shellbark.

Exhibit B

Three "hickory nut worms" enjoyed the snug confines of this acorn.

[Click Exhibit A or Exhibit B to view image.]

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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