Tuesday 2 October 2012

Garden myths debunked: 3. Identification of wireworm

A common misidentification
Some gardeners think that the ‘insect’ in the robin’s beak is a wireworm.  It isn’t, it’s a centipede! It’s not an insect either!
This is a wireworm. It looks 
like a stumpy length of wire.

A common sight - a robin with a tasty centipede. But my dad taught me it was a wireworm (he did not claim to be a gardener). The curious thing though, is that when I have lectured to gardeners throughout the north, I have found that many of them think it is a wireworm too.

Unlike the wireworm, which is a garden pest, the centipede is a predator and is regarded as beneficial. This active, many legged, long orange/yellow myriapod, eats pests (and unfortunately, beneficial organisms too). 

Gardening lore says that if a bug moves quickly, it is likely to be a predator. I won’t go so far as to suggest this might be just another myth!

Wireworms are very common and tunnel into root crops, especially potatoes. Large numbers may be found where a plot has previously been overgrown by grass or weeds. They live in the soil for 3 to 5 years before they pupate and emerge as click beetles. 

It’s called a click beetle because, if it falls on its back, it rights itself with a flick of its elytra (wing case) and makes a click.

Click Beetle


  1. There are 65 different species of click beetle in the UK! They all have a special technique to escape from danger. Click beetles have a special hinge on their thorax, and by arching their body they can create tension on the hinge. To escape from danger, this tension can be released suddenly, causing the beetle to leap into the air at more than 2 meters a second. Their name comes from the click sound they make when this happens.

    1. Thanks for this Jason.
      I think you are too polite to say that I might be propagating another myth, that the beetle rights itself if it falls on its back-probably an unlikely event anyway! Horticulture is full of half baked statements, if I am completely wrong please let me know! It won't be the first time.

    2. No, not at all Roger! They definitely do use it as a mechanism to escape danger. Falling on their backs probably constitutes danger! :-)
      I'm a bit of an insect fiend, as you may have gathered.

  2. Hi Roger - thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog. I've lost count of how many people I have had to tell not to kill the orange centipedes as they are not wireworms.

    1. Thanks Sue, Its nice to have confirmation that I am not imagining this as a common myth!

    2. By the way Sue, I liked your blog, but cannot imagine how you find the time to have so much on it!

    3. It's called being retired!!


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