San Antonio, TX

Cankerworms in a San Antonio Oak Trees Drive Woman From Her Rented Woodland Cabin

Rene Cizio

Photo by the author minutes after the worms had been cleared and were repopulating the area

I tried to stay in a one-room cabin in a lovely, wooded area in San Antonio, but the cankerworms chased me out.

I’d been staying in an Airbnb cabin for two weeks and it was going perfectly. The cabin was lovely, the hosts, who live in a house on the property, were wonderful. Deer frolicked among the living Oak trees. There were four friendly cats and even a dozen chickens as entertainment. I even had an Armadillo living in a hole next door. I felt like Snow White with all her animal friends.

The cabin was rustic. It was simply one room with a bed, chairs, mini-fridge and coffee pot. There was no plumbing. The bathroom was housed in a spa-quality house across the yard, through the oak trees. It was no hardship. I felt like I'd found the perfect little oasis in the San Antonio woods.

Each morning as I drank my coffee on the little porch of my cabin I'd watch the deers and chickens, occasionally a hummingbird would flit past. There were bugs, of course, plenty of them, it was the woods after all. Then there was pollen and with it, worms. Overheated, hungry and tired, I headed back to my cabin after a day away.

Pollen & Worms

At first, it was a nuisance. The pollen coated my computer screen in minutes (I work remotely and as a writer, am on my computer most of the day) sitting outside and then there were little worms that arrived. They were small, just on-inch or less. As a child, I called them inch worms because of the way they scoot around like little rollercoasters.

At first, the worms were annoying and I'd shoo them away, off of my body and computer screen, the table and chairs.

They hung from individual strands of silk web and dropped from the Oak trees above. They were annoying, just one inch long, clingy as heck, but harmless.

Then, I headed off to the beach for a day and night, not returning for more than 24 hours.

Upon my return, I realized it had gotten a lot worse.

I unloaded my stuff from my van and made my way over to my cabin. The first thing I noticed was a brand-new broom leaning against my door. Nice, I thought, because the yellow pollen had also been falling like crazy and it’d be nice to sweep my porch and outdoor furniture down.

Then, as the sun glinted off the front of my little abode, I realized the real reason for the broom. Silkworm webs covered my entire cabin. Tiny one-inch or smaller worms crawled across the door, windows, two chairs and a little table. They also coated the lawn furniture, another table, and an umbrella nearby. Strings of silks worms hung from the porch overhang by the dozen.

I wouldn’t even be able to step on the porch without getting the worms on me. A few worms I can handle, but hundreds were a different story.

But, with no other option, I set my stuff down a safe distance away and ran for the broom. I knew I’d have a few worms on me, but I dealt with it. I cleared the webs using the broom, swept them off the porch ceiling, awning and string lights. I swept the door and windows, chairs, tables, and umbrella as best I could.

These worms cling and grasp, so removing them takes some effort and isn’t always done in the first or second attempts.

After about 30 minutes of sweeping, a worm fell on my face and I screamed bloody murder. I was covered in sweat and exhausted. Finally, my host came over.

“Oh my God, these worms are insane!” I said.

“I know,” she said. “We’ve never had this many before.”

Indeed, they haven’t. There had even been a couple of news articles about the number of worms this year. Apparently, the worms feed on Oak Tree leaves, eventually form a cocoon and then turn into moths. The moths go around and plant eggs on the trees that will hatch into worms again next year.

I talked with my host for a while and asked what could be done to keep the worms away, at least a little bit better. She shrugged her shoulders and gave me some lavender spray. It made no difference.

My cabin sat directly underneath two huge old oak trees. It was beautiful, but the worms live on and feed off the oak leaves. So, I was in the epicenter of the problem.

There were over 50 oak trees on the property. It was a worm’s playground.

I was annoyed when she reminded me that her Airbnb listing did say that there would be bugs. Perhaps spiders, maybe scorpions even. I’m OK with a few bugs, but this was beyond reasonable in my opinion; still, trying to be agreeable, I said I’d deal with it. I finished sweeping away the worms and went into my cabin.

After I regained my composure, I swept away the newest arrivals, went to the bathhouse, took a shower, and went to my van to get the rest of my stuff. What I saw there stopped me in my tracks. Webs already obscured the path to the van. The van, parked under the trees (everything on the property is under an oak tree), had worms all over it.

I abandoned that idea, dodged all the worms and webs I could on the way back to my cabin and barricaded myself inside. A few hours passed as I sat on the bed and looked out the window. I could see worms hanging from webs outside. I watched them drop one after another onto the porch, crawl up on the windows and door. When I looked out, the entire porch was coated in them again.

That night, before it got dark, I dashed out of the door, grabbed the broom and cleared them again so I could go the bathroom. There is no bathroom in the cabin and you must walk about 300 feet through the oak trees to the bathhouse.

Photo by the author: I didn't get any images of the worms until after I'd cleared them, so the photos only show a small amount. There were easily five times this many to manage.

That night I slept restlessly, flicking worms off me and imagining them crawling on me with every itch I felt. Sometimes there were worms. Often it was my imagination getting the best of me. It was impossible to tell what was an actual worm and what was my imagination. I jumped and startled and slapped at every itch. The itches became more frequent and the worms fewer.

I kept reminding myself that they couldn’t get inside unless they came in on me. So, after I killed the few that clung to me, they should be gone.

The following day I looked outside and saw the porch, again was covered in worms. Hundreds of them on the furniture, hanging from the porch roof and clinging to my broom handle. I began to think I felt them all over my body. I didn’t want to get them on me again. I had become paranoid.

I messaged my host, who lives on the property and said they would come and bring the blower to the cabin to remove the worst of the worms and hopefully alleviate their influx. By 2 pm, they still had not come and I was still in the cabin. I needed out of that cabin.

When my host next walked nearby, I got her attention and we agreed that she would allow me to leave and refund part of my money despite having reserved for two more weeks. She cleared my porch of the worms, brought me a wagon, and pulled my van around for me. She even washed the worms off it.

Now, I’m staying in a hotel and the next two weeks in Texas will cost me roughly $1,000 more dollars than I had spent on the cabin. Honestly, any price is worth being rid of those worms. Though honestly, as I write this, I keep thinking I feel them crawling on me. I’m off to take a shower now.

Do you think I overreacted? What would you have done?

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Solo nomad writing about travel and experiences

Chicago, IL

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