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Ants In The Head

Updated on May 3, 2010

Ugh - Ugly Earwig Bug

Yes, this is ONE UUUUUGLY Bug!
Yes, this is ONE UUUUUGLY Bug!

Little Mini-Horror Legend: Ants in the Head

A warning was urgently mailed out over the Internet in the summer of 2009 and this email urged that people take care with food items - to store them away properly before resting so that bugs would not be attracted to areas where people sleep.

Apparently, a small boy was enjoying sweet treats for a while one day when sleep overcame him. He was just a toddler, so falling asleep in the middle of the day was quite a natural thing to do. He just simply fell asleep while playing and eating his candy.

With the sugar barely melted in his mouth, and the sweet treats set absently beside him, the sugar attracted a whole bunch of ants - only later found out through medical testing - oh, but I'm getting too far ahead in the story now...

Anyway, the toddler napped for a little while then woke up and resumed play. Later on, he started to show signs of itchy discomfort and kept complaining of an itchy face. When his complaints didn't clear up overnight and the little boy was still rubbing too much at his face, his mother took him to the doctor.

The doctor couldn't find anything to explain the symptoms, based on a general examination of the little boy, so he decided to take X-rays of the boy. When the X-rays were ready to be evaluated, and the doctor saw what the x-rays showed, he was shocked and horrified.

What the x-rays showed were a whole bunch of live ants in the boy's skull!

With the ants alive and moving around, the doctor couldn't perform surgery immediately, and while he was consulting with other experts on what to do and how to help this little boy, the ants' movement took its toll on the little boy and he expired.

When this story was circulated, the sender urged people to be safer about food and not have it placed anywhere near where they might sleep. More particularly, the sender urged parents to never let their children eat sweets just prior to sleeping and naptimes - for fear that the sugar would attract ants or any other bugs that might end up crawling onto or INTO their children. The sender didn't want any more children to end up dying from ants in the brain.

Can You Tell What Is Wrong Here?

I became interested in this urban legend because I actually saw a number of posts at various question and answer sites and at some wiki sites which tell about this legend. The posts were about how dangerous it is to leave sugar around with kids when it is time for them to nap.

BUNG, I say!

These are creepy pasta stories, most of the ones about bugs getting inside peoples' heads. There are a whole bunch of 'earwig' horror stories, and stories about all sorts of different bugs getting into peoples' brains through their ears, eating through their brains to get out the other ear, etc.

What was shocking, as I viewed many posts about various bugs in various heads, causing madness through eating their way through brain matter (yes, I know, gross, gross, GROSS) - is that PEOPLE will post that their grandmother died of brainbugs, their aunt or uncle died when earwigs or ants, or poisonous other insectae got into their ears while they were sleeping...and this cannot possibly be true with most of the named insects that people are telling stories about. There are a whole lot of stories around internet 'true story' forums which place bugs (the 'earwig' is incredibly common and popular as an impossible 'killer bug' lol) in the ears and consequent laying of eggs in the human head - to manifest HORROR in readers.

Hint: an earwig isn't called an 'earwig' because it is known to have the actual behavior of crawling into peoples''s just called an earwig based on old wives' tales! VERY FEW bugs of any kind have actually been found in peoples' heads or ears by doctors. Fewer number of insectae have been found to be harmful if they do get into a human's ears.

So, in the story above, can you tell what's wrong with it? And how it cannot logically be true?


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      KES 5 years ago

      According to this horrific little story, there have been cases in which ants have made their way into human skulls by way of the ears and subsequently lived inside the brains, eating brain tissue, until their victims finally succumbed. The message warns that people should never eat in bed or leave sweets or other foods near their beds at night, lest ants be attracted and then use their ears as a passageway to their brains.

      © Zachariasz

      The claim that ants can invade and eat a living human brain via the ears is entirely untrue

      However, the story is no more than a more recent incarnation of an old urban legend that goes back centuries. Ants, or other insects, cannot make their way into a living human brain via the ears, nor would it be possible for them to actually stay alive in the brain even if they could. The aural system and the brain itself has a number of defence mechanisms and physical properties that make such an invasion impossible. Glands in the outer ear produce ear wax that, along with tiny hairs, helps to provide protection against insects and other foreign bodies. Entrance to the middle ear is protecting by the eardrum, which consists of three thin layers of living tissue. And, even if ants could make their way through the outer and middle ears, their journey would then be severely hampered by three fluid-filled chambers that make up the cochlea, in the inner ear. Thus, to even get to the threshold of the brain itself the ants would need to battle through the outer ear, chew through the ear drum and then somehow enter the cochlea and actually swim through its fluid-filled chambers.

      Moreover, in the vastly unlikely event that the ants actually made it alive and well all the way through the inner ear, and then through the auditory nerve to the brain, they would then be confronted by the brain's own protection systems. At some point, the ants would have to make their way through the dura mater, a tough membrane that is the first of three membranes (meninges) that cover the brain and spinal cord. And the brain is further protected by a liquid called the cerebrospinal fluid. In short, there is no way that an ant could survive inside a human brain.

      Thus it is totally absurd to suggest that ants could not only make their way right into a living brain, but actually stay alive and hungry once ensconced therein. This simply cannot and will not happen.

      Another absurd aspect of the warning message is that it suggests that people could actually sleep through the brain invasion described. Insects can and do find their way into human ears, usually by accident. Normally, no long term damage is caused by such incursions. However, as anyone who has had an insect in their ear can testify, such an event is extremely unpleasant. The feeling of the insect moving around makes one's flesh crawl, and the sound generated by the tiny creatures seems very loud indeed. It is therefore very doubtful that even the deepest sleeper would not wake up and subsequently deal with the invasion if ants entered his or her ear.

      Given that ants are one of the most common kinds of insect, if such invasions were possible, there would be many such cases reported all around the world. The potential hazard would be well known to the medical profession and widely reported in medical literature and the media. But, even after extensive research, I could not find even one credible documented case of such a brain infestation.

      It is important that people receive reliable and factual health related information, so forwarding on errant nonsense such as this serves no good purpose. If you receive this bogus warning message, do not forward it to others and please inform the sender that the information it contains is untrue.


      The Bug in the Ear

      Introduction to the Anatomy and Physiology of the Auditory System

      The Meninges and Cerebrospinal Fluid

    • profile image

      pradeep 5 years ago

      is there any treatment for this

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      Lucas B 6 years ago

      Yeah, I'm taking a physics class on sound waves right now, and one of the sections was all about the ear. The only connections between the inner ear and brain are a bunch of small, isolated nerves, so unless earwigs or ants can magically turn into vibrations there's no way this could be true.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      All who have already commented - you're all right - it's not logical or possible for bugs to do the things mentioned in these legends. Bugs typically don't get inside people in the way the legend says above. The most amazing part of the urban legend is that many people will freak out and BELIEVE this information when they hear it.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Yuck!!! But an insect wouldn't be able to get through eardrums etc. It's amazing what people will believe though!

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Nice to know about the earwigs - ugly little buggers what?

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 7 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      I agree, most of these tales are false, but I have to say there is an actual documentary about to be aired on Sky (not sure which Channel, but they keep previewing it), which appears to infer a specialist discovering maggots under a persons scalp. Not sure how that is possible, but the preview refers to the "bumps moving around". Perhaps the fly laid eggs in an open wound that healed over leaving the eggs inside or something. Yuk!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I am weak on biology but I doubt there are any passages to the bugs to travel. I think legends probably start with something that happens and then gets exaggerated. for example, when my daughter was youn she used to stash her Halloween candy in the back of her closet. The candy would melt into a gooey mess and then it attracted ants. It would be easy to elaborate on something like this and come up with other weird theories.