I am a non-native speaker.

What would one call the movement of a large group of vermin (not of an individual)?

For instance, picture a huddle of maggots in cat food. How are they moving?

Creeping or crawling came to my mind, but this rather describes the way of moving of a single maggot rather than the chaotic movement of the group.

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    "Writhing" is the first word that comes to mind. – Hot Licks Sep 29 '15 at 12:44
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    If you look at them individually and close up (which few people care to do) I think you'll see that the maggots are actually intermittently squirming, twitching, and undulating. – Sven Yargs Sep 29 '15 at 17:10
  • Unclear - too many different kinds of "vermin", which move differently. See the answers given so far. Pick a kind of vermin and you will get a reasonable answer. If not, there is unlikely to be a word that fits all of the types. Maggots and bees don't scurry... – Drew Sep 29 '15 at 18:20
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    Eww. Just... eww. – Mitch Sep 30 '15 at 1:51

Crawling can actually be used to describe the chaotic movement of a group of vermin, as in "the old cheese was crawling with maggots."

be crawling with: to be full or completely covered with people, insects, or animals, in a way that is unpleasant.

Be alive with is another idiom that might fit the bill.

The cat food was alive with maggots.

be alive with: to be covered or full of something that is moving

Alternately, consider wriggle and squirm.

Maggots were wriggling all over the cat food.

wriggle: to twist from side to side with small quick movements like a worm

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    wriggle and squirm yes – Lamar Latrell Sep 29 '15 at 11:38
  • Does that improve the quality of the cat food from the cat's perspective? – simbabque Sep 29 '15 at 13:03
  • @simbabque You bet it does! Makes it a lot richer in protein. – Elian Sep 29 '15 at 13:14
  • @Elian I've always wondered about this. Wouldn't the protein in the maggots just be the protein that they extracted from the cat food they were writhing around in and eating? I might have to ask biology.se... – alexw Sep 30 '15 at 2:16

The cat food is teeming with maggots.

Teem: be full of or swarming with.

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  • Teem is an excellent word, +1. But it tends to be used in a neutral or positive sense, and doesn't convey any disgust about the maggots. Writhing sounds more unpleasant, but of course, it could apply to one individual. – Level River St Sep 30 '15 at 11:08

In the particular case of maggots in cat food, the following come to mind:

The maggots were _____

-writhing, -churning

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I'd suggest the maggots, rats, fleas, or whatever might swarm:-

To move or gather in large numbers [American Heritage Dictionary via the Free Dictionary]

or perhaps overrun:-

To spread or swarm over destructively [American Heritage Dictionary via the Free Dictionary]

So you might say the maggots swarmed over the cat food or the rats overran the kitchen.

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  • flying insects can swarm. I'd extend that to rats and fleas. But maggots move too slowly to be described as swarming for me. – Level River St Sep 30 '15 at 11:06

One possibility is skittering, though this may only apply to larger vermin, such as rats or large insects (think Temple of Doom). Slithering also works for worm- or snake-like critters. Maybe not maggots specifically.

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  • I like skittering - this works for almost everything (not worms). – Ben Collins Sep 29 '15 at 18:47


  1. Constantly moving or active: Agitated

It's common enough that "seething maggots" gets a ranking in google ngrams. Example of use:

What they found was not a pleasant sight: rotting carcasses covered in a white cream of seething maggots...

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The word "vermin" made me think of rodents or other small animals, rather than maggots, and the word that comes to mind to describe their movements is scurry.

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