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.

  • 4
    "Writhing" is the first word that comes to mind.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 29, 2015 at 12:44
  • 3
    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, 2015 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, 2015 at 18:20
  • 1
    Eww. Just... eww.
    – Mitch
    Sep 30, 2015 at 1:51

7 Answers 7


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

  • 2
    wriggle and squirm yes Sep 29, 2015 at 11:38
  • Does that improve the quality of the cat food from the cat's perspective?
    – simbabque
    Sep 29, 2015 at 13:03
  • @simbabque You bet it does! Makes it a lot richer in protein.
    – Elian
    Sep 29, 2015 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, 2015 at 2:16

The cat food is teeming with maggots.

Teem: be full of or swarming with.

  • 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. Sep 30, 2015 at 11:08

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

The maggots were _____

-writhing, -churning


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.

  • flying insects can swarm. I'd extend that to rats and fleas. But maggots move too slowly to be described as swarming for me. Sep 30, 2015 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.

  • I like skittering - this works for almost everything (not worms). Sep 29, 2015 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...


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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