Fact check: Video shows flower clusters, not 'rain of worms'
The claim: Video shows 'rain of worms' in China
A March 10 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) displays a video of fuzzy, worm-like shapes covering cars and scattered along a street as people walk with umbrellas.
"It literally rained worms in China," reads the overlaid text on the first image of the post.
It was liked more than 12,000 times in 10 days. Similar posts accumulated thousands of additional likes, shares and views on Facebook and Twitter.
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Our rating: False
The worm-like figures in this video are plants, not animals or insects. They are likely poplar tree catkins, or flower clusters, entomologists and botanists told USA TODAY.
Cars are covered in catkins, not worms
This video was indeed filmed in China, but it does not show a "rain of worms" as the posts suggest.
The cars are covered in plants, said Catrina Adams, the director of education for the Botanical Society of America.
"These 'worms' look very much like plant catkins," she said. "In the video, the 'worms' aren't moving and it looks like where they've fallen seems to be concentrated on the sides of the street where cars are parked, which makes me think the streets are lined with some kind of catkin-dropping tree."
The video was filmed in the Liaoning province in northern China, based on the license plates on the cars. Poplar trees, which drop long catkins, are prevalent in the area, according to a study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The nearby city of Beijing issued a warning to citizens in April 2021 due to a large number of catkins blowing around the city, according to a Chinese newspaper. There are stock photos of the plants on cars in China.
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"They are not worms," said Dafeng Hui, the chair of Asian ecology with the Ecological Society of America. "They are very likely catkins from poplar trees. Poplar trees are very common and widely distributed in China."
As a child living in the Jiangsu province, Hui saw "many of these worm-like male flowers," he said in an email to USA TODAY.
The concept of "worm rain" itself is also questionable, said Michael Skvarla, a Pennsylvania State University entomology professor. He gave a hypothetical example of a large caterpillar outbreak.
"Even then most of the caterpillars should be in the trees rather than falling from them," Skvarla said. "If bucket loads of caterpillars are falling from trees, something is wrong. In short, 'worm rain' is sensational clickbait."
USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the post for comment.
Our fact-check sources:
Dafeng Hui, March 20, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Catrina Adams, March 20-21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Michael Skvarla, March 21, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1999, Forest Genetic Resources No. 27
Alamy, March 23, 2018, Many catkins on the bonnet and windscreen of a car in a Hutong near Houhai in north central Beijing, China
Jenxi Seow, April 21, 2019, China vehicle registration plates
China Daily, April 6, 2021, Beijing issues catkins forecast to aid public
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Viral video shows flower clusters, not 'rain of worms'