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iLabs: Worms in My Vinegar???? The Vinegar Experiment

June 29, 2012

The Micro World iLab has been abuzz with the sounds of amazement to shock.  The cause? Visitors reacting to the fact that unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is home to the creature, Turbatrix aceti, more commonly known as the “Vinegar Eel.”

It’s not that people mind eels, though these are not eels but free-living nematodes that are present in the environment, in soil, and in water. But what they really seem to find amazing? disturbing? fun? is that these creatures might be living on their kitchen shelf.

Regardless of whether they like or hate the vinegar eels, people almost universally have that initial reaction of “Oh my God — I have a bottle of vinegar that’s months old. Are they living in MY vinegar?” So it is suddenly “personal.”

The next question makes sense: “Are they harmful?” And all are relieved and reassured to learn these are worms that live in the environment, are not harmful, (just maybe not aesthetically pleasing) and they are not the same ones that you can get walking around barefooted, or the ones they have to give their dogs medicine to kill off.

The most common third question is: “Well how long does it take for them to hatch in the vinegar sediment,” to which I reply:

“Funny you should ask – we’re doing ‘The Vinegar Experiment.”

I have no idea how long it takes. I only know my own bottle of vinegar at home that was months old, had “tiny moving things in it” when you held it up to the light. So, I know that sooner or later, the worms emerge.

Unanswered questions are the things science research is made of so I introduce, “the Vinegar Experiment.”

On June 11th, I went out and bought 3 different brands of unpasteurized, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, all of which have the “mother” in it. That is the film of microbial culture used to create the vinegar.

The next day I looked at samples of them microscopically and verified there were no Vinegar eels present.

I put some of each in the dark as well as the light as I don’t know which set of conditions they prefer.

apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegars for my experiment set in a darkened case

apple cider vinegar samples in the light

Here’s some of each set under plant lights

I am maintaining these bottles of  vinegar in the lab and each week I examine them all under the microscope to see if any vinegar eels are present.

Examinations on 6/19 and 6/29 show no live eels yet.

But  I am determined to find out WHEN they DO appear. So I will continue to report back on this regularly, so we can all discover together:
“How long does it take before Vinegar Eels will appear in my bottle of apple cider vinegar?”

So stay tuned!!!!

And for those who would like a closer look, here’s some photos of our own “lab pets,” our Vinegar eels:

Vinegar eels

Our own Vinegar eels frolicking in apple cider vinegar

Vinegar eels

A view of them “lunching” on rotting apple pieces

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. bill swain permalink
    February 12, 2013 2:47 pm

    What magnification did you need to get discernable images.
    I have some cider vinegar that is quite old,. I want to examine it!

    • April 17, 2013 5:07 pm

      Bill,

      Thanks for your question. We usually look at the vinegar eels using a compound microscope just because we have that out for the public to use and be able to change magnifications. With vinegar eels you can see them using the 4x, 10x, or 40x objectives (40x, 100x, or 400x total magnification), though the 400x would be such a large magnification that you’d only see part of the worm. However, you don’t need a compound scope to see them. We’ve used dissecting scopes with a total magnification of 25-30x and you can see the vinegar eels moving around. Hope this helps! Happy viewing.

      • Jen permalink
        September 6, 2013 9:34 pm

        I was shocked, and somewhat terrified to find I had thousands of somethings moving in my new kombucha culture – I traced it back, and found the vinegar eels living in a bottle of raw apple cider vinegar I filled from our local bulk supplier. I can see them just fine with the naked eye, they are solid, white, and about an eight of an inch long. These ARE vinegar eels, right? Perhaps just very, very mature?

      • September 7, 2013 12:39 pm

        Hi Jen,

        That must have been a shock for you, I can imagine! While I can’t say with certainty, that what you saw was a group of vinegar eels, it sure does sound like it. The fact they were alive and well in acidic apple cider vinegar suggests it, and the size is on target. I imagine you started a new culture with fresh apple cider vinegar? Our best to you.

  2. Brian permalink
    June 15, 2013 2:29 am

    are they edible? what effect if any can they have on a person? is this where I’ve heard of “if you magnify apple juice you’ll see millions of little worms?

    • June 19, 2013 5:16 pm

      Hi Brian,

      As far as edible, I suspect it is probably a case of “accidental ingestion” versus choosing to eat them. If they are present on an apple’s surface, for example, if you drop an apple you’re eating on the ground, you can ingest them. But they are not parasitic worms. They simple “pass on through” and are probably equally happy to leave you as you are to have them leave. Most sources say they do not cause a problem, though one noted they can cause a mild intestinal upset, but that’s about it. I have not heard the “if you magnify apple juice you’ll see millions of little worms,” but it’s possible they were referring to the vinegar eels. Thanks for asking!

      • Brian permalink
        June 19, 2013 10:52 pm

        Thank you for your good answers(= I have more questions.
        I have a cat & a 1yr. old son, I’m worried about toxoplasma gondii. We did a research gone wrong parer in school and I think I have facts and fiction confused. I’m worried my son will be exposed to and be harmed by this protozoan. How do I know if my cat has T.G. She throws up a lot and was going to die when we got her from the shelter at 6 months old. She lived and is now 10yrs. old. Now that my sons 1 his Mom is going to let him stay with me alot more so he will be exposed a lot more to his sister kitty.

  3. June 20, 2013 3:38 pm

    Brian, I am not a Toxoplasma specialist though I know enough about it to understand your concern. For your situation you would be best served to consult both your cat’s veterinarian and your son’s pediatrician. Explain your cat’s history, your concern for your son and see what they recommend. There may be a way to test your cat for Toxoplasma, and your son’s pediatrician may have some suggestions on preventative things you can do for your son. Have a good weekend!

    • Brian permalink
      June 21, 2013 3:33 am

      thank you

      • wearecrazyfortgliterally permalink
        September 6, 2014 3:28 am

        1/3 of the world population is infected with T.G.

    • September 14, 2014 2:49 pm

      T. Gondii is a symbiotic organism rather than a parasite for cats and causes no outward symptoms in cats. Where it gets interesting is when it infects other organisms– it’s a mind control parasite that, among other things, makes rodents stop fearing the smell of cat urine, making it easier for the cat to eat rodents, making the lives of the cat and the protozoan more comfortable. What’s really striking is that adults who have latent T.gondii infection have a higher rate of traffic accidents. What’s not known is whether that’s because of impaired motor function or because of a heightened risk-reward center in the brain. It’s also been connected with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and OCD. Toxoplasmosis can of course cause life threatening problems in the short term in immunocompromised patients, pregnant women and small children, which is why it’s recommended to keep these people from handling anything to do with litter boxes.

  4. June 13, 2015 12:20 pm

    Reblogged this on NC Museum of Natural Sciences Education Blog and commented:

    I just noticed that here it is, almost exactly 3 years later, and this post is STILL generating TREMENDOUS interest! In the last 5 days, we’ve had 2,175 hits on this article!!!!

    I am not sure why the sudden surge in interest in Vinegar eels, but obviously they are a hot topic, so I am reblogging this post. There are several followup posts to this one, and if you do a tag search on “vinegar eel” you should be able to see the progression of our experiment with this. Enjoy!!!

  5. Erin permalink
    July 7, 2015 8:51 am

    These suckers are popping up in homebrew kombucha– I’m about to start my first brew and had never heard of them before. I suspect others may have ended up here the same way.

Trackbacks

  1. iLabs: Vinegar Experiment Weekly Update « NC Museum of Natural Sciences Education Blog
  2. iLabs: We Interrupt Snails for a News Flash on Vinegar Eels « NC Museum of Natural Sciences Education Blog

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