6 Myths About Tapeworms

Posted October 23, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 3 min read

Like all parasites that can live inside people, tapeworms probably fill you with disgust. But they’re also fascinating. Specially adapted and uniquely armored, they inhabit a menagerie of animals, including us. Here are some facts about our ancient companions.

Myth : Tapeworms are more than just worms.


  • People love to call pretty much any long, skinny animal a worm.

  • There’s a legless lizard, for example, that we’ve named the slow worm.

  • Inchworms are really moth caterpillars—they’ve even got legs.

  • And tapeworms get their name because they’re long, thin, and flat like tape.

  • But if you take a closer look at a tapeworm, you’ll find that they’re unique parasitic specialists, only distantly related to the familiar earthworms in your garden.

Myth : If you got a tapeworm, you probably wouldn’t feel sick.


  • People usually get these parasites by eating raw or undercooked meat, such as beef, pork, or fish.

  • Sometimes people with tapeworm infections will feel weak or nauseated, and they may experience anemia or a vitamin B-12 deficiency.

  • But most of the time, an infected human won’t feel any different.

  • Often, the only sign is those yucky but harmless tapeworm segments in poop.

Myth : But some infections can cause problems.


  • Here’s where it gets (really) gross.

  • Improper sanitation may lead someone to consume tapeworm eggs that came out of another person.

  • The larval tapeworms then hatch and start roaming the body, looking for a safe place to hide out.

  • They can latch onto muscle tissue, brain tissue (where they cause seizures), and other body parts, causing an infection called Cysticercosis.

  • It’s relatively rare in the United States, though the CDC has labeled it one of five neglected parasitic infections—ailments that need more attention.

Myth : They wear their stomach on the outside.


  • Tapeworms don’t have a gut of their own.

  • Instead, they use their specialized outer surface to absorb nutrients and excrete waste.

  • And they do it pretty efficiently.

  • Your small intestine has finger-like bumps called villi that basically add more intestinal surface, creating extra space for absorbing food.

  • Tapeworms are also covered in little villus-like bumps that help them soak up more of whatever their host is eating.



  • Beyond the head and a sort of neck, a tapeworm is just a series of segments, each with its own male and female sexual parts.

  • As the tapeworm adds newer segments near the head, older segments move down the body.

  • Eventually, they mature and make eggs.

  • The parasite’s host then poops out either eggs or egg-filled segments and that’s when things get interesting.

Myth : Tapeworms can be huge.


  • Larger animals have larger intestines—and bigger tapeworms.

  • Whales get tapeworms, and these onboard companions can grow to 100 feet or more.

  • That’s over twice the length of the longest giant squid ever discovered.

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