Arthropod Update

*Today post-doc Matt Bertone gives us an update on some of the wild, wonderful and wacky finds the Arthropods of Our Homes team has made in sampling the the project’s first 25 homes.*

For the last couple months I have been crawling around the floors, reaching for the ceilings, and spelunking in the basements (and crawl spaces) of houses to find all the living and dead arthropods that were either just visiting, or had set up permanent, rent-free residence. I have witnessed a mass fly emergence, vast insect graveyards, and countless silk-entangled spider victims. I am ready – and excited – for more!

We have now completed sampling 25 homes for the Arthropods of Our Homes project and I thought it would be fun to share some of the interesting things I have learned and observed so far (including their scientific names):

    • Different homes have different arthropods. Some homes have an abundance of house centipedes…others are full of silverfish. Why? For now, we can’t predict what we will encounter in a home, but maybe after we crunch the data we will be able to identify factors that explain why we see certain types of arthropods in some homes and not others.
    • Carpet beetles (Dermestidae) are everywhere; almost every home we visit has them. They are small and are most active as larvae, though the adults can often be found dead on window sills. Most of the fuzzy grubs end up feeding on pet/human hairs, dead insects (maybe even their unfortunate parents – Yikes!), and other organic bits. Though their actions can be beneficial for cleaning up debris, in high densities they can begin to eat our carpets (thus the common name) and clothing. Not an acceptable activity for most people. Other arthropods common across many homes include book lice (Liposcelididae), camel crickets (Rhaphidophoridae), cob-web spiders (Theridiidae), and various ants (Formicidae), to name a few.

      Carpet beetle larvae (left, eating a kibble of dog food) and adults (right, dead on a window sill) are common in homes; larvae feed on dead insects, hair, and other organic bits (including wool carpets and clothing). Photo credit: Matt Bertone

    • Some homes have spitting spiders (Scytodidae), one of my favorite arachnids. Growing up I had only read about these secretive spiders that spit a sticky, venomous silk onto their prey.  Now I have come face-to-prosoma with one species in particular (Scytodes thoracica) on several occasions in homes. Though we have native species, this one is from Europe and has made its way around the world through human travels. Spitting spiders are often found in older homes, where they hide in holes and cracks. They come out to hunt prey, which can include small insects and other spiders.

A female spitting spider (Scytodes thoracica). These spiders spit a venomous silk out of their fangs to subdue prey, but are harmless to humans. Photo credit: Matt Bertone

    • Flies (Diptera) and beetles (Coleoptera) appear to be the most diverse groups of insects associated with homes. Flies you may encounter include dark-winged fungus gnats (Sciaridae; sometimes associated with potted plants), gall midges (Cecidomyiidae; drawn to lights), moth/drain flies (Psychodidae; larvae eat the muck in drains), mosquitoes (Culicidae; there for your blood or attracted to lights), fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae and Keroplatidae; probably attracted to lights), crane flies (Tipulidae; attracted to lights), vinegar “fruit” flies (Drosophilidae; attracted to rotting fruit), and many more. Beetles comprise many grain/stored foods pests like the previously mentioned carpet beetles as well as death-watch beetles (Anobiidae; feed on dried products), ground beetles (Carabidae; ground-dwelling hunters), weevils (Curculionidae; mostly plant feeders), and many groups that come to lights. Other than flies and beetles, spiders are also fairly diverse and include common house spiders and other cob-web spiders (Theridiidae), cellar spiders (Pholcidae), jumping spiders (Salticidae), wolf spiders (Lycosidae), wall spiders (Oecobiidae), grass spiders (Agelenidae), and more.

Window sill diversity: a fly (true fruit fly; Tephritidae) and beetle (soft-winged flower beetle; Melyridae), two of the most common groups of insects in homes. Photo credit: Matt Bertone

    • Some of the arthropods encountered right under our noses (not literally) could rival tropical species or aliens for their beauty, cuteness, or bizarreness. Some are like tiny jewels, others are cartoonish, and still others look like they came straight out of a horror movie. (Of course, much of this is subjective and may not be how most people see them…)

Beautiful, cute, or horrific? You be the judge! Top left – cuckoo wasp (Chrysididae); Top right – damselfly (Odonata); Bottom left – armored mites (Oribatida); Bottom right – house centipede (Scutigeridae). Photo credit: Matt Bertone

    • Venomous arthropods especially love to live under toilet seats… Okay, that last one is a lie – you’re still reading, right?

All in all, despite the diversity of “creepy crawlers,” you shouldn’t stay up all night with a flashlight and rolled newspaper in hand fearful of being bitten or parasitized by some blood-thirsty arthropod. The majority of species found in the homes we’ve sampled appear to be A) wild insects that are attracted to lights and get stuck indoors, where they usually end up dying from lack of food and water, or B) arthropods that can survive and thrive in our homes, especially those that eat scraps of organic matter and predators of creatures that come in homes (mostly spiders). That’s not to say we haven’t found any pests; they just seem make up a small portion of the arthropod fauna in any given house (at least in the homes we have sampled).

We can’t wait to share all the results from this study. But until then, sleep tight and remember that most of the “bugs” are biting things we have no interest in or are tormenting each other!

For more information about the Arthropods of Our Homes project, visit our project website. While you’re there, check out additional photos of arthropods found in Raleigh-Durham area homes in the Photo Gallery.

You can also listen to project leader Michelle Trautwein talk about Arthropods of Our Homes during a recent interview on WUNC’s The State of Things.

Matt Bertone is an entomologist with a life-long passion for all things creepy and strange. He has been especially interested in insects, arachnids and reptiles, but becomes enthralled in a new group of organisms just about every day. Matt enjoys graphic design, photography, music, and video games… when he’s not poking around the dusty, dark corners of your house in search of arthropods.

By |2016-11-22T13:47:38-05:00August 2nd, 2012|

Share this story!

About the Author:

Holly Menninger
As Director of Public Science, Holly coordinates our empire of citizen science projects and manages the online science communication here at Your Wild Life. An entomologist by training, she’s a science communicator by passion and practice.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Michelle August 2, 2012 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Look at those beauties!! Really cool, Matt. Looking forward to the next 25!

  2. Avatar
    Katie August 3, 2012 at 8:42 am - Reply

    great job Matt! woot

  3. […] Sometimes field work can be undertaken right at home, or in other people’s homes like the Your Wild Life team is doing. […]

  4. Avatar
    Crystal Anne June 7, 2015 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Quite an interesting career to have. Great collection of information. You’d have a hay day at my place. I’ve come across at least 3 arachnoid visitors that the local pest companies can’t seem to identify. We’ve got black widows, brown widows, wolf spiders, recluses (did you know they will run at you!), giant house spider ( only saw one, but that was enough to last forever), ant mimicking, these light yellow to almost see through spiders that average the size of slightly bigger than a US quarter, body & legs together. They are hard to see and their bite is close to feeling like being stung by a wasp. They are invasive during late spring up until beginning of fall. The darn things hang out in the giant trees towering over our home. A walk from the front door to your car on a summer evening can seem like your back in the service, preparing for a possible ambush plotting your rout carefully to avoid enemy fire! Nasty little bugger’s. LoL

Leave A Comment