In search of basement-dwelling arthropods

This morning I had the opportunity to head to “the field” – that’s what we biologist-types say when we leave the comforts of our offices and labs to do research in the wild.

In this case, “the field” was a local Raleigh area home. I accompanied the Arthropods of Our Homes team on what has become their now daily mission to catalog and uncover the diversity of insects and relatives that cohabitate with us.

Armed with headlamps, forceps, collecting vials, aspirators (essentially a soda-straw like contraption for gently sucking up insects) and a retro-fitted Shop Vac, entomologists Matt Bertone and Kelly Oten carefully and methodically visited each nook and cranny of the home in search of exoskeleton-bearing critters.

I was amazed by the team’s keen eyes and ability to discern a six-legged speck from a tiny bit of dust. Often, when we think about biodiversity, our minds wander to far off places like the tropical rainforest or a coral reef.  But really, there’s a whole wild world living underfoot IN OUR OWN HOMES. We just haven’t really paid much attention… until now.

Michelle Trautwein, project leader and assistant director of the Biodiversity Lab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Research Center, estimated that we collected at least 100 different species in this three-hour sampling effort in this single home.

An assassin bug spotted in the kitchen (Photo by Matt Bertone)

In addition to the usual suspects like leggy cellar spiders and camel crickets, we encountered an assassin bug nymph chilling under the kitchen table (photo to the left) and mosquitoes trapped in a spider web near the dining room ceiling. On the windowsill in a bedroom, Matt even spotted a relatively new invasive species from Asia, the spotted-wing vinegar fly.

For many of you, thinking about the six, eight and many legged beasts running amok in your home may give you the creeps or cause you to involuntarily reach for the can of Raid. Some of you may accuse us of being overly enthusiastic entomologists.

Sure, we get REALLY excited about this stuff. But we hope that this enthusiasm is contagious. Maybe we’ll inspire you to pause a moment to pay attention to and appreciate the tiny wild life that occupy your home, the vast majority of which are actually harmless and (gasp) even perform helpful services (like eating the bad bugs). Better yet, perhaps you’ll volunteer your home as our next field site.

The nice folks from WRAL TV also joined the Arthropods of Our Homes team on our field trip today – More about their visit here and in the video below: