I have now finished sorting and identifying critters from 21 of the 50 homes sampled during the Arthropods of Our Homes project. I have seen some extremely interesting specimens, some of which I have never seen out in nature, let alone anticipated finding in homes. Not only did we collect many interesting arthropods, but also some homes have had an extremely diverse fauna – one in particular had over 70 FAMILIES of arthropods in a single common area (including the living room, dining room, hallway, etc.)! Who knows how many species there were? Well, I hope we will soon…

Here are some of my favorite specimens/stories so far:

Hermit crabs (Paguroidea)– why are they in a kitchen in Raleigh, almost 150 miles from the nearest ocean? They were tiny enough to be tracked in like sand (~6mm), but what or who brought them to the home in the first place (they don’t seem like the ones kept as pets)? And were they alive at some point, scuttling around the kitchen floor of that home? Maybe we will never know (though I’d like to find out).

Hermit crabs? In a kitchen? Really? Photo credit: M Bertone

Ant-loving crickets (Myrmecophilidae) – again in the kitchens of two homes. This story is probably more easily understood: all members of this family of crickets live with ants. These specimens were fairly large for the family (at about 5 mm!) and were in homes that had carpenter ants. Maybe they were on an outing for a midnight snack that the ants couldn’t provide? Or they were following the ants while the ants dined.

Ant-loving crickets are small and wingless, with tiny eyes - a common trait among ant nest dwelling insects (myrmecophiles). Photo credit: M Bertone

Bitty bity beetles (Latridiidae: Eufallia) – the little beetle that could…bite. Latridiidae are called minute brown scavenger beetles and they certainly are small, ranging from 0.8-3 mm in length. They are found all over and mostly eat fungus. Some like to feast on the molds that

[unfortunately] live in our homes, and can be a common part of the house beetle fauna. One that I found, Eufallia seminivea, has been recorded (Parsons, 1969) to bite people when there are high numbers of the insect. Luckily the house with these only had a few, so the only concern is that there might be mold. I don’t know what’s worse…

This small brown beetle prefers to feed on fungus, but may take a nibble on people if the conditions are right (e.g. infestation-level numbers). Photo credit: M Bertone

Biology we caught in the act– not just what the specimen is, but what it is involved in. Some of the specimens seemed to be “caught in the act” so to speak. A parasitoid wasp waiting to emerge from the egg of another insect, after completing its larval and pupal stages. A leaf-footed bug that died before the egg glued to its head became a body-infesting larva of a parasitoid tachinid fly. A fly becoming an adult by pupating in its larval skin, safely tucked away in a crawl space. Or a freshly emerged, and still soft, flesh fly that is emerging from a dead rodent left by the family cat.

From left to right: egg parasitoid wasp waiting to emerge from host; squash bug with parasitic fly egg glued to its head; dissected pupa of a fly from a crawl space; fresh flesh fly, emerging from near a rodent corpse. Photo credit: M Bertone

An amazing surprise – a specimen I never thought I would see during this project. These houses seem to be like giant traps, often catching rarely seen arthropods. One such insect, a tiny, brown beetle named Micromalthus debilis (Micromalthidae) may seem like an ordinary bug. However it has one of the most complex life cycles of any animal, including paedogenesis (the act of larvae reproducing) and metrophagy (larvae feeding on their mothers). A good description of the life cycle and fantastic live photos can be found here.

This small beetle is the only species in its family and is native to the Eastern US. Oh, and it produces babies that can have babies among other oddities. Photo credit: M Bertone

Now keep in mind that many of these specimens were dead when we collected them. However, at some point they were alive, flying around your chandeliers, climbing your curtains or scurrying behind your china cabinet. It would be interesting to see our homes from their perspective.