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SHARED SPACE

Americans are living with hundreds of unseen insects in their homes

AP Photo/Alan Diaz
Intruders among us?
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

Sometimes family seem like a nuisance, but there’s a good chance we share our living quarters with several hundred unwanted guests.

Researchers from North Carolina State University found nearly 600 species of spiders, beetles, flies, and other insects across 50 free-standing homes—all of which were fully-occupied and well-maintained—within a 30 mile radius of Raleigh, North Carolina. Homes had an average of about 100 different kinds of insects and spiders. The study was published in the open-access journal PeerJ.

“I saw a lot of things in homes that I had never seen in the wild before, things we’ve previously tried to trap,” Matthew Bertone, an entomologist and lead author of the paper, told the Guardian.

Over the course of six months in 2012, researchers visited each of the randomly-selected homes and collected every insect they could find using tiny vacuums and insect nets. Their search was superficial; they didn’t look underneath any carpet or in drawers or cabinets. In every home they sampled, there were ants, midge flies, cobweb spiders, and carpet beetles; of the 554 rooms they sampled, only five of them were insect-free. Common pests, including the American cockroach and termites, were found in a only minority of houses. For the most part, the species encountered by the research team are benign.

Additionally, these bugs are likely short-term visitors. ”While we collected a remarkable diversity of these creatures, we don’t want people to get the impression that all of these species are actually living in everyone’s homes,” Bertone said in a press release. “Because they’re not equipped to live in our homes, they usually die pretty quickly.” Bertone suggested that these creatures are probably seeking shelter from the outside elements, or accidentally brought in on flowers or shoes.

Even so, the sheer numbers of previously uncharted insect and spider species may effect our health, like microbes, the tiny single-cell organisms that live in and around us. ”Because we’ve been living and evolving with [insects and spiders] through all of our history, I wouldn’t play down their potential role in our health,” Michelle Trautwein, an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences and co-author of the paper, told Quartz. Although she’s not sure just how these insects and spiders affect health, she’s almost certain they do: She speculated that, much like some bacteria in our gut take up space and resources to prevent harmful microbes from flourishing, there could be insects and spiders that play a similar role in our homes.

Even if our homes are clean and pest-free, they’re probably housing a variety of life. “You don’t have to go out in the depths of nature to see incredible biodiversity,” says Trautwein. “It’s actually all around us.”

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