A few years ago, a team of scientists swept 50 homes in Raleigh, North Carolina for bugs—not the surveillance kind, but the biological one. Armed with headlamps, forceps, nets, and aspirators, they collected every arthropod they could find—every creature with jointed legs and a hard external skeleton, every insect, spider, centipede, springtail, and woodlouse. It was the first systematic census of its kind. And, as I wrote in January, it unveiled a startling amount of diversity.
“Each home had between 32 and 211 species, belonging to between 24 and 128 families. Most are not pests. Many were found everywhere, and yet are so obscure that only keen naturalists know about them. These bugs are our closest creaturely neighbors, and we barely register their existence.
“I hope this doesn't put fear in people's minds that they’re being overrun or that they live in unclean homes,” says Matthew Bertone from North Carolina State University, who led the study. “People have been living with these animals for centuries. This is just something that is.”
The census contradicted the common beliefs that house-bound arthropods are largely pests, like cockroaches or bed bugs. In fact, Bertone’s team found that such species were rare, and vastly outnumbered by benign species that just happened to be passing through.
Now, Misha Leong from the California Academy of Sciences has busted another myth by analyzing the team’s data. While many people intuitively think that homes in poor neighborhoods would host more bugs, it’s actually the other way round: the wealthiest areas that harbor the widest range of arthropods.