Insects, spiders, and other small, many-legged creatures — which I will refer to from here on as “bugs,” and will accept no corrections on that point — belong outdoors. Mostly.
Some bugs are a disaster to find inside, because that means you likely have an infestation. Some sting, bite, or cause damage. But others are beneficial or mostly harmless, even if they look creepy-crawly. Read on for the verdicts on 10 bugs you might find in your house, and how freaked-out you should be.
Seeing one cockroach means it’s very likely you have a lot more than one in your house. Roaches can carry disease-causing germs and can exacerbate asthma and allergies. (They also smell, if you have enough of them.) The National Centre for Healthy Housing has tips here on how to figure out how bad the problem is (put out glue traps and count the roaches, basically) and how to get rid of them safely.
Not so bad: Centipedes
House centipedes are wiggly, fast, and have far too many legs, if you ask me. (Not 100, though: adults only have 15 pairs.) As creepy as they may seem, they’re not so bad to have around. They are predators, eating smaller insects and creatures that live in your house. And while technically they are venomous, their venom is only dangerous to those other buggies, not you. According to the Penn State extension, if you find centipedes in your house, your options are to live and let live, or to clean up your basement to remove the centipedes’ preferred hiding places and the other creatures they feed on.
Not so bad, sort of: Ticks
Ticks are horrible little things, but you don’t need to freak out (too much) if you find one in your house. That’s because they don’t take up residence indoors, so there’s nothing you need to clean or disinfect or set on fire.
Now, that tick itself is a sign that somebody might have been bitten. Ticks are tiny and leggy when they’re hungry, and then they attach to your skin (some prefer humans, some prefer pets) and suck blood until they look like plump little green or brown corn kernels. Then they drop off, planning to return to the leaf litter from whence they came to lay eggs and make babies. Good news: Your couch is not their habitat, and they’ll dehydrate and die if they land there.
To remove a tick from yourself (or a loved one or pet), use a TickKey, Tick Twister, or a pair of tweezers. Ask your doctor whether it’s worth getting the tick tested or taking antibiotics; the answer varies depending on the risks in your particular area. If you find ticks in the house, make sure your pet is up to date on their flea and tick medication, and be more careful about using bug spray when you’re outside. You can find more tips on tick control from the Connecticut extension.
Bad, but not terrible: Silverfish
Silverfish are tiny insects with appendages on their tail that make them look like tiny fish. They enjoy damp places, so the name kind of fits. Their cousins, firebrats, prefer drier environments but are otherwise similar.
Silverfish won’t hurt you, but they can eat holes in paper and books, and they may also eat starchy foods. They’re hard to get rid of, but the Penn State extension has some tips here that include eliminating food sources and hiding places, and possibly using insecticides.
Not so bad: Spiders
What’s hungry for bugs, usually stays out of your way, and has slightly fewer legs than a house centipede? That’s right, a spider! While some spiders have medically significant bites, most do not, and even the ones that can hurt you aren’t aggressive and tend to leave people alone. They also eat smaller pests and are considered beneficial to have in the house. Which is good, because the Minnesota extension reports that they’re very hard to get rid of. You’d have to eliminate their food sources, and honestly the best way to get rid of the bugs they feed on is to keep a few spiders around.
What about spider bites? Well, most skin inflammations that are considered “spider bites” turn out not to be from spiders at all. (If it makes you feel better, brown recluses only really live in the southern U.S., and black widow bites reportedly hurt like the dickens but don’t look like a stereotypical spider bite at all. If you think you have a spider bite but didn’t see a spider actually bite you, get it checked out.)
Termites are bad, bad, bad. They don’t hurt people, but they chew up the wood that your house is made of, and you may not notice the damage until it’s too late. One horrifying thing I learned from browsing “what is this” subreddits is that often the only obvious sign of a termite colony in your home is a series of thin tubes hanging down from the ceiling. Inside your walls and floors, the termites doing to your house what they do to stumps and fallen trees in the forest: eating them, basically. Here are some tips from the University of Maryland extension on spotting signs of an infestation and how to seek quality professional help.
Bad, sort of: Bees
Bees are nice. Bees do not want to bother you. Bees just want to make honey and feed it to their children, who in turn want the same for their own children. The only real problem with this is that they can have a lot of children.
If you find a swarm of bees, that’s good news: bees travel in large, calm groups, and they don’t tend to sting when they’re swarming because they have no hive to protect. If there’s a swarm and it doesn’t move on, call your local beekeeping club and somebody will be happy to show up and claim a free bee colony.
On the other hand, bees can take up residence in your walls, and that’s when you may have a problem. The bees will mind their own business (bzzzzz-ness?) while the hive grows to include hundreds of pounds of honey, wax, and bees. To fully remove the hive, the University of California says, you may need to have a contractor and a beekeeper work together to open up your walls and remove all the bees and honeycomb. There’s a cheaper option, but it’s even worse: get an exterminator to poison the hive. All will be well until the piles of bee corpses begin to rot, and the honey absorbs moisture and ferments, and all of the above begin to leak through the walls. They’re still full of poison, remember? Anyway, enjoy.
Not so bad: Ants
You may not want ants in your home (I sure don’t), but a single ant is usually not a sign of infestation. Most ants that enter houses actually live outdoors, according to the Colorado State University extension, and are just inside to visit and do a little grocery shopping. They’ll eat your food, but they aren’t moving in.
That said, there are many types of ants, and some of them will occasionally nest in houses. The extension recommends cleaning up their food sources and using insecticides if needed.
Not so bad: Wasps
Wasp nests are unnerving, but if a nest is in a place where you won’t disturb it (like on the side of your house, away from doors or footpaths), you don’t need to do anything. Just wait for winter, and the wasps will die off. If the nest is in a high traffic area, though, the residents will sting you if they think you’re bothering them. In that case, you may need to remove the nest.
The University of Minnesota has tips for dealing with nests that need to be removed. Use an insecticide spray on exposed nests like paper wasp nests, and insecticidal dust on yellowjacket nests in the ground.
The Worst: bedbugs
These guys check all the bad bug boxes. They bite people and can cause rashes and irritation; seeing one means you’ve got more (probably lots); and they’re incredibly hard to get rid of. The one bright spot is that they aren’t known to spread any serious diseases. The University of Minnesota extension has tips, which boil down to verifying that the bugs really are what you think they are, and then hiring a professional for removal. Good luck.