AP NEWS

BUGS! RUN! (No - just kidding. These bugs are good for you, and your house.)

February 7, 2019
An NC State microbiologist hopes you'll see the brighter side of the bugs in your house.

We all know people who prefer to be inside because they are averse to things that fly around or crawl around, or because they want to keep away from germs.

Erin Galloway is one of those people.

“I do consider myself a germaphobe,” Galloway said. “I wash my hands constantly. I am one of those people who doesn’t want to touch things when I go to a hotel.” She was not too pleased to learn of research by North Carolina State University scientist Robb Dunn. “Oh lovely -- another spider!” she said while looking at a photo of one spider from Dunn’s collection. “Oh my gosh -- it’s another one! They are everywhere!”

Entomophobes (bugs in general) and arachnophobes (spiders in particular) may want to stop reading here.

Because they are, in fact, everywhere, Dunn has found, including inside your home.

Dunn is a microbiologist. He started his career traveling to far-off places -- like the rain forest -- to study insects. Then he had a thought.

“It became more and more clear that a lot of the things we were studying in faraway places were also happening under your bed, in your bathroom, all around you, and no one was paying any attention to them,” he said.

So he decided to.

He started with a study of 50 Raleigh homes -- looking under beds, in the kitchen, even in shower heads -- to see how many species of spiders he could find. If you are not a fan of insects, you aren’t going to like this answer.

“We thought we would find 10, 15 species.” he said. “We found more than a thousand species. and the average house had around 100 species.” But not to worry -- he said most of these critters are pretty helpful to have around. “Many houses have eight or nine kinds of spiders hanging out doing good work causing you no harm, and so you can let them be,” Dunn said. Take, for example, the spitting spider.

“It spits a ball of venomous silk on teeny-tiny prey in your house,” Dunn said. “So while you are upstairs sleeping and those fruit flies that you don’t like are flying around, it’s in there doing the good work one spit at a time. ”

There’s also a wasp -- not the stinging kind -- that you could learn to love. “It specializes in laying its eggs in the egg cases of cockroaches,” Dunn said.

The wasp kills the cockroaches, so it’s not all bad. And that’s why Dunn started this research in the first place. “We would like to help people think about, What lives with me?” he said. “And how can I do daily things that tip the balance toward species that are more beneficial?”

He says trying to disinfect with cleaning products promising to kill 99 percent of germs will also wipe out some of the bugs that can actually help you. He says the best way to a clean and healthy home is to open the windows.

“Your choice is not a sterile surface or a surface with life on it,” he said. “It’s just a choice about which life you’re going to have in your house around you every day.”