Household Bugs & Insects: An Identification Guide to the Species in Your House

Updated on July 31, 2019
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How to Identify the Bugs in Your House

There are many common bugs that are found in homes including centipedes, spiders, silverfish, and many other creepy-crawlies that share your space, whether you want to or not. To most people, all house bugs are pretty much the same. They're either big brown bugs or little black bugs, scampering out of sight behind the washer in the basement. They may look the same, but they're not all the same. Of course, some of these insects are good to have in your home while others are not so good. This guide will help you identify the bugs, insects, and spiders that you find in your house so that you can decide if you have a problem or not.

It pays to know which bug is which since they may not all be poisonous or even harmful. In fact, you may want to leave the bug alone if their presence is beneficial. On the other hand, some house bugs are actually a sign of infestation or unsanitary conditions. For example, do you know what a "moth fly" is? You might want to spend a few minutes getting to know the bugs in your house that you see scampering across your kitchen floor. This guide will help you do just that.

  1. The Bad News Bed Bug
  2. The Destructive Termite
  3. The Harmless Earwig
  4. The Unsanitary Moth Fly
  5. The Fearsome Brown Recluse Spider
  6. The Helpful Household Centipede
  7. The Red Imported Fire Ant
  8. The Venomous Black Widow Spider
  9. The Irritating Clothes and Meal Moths
  10. The Slightly Strange Silverfish
  11. Scorpions (Handle With Care)
  12. The Icky Cockroach

Bed bugs hide in beds and bite humans to feed on their blood.
Bed bugs hide in beds and bite humans to feed on their blood.

1. The Bad News Bed Bug

Bed bugs used to be a problem strictly for the southern US, but in the past few years, these irritating pests have spread north as far as Canada. Global warming may have something to do with it, as bed bugs are not the only species enjoying a northern invasion.

Whatever the cause, bed bugs are now a real threat, and they are really nasty. They live in colonies in seams and crevices around your bed, coming out at night to bite you and drink your blood. They like to bite, take a few steps, and bite again. This means they track their poop into the bites, sometimes causing infections. The bites themselves are itchy red bumps, often in a line. If you have think you have bed bugs, there are products you can buy online before you make the expensive and toxic call to the exterminator.

Harmful
Function
Domain
Try products available online before calling an exterminator.
Appear at night to drink your blood. May cause infections.
They live in colonies in seams and crevices around your bed.
Termites are detritivores, or detritus feeders.
Termites are detritivores, or detritus feeders.

2. The Destructive Termite

You should immediately look into an exterminator who can assess and hopefully remedy the situation if you think you have termites. Termites are a little like ants, with one major (and bad) exception—termites eat wood. If you live in a wood house and you have termites, then they are eating your house. Little by little, termite damage introduces moisture and rot, and the result can be catastrophic. Do not waste time if you find insects in your home that resemble small, pale ants. Call a pest control service, and get it taken care of. If you're worried that termites may be eyeing your home preparing for an invasion, then you might consider one of the several termite detection systems that are available. These kits cost a lot less than treatment from an exterminator, and don't involve any poisons or invasive treatments.

Harmful
Function
Domain
Call an exterminator immediately.
They eat wood and can introduce moisture and rot damage.
Termites thrive in homes made of wood.
Earwigs get their name from the old European myth that they crawl into people's ears and tunnel into their brains while they are sleeping.
Earwigs get their name from the old European myth that they crawl into people's ears and tunnel into their brains while they are sleeping.

3. The Harmless Earwig

Poor Earwig. His only crime is looking dangerous thanks to those scary pincers. Scientists believe that the pincers may serve a role in mate selection or possibly protection since they look so intimidating. But actually, unlike pincers on some beetles and other biting insects, the earwig's biters are on the rear end and lack the muscles needed to actually bite anything with any force.

This peaceful, harmless little animal spends most of his time outside nibbling on the edges of leaves. Earwigs become household bugs in the winter when they are looking for a place to stay warm. They don't go in your ears, they can't bite, and those pincers on their butt are incapable of actually pinching anyone. This means you can take a deep breath, and leave them alone!

Harmless
Function
Domain
Their pinchers are ineffective for biting. They do not try to invade your ears.
Spend most of their time outside nibbling on leaves.
Spend most of their time outside.
Drain flies, or moth flies, are small, dark-winged, non-biting gnats.
Drain flies, or moth flies, are small, dark-winged, non-biting gnats.

4. The Unsanitary Moth Fly

These cool-looking, but annoying little insects love dirty drains and unsanitary conditions. They look like little gray moths with broad wings and feathery antennae, but they're really a species of fly that has adapted to life in your home. They often show up flying around in the stall while you're taking a shower, and they're surprisingly hard to smack because they're fast like most flies. Moth flies indicate an unhealthy situation in your drains.

Moth flies live in your tub and sink drains. They especially like the dirty conditions they find in most basement drains. They're not too hard to deal with once you know where they live. Simply pour some bleach into the drain, and you'll kill both the adults and the larvae (and yes, since these are flies, their larvae are called maggots.)

Harmful
Function
Domain
These moths are a sign of dirty, unsanitary draining conditions. Pour beach down the drain to eliminate adults and larvae.
They make dirty living conditions even dirtier.
Moth flies live in your bathtub and sink drains.
The brown recluse spider is predominantly found in the Midwest and Southeast of the United States.
The brown recluse spider is predominantly found in the Midwest and Southeast of the United States.

5. The Fearsome Brown Recluse Spider

Identifying brown recluse spiders can be tricky, since they tend to look like any number of harmless house spiders. This easy guide will assist you in determining if you have a problem with these venomous arachnids.

In my experience, the only good way to control brown recluse spiders is with sticky traps. Using toxins and poisons is only going to kill everything in your house! The brown recluse is a venomous arachnid that lives in dark corners of basements and garages (and in nature under rocks and in stumps). It goes out hunting at night, which means you can sometimes get bitten without even knowing it. The good news is that scientists are starting to suspect that the brown recluse rarely injects a lot of venom when it bites. The bad bites attributed to brown recluses may be due to other factors—meaning the spider is less of a threat than was once thought.

Harmful
Function
Domain
This spider is venomous, although they rarely inject poison upon biting.
Hunts at night and flees upon detecting danger.
They are nocturnal and prefer dark corners of basements and garages.

I Found a Brown Recluse Spider—Now What?

If you think you have found a brown recluse, carefully coax the spider in a jar, and take it to the local nature museum or exterminator for identification. A dead, smashed spider will not be easy to identify, so it needs to be alive if possible. If it turns out that you do have a brown recluse infestation, you can take steps on your own to fight back. Fortunately, brown recluse spiders are easy to trap with "sticky traps." Put a few of these around your basement and the night-wandering spiders (and other bugs) will get tangled up and stuck forever.

House centipedes prefer damp and dark areas.
House centipedes prefer damp and dark areas.

6. The Helpful House Centipede

House centipedes, with their multiple long legs and feelers, are definitely among the creepier of the your household bugs, but they are also one of the most helpful. They live in dark corners and under your basement boxes and are also found outside in the warmer months. There are numerous species of centipede, and some of the ones that live in the desert Southwest can deliver a really nasty bite. The house centipede is essentially harmless—it can deliver a very mild bite if you, say, pick it up and squeeze it in your fist. But why would you do that? Centipedes are mainly concerned with staying away from you, and will run like lightning the minute they see you.

House centipedes help you by feeding on the eggs of cockroaches, silverfish, and other insects. They also scavenge other dead insects and basically eat every nasty thing that accumulates in your corners. Also, it is basically impossible to eradicate centipedes, since they're fast and can evade most poisons. Let these guys share your space with you, and they will do a lot of dirty work free of charge.

Beneficial
Function
Domain
Centipedes only deliver a mild bite if you pick them up. They help rid your home of other insects.
They feed on the eggs of cockroaches, silverfish, and other insects.
Centipedes live in dark corners under basement boxes and are found outside during the warmer months.

Fire Ants are Invading the USA

Fire ants are a nuisance the whole body half of the U.S.
Fire ants are a nuisance the whole body half of the U.S.

7. The Red Imported Fire Ant (RIFA)

Red fire ants are not household bugs since they live outside, but I included them here because they are a real threat to the security and enjoyment of your home. These little red ants (they also come in black) are just the biggest jerks of the insect world. They will bite you hard for no reason at all. They grab a bit of skin, bite into it, and then spray formic acid into the wound (this is why the family they belong to is called "Formicidae"). You end up with a nasty, stinging blister that can take days to go away.

I have a personal hatred of these guys ever since a colony chewed its way into my tent when I was camping in a jungle in Panama. I woke up in the dark to dozens of burning bites all over my legs.

Harmful
Function
Domain
They will bite you hard for no reason and spray a formic acid into the wound.
Being the jerk of the insect world.
They live outside, but can threaten the security of your home.

8. The Venomous Black Widow Spider

The black widow lives in dark corners in basements and garages where it spins a characteristic tangled web to ensnare passing insects.They are not very common, but where there's one, there are probably more. They are also pretty easy to identify. If you're looking at a big black spider with a round body and a red hourglass on the underside, then it's a black widow. There are no other non-venomous arachnids in North America that look like this.

The black widow's bite is potentially fatal, so most people don't tolerate the arachnid in their house. You can safely and easily capture this spider with an insect vacuum or a regular vacuum cleaner.

Harmful
Function
Domain
Their bite can potentially be fatal. Most people vacuum them.
Spin webs to ensnare passing insects.
Live in dark corners in basements and garages.
There are many ways to control clothes moths including very effective moth balls.
There are many ways to control clothes moths including very effective moth balls.

9. The Irritating Clothes and Meal Moths

You may see this little insect buzzing through the air in your house, especially near the kitchen. It is a bonafide pest, but the moth itself never eats anything. It is the caterpillar that you may never see that actually does the damage.

These related insects feed on either organic fibers like wool, or stored grain like flour. You'll know you have clothes moths if you find holes in your sweaters, and you'll know you have meal moths if there webby clumps with little yellow caterpillars in them infesting your flour or corn meal. These larvae have evolved quickly to feed on a relatively new food source, processed grain and stored fibers, and have adapted to coexist with humans in a way few animals have.

There are many ways to control clothes moths including very effective moth balls. Meal moths have to be dealt with by throwing away all of the infested flour or meal.

Harmful
Function
Domain
These moths will eat through your clothes and ruin your flour.
Larvae evolve quickly to feed on a processed grains and fibers.
Can be found buzzing in the kitchen in your flour or in your closet in your clothes.
Silverfish get their name from their silvery-blue appearance and their fishlike movements.
Silverfish get their name from their silvery-blue appearance and their fishlike movements.

10. The Slightly Strange Silverfish

This prehistoric-looking animal lives in your pipes and walls. If you ever see one at all, it is probably in your sink where it has become trapped during its midnight ramblings. Wash it down the drain if you will, but it will almost certainly survive. Silverfish are an essential part of your home's all-night housekeeping crew along with centipedes (see above). They consume all of the dead insects and other organic debris that drifts down to the basement and lowest levels of your house. Even though they may creep you out a little, they're actually on your side.

Interestingly, the silverfish is an insect, even though it looks nothing like the butterflies in your garden.

Beneficial
Function
Domain
They consume all of the dead insects and other organic debris that drifts down to your basement or the lowest levels of your house.
They consume all the dead insects and other organic debris in the basement and lowest levels of your home.
Silverfish live in your pipes and walls.
Most scorpions in the U.S. are found in the Southwest regions.
Most scorpions in the U.S. are found in the Southwest regions.

11. Scorpions—Handle With Care (or Not at All)

Everyone knows what scorpions look like, but not many people have actually encountered one. This is partly because they are so effective at hiding during the day. At night, scorpions come out to prowl the floors and counter tops of your home looking for roaches, crickets, and other small insects. It's at night that you're most likely to find a scorpion, and they'll almost always run away rather than confront you. Their sting is painful, similar to a wasp sting, but they mainly use it to kill the bugs that prowl around your house. So, yes, scorpions are beneficial!

Beneficial
Function
Domain
Their sting is powerful as a wasp sting, but they kill other bigs for your benefit.
They come looking for roaches, crickets, and other small insects.
Scorpions prowl on floors and countertops, and they'll always run away rather than confront you
The German cockroach is one of the most common roaches found in apartment houses, restaurants, and hotels.
The German cockroach is one of the most common roaches found in apartment houses, restaurants, and hotels.

12. The Icky Cockroach

Of all the house bugs out there, cockroaches are pretty much the most hated. Most of us already know a cockroach when we see one. The common one, German cockroach, is brown with long legs and leathery wing covers. There are many kinds of cockroaches out there, but only a few are pests in your house.

Cockroaches are incredibly successful animals that have been around for millions of years longer than our species has. There's a reason for that—they can live anywhere, eat anything, and survive any catastrophe. Roaches hide from light and spend their time reproducing. If you see one, you likely have hundreds or even thousands. Then it's time to call the exterminator, because there's really no other way to clear out an infestation.

Harmless
Domain
Function
They won't bite, but require an exterminator to completely rid your home of.
Cockroaches live anywhere, eat anything, and survive any catastrophe.
Quickly multiplying their numbers to the hundreds or thousands.
Bye, and thanks for reading!
Bye, and thanks for reading!

Resources

https://owlcation.com/stem/brown-recluse-identification

https://www.nature.com/articles/156537a0

https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef615

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/other-insects/common-earwig

https://www.nature.com/articles/002435d0

http://natureatyourhome.biodiversityexhibition.com/en/card/silverfish

New Guestbook Comments

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    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Interesting information, and a good read. Thanks for sharing.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      7 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Sorry. I still don't like earwigs. Thanks for writing about these insects. The ones I find most in my house are the earwig and the sowbug. They, along with the spiders, manage to crawl in under the front door, which we simply can't figure out how to fix.

    • profile image

      squidoolover76 

      7 years ago

      Frankly everyone should know about this

    • profile image

      CatJGB 

      7 years ago

      Ick. I've been finding a few teeny tiny baby roaches in the house lately, so I KNOW there are more somewhere. Somehow, they don't skeeve me out anywhere near as much when they are teeny as when they are big.

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