Nicer neighborhoods get creepier crawlies

When you’re rich, you can have more of everything—more opportunities for travel, more flashy gadgets, more house, and now, something else: more bugs. A new study suggests that people in affluent neighborhoods have a richer variety of arthropods in their homes, something they call the “luxury effect.” It works like this: People in wealthy zip codes tend to have more extensive landscaping with a greater variety of plant species. That means, in turn, that the arthropods they attract—creepy crawlies including spiders, flies, and millipedes—are also more diverse. To see whether this idea had legs, a team of entomologists strapped on kneepads and headlamps and scoured 50 different homes in Raleigh for any arthropod they could find. They collected 10,000 specimens from more than 300 different families, from the humble pill bug to the panic-inducing paper wasp. (Other species they collected are in the slideshow above.) They found that houses in neighborhoods with the highest average incomes had more species than those in the lowest income bracket, they report today in Biology Letters. For example, a house in a neighborhood with an average annual income of $33,510 had members of 74 arthropod families living inside, whereas a house in a neighborhood with an average annual income of $176,289 had members from 105 families. Houses in nice neighborhoods didn’t have more of any one particular species, though—they just had a whole lot more species. One weakness of the study was that it looked at only one city and a limited range of incomes. To rectify that, the researchers plan to perform similar studies in less affluent neighborhoods and in other countries for a more complete view of how these arthropods fit into the indoor ecosystem. Understanding this could shed light onto how pests like bedbugs and termites thrive—and how other species might be able to keep them in check. The next challenge after that? Getting people to befriend their tiny, many-legged roommates.