The Smallest Bugs
We may be prone to reacting scared or disgusted by large insects and infestations in our homes. But what about those insects that are so tiny, they can set up shop completely undetected? We’re offering insights on some of the small insects you may find inside and outside your home.
Fungus gnats are tiny pests averaging 1/16-1/8 inches in length as adults (though some species can grow up to half an inch) and are primarily associated with indoor plants. Adult gnats lay their eggs in soil and the larvae feed on fungi and other microbes in the soil. While the adult gnats don’t harm plants or humans, the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program reports that fungus gnat larvae in large groups can damage roots and stunt plant growth. The adults are considered a nuisance pest. Fungus gnats are also attracted to light, so look out for them swarming nearby, likely on warm, damp nights.
Carpet beetles, which usually average 1/16-1/8 inches long as adults, are known to infest carpets (as their name implies), according to the University of Kentucky Entomology. Carpet beetle larvae harm various household fibers including wool, carpet, and other fabrics, however, “adult carpet beetles feed on flower pollen and do not damage woolens and other fabrics.” Per The University of California IPM, there are three common species of carpet beetles you may come across: the varied carpet beetle, the furniture carpet beetle, and the black carpet beetle.
Adult fleas are about 1/12 inches in length and are likely familiar to anyone who has owned a dog or cat in their lifetime. These parasites are able to jump 13 inches (yep, 200 times their body length), Michigan State University reports. Fleas suck on the blood of mammals and birds, making them a nuisance and a potential health risk to you and your pets. While you may not be able to spot fleas with the naked eye, a constantly-scratching pet could be an indication of fleas in the home. One way you can determine if you have fleas is to put white socks on your feet, walk around the carpet, and see if you have black spots that jump on and off your socks as you move.
If you’re traveling in South America, you may see a featherwing beetle. These beetles hold the crown as the smallest-known free-living insect. The smallest of these beetles, found in Columbia, measured 1/64 of an inch. Featherwing beetles live independently (rather than parasitically), per Nature World News, and feed off of the mold and fungi in their environments—mainly decaying logs, compost heaps, and tree holes. The featherwing beetle was first recorded in 1999 based on “several specimens found in Nicaragua,” per EurekAlert!, but Dr. Alexey Polilov of Lomonosov Moscow State University was the first to deeply examine and measure these beetles in 2015.
Though tiny, small insects such as fungus gnats and fleas can lurk in your home. Next time you’re scanning for a spider’s web or signs of roaches, keep in mind the signs that smaller pests are present.