Bedbugs and fabric moths can be an absolute nightmare, right? Well consider yourself lucky you've never had a giant coconut crab wade through your living room.
That's right we're talking the World's Most Extreme House Pests.
As much as we might like to think of our homes as safe, secure sanctuaries from the outside world, odds are that you sleep, eat and watch TV just a few metres from hundreds of types of insects, spiders and mites (and that’s only in the UK – residents of many parts of the world have to share their homes with inhabitants that are much bigger, and much scarier).
For the most part, these creatures live in the dark, damp spaces that homeowners rarely have any contact with. They might occupy your wall voids, your attic and the space between your floorboards, only rarely venturing out to where you can see them – but there’s no escaping the fact they’re there. Below is an A-Z chart of some of the most common (and in many cases, terrifying) household pests from around the world.
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The Asian Tiger Mosquito is immediately recognisable thanks to its distinctive white markings, which run in stripes around its legs and across its head and carapace.
In the UK mosquito bites can be painful, but are otherwise largely harmless. Mosquitos found in other parts of the world however, are much more of a menace, and are often deadly.
The Tiger mosquito in particular can transmit diseases like Yellow Fever, and a form of parasitic roundworm that can infect household pets. The insect thrives in warm climates, and thus isn’t native to Europe – though it was responsible for the continent’s only recorded outbreak of Chikungunya fever, in Italy in 2007.
The Chacma (or ‘Cape’) baboon is a highly intelligent primate who’ll often venture through open doors and windows in search of unguarded food, making it an irritating house pest (and a pretty scary one, too). Being omnivorous, they’ll snatch up just about anything left lying around, and while they won’t attack humans for no reason, if they happen to be your home stealing food, you should probably just let them get on with it…
These crabs are the world’s largest land-living arthropod, and can grow to be almost three feet wide. They’re native to the Indian Ocean, where they’re hunted for their meat. They’re opportunistic feeders, and will investigate and carry away any unguarded food source. It’s for this reason that they’re also known as ‘robber’ crabs. Young crabs are small enough to find their way indoors – and they’re effective climbers, which makes even second-floor windows vulnerable.
Better yet –they can be pretty dangerous, too.
Death watch beetles are native to Europe, where they lay their eggs in dead pieces of wood. They target oak timbers that have been attacked by fungus. They’re identifiable by a distinctive clicking sound in late spring, which occurs when females looking to attract males bang their heads against available surfaces. Death Watch larvae burrow out over the course of several years, during which they can inflict considerable damage on wooden timbers. As such they’re among the most destructive insects found in the modern home.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes are found in South-Eastern US, and are among the largest, heaviest and most venomous species of snake. In the wild, they take shelter in the underground burrows of small animals – and they’re notorious for venturing underneath American homes in search of prey. Their bites can be quickly fatal, particularly for those allergic to the venom.
Very young rattlesnakes are the likeliest to find their way indoors, since they’re able to squeeze through even tiny gaps beneath doors.
There are more than 2,500 species in the flea family. Each is a small flightless insect with long hind legs adapted for jumping, and a set of sharp mouthparts designed to pierce skin and extract blood.
They’re able to thrive in warm homes, even during winter when they’re naturally dormant. They pose a menace to household pets, and act as a carrier for harmful blood-borne pathogens. Basic grooming and hygiene, as well as preventative flea treatments, will mitigate the threat posed by this most common of bugs in the house.
These small lizards are common in warm climates across the world. They’re easily able to navigate the home thanks to their ability to climb sheer vertical surfaces (anything from curtains through to sheer, smooth glass).
This ability comes courtesy of specially-adapted toe pads, which are found on around three fifths of all geckos. In countries where geckos are native, they’re welcomed into the home; they feed on harmful insects like mosquitos, and thus form a vital part of the domestic ecosystem.
The Huntsman is the stuff of nightmares, primarily on account of its size. However, while the spider can be found across the world, the largest varieties are found in Australia (giant Huntsmen can have a leg span of up to 12 inches!)
Rather than building webs and waiting for food to come to them, Huntsman are natural foragers. They’ll eat insects but they’ll eat small rodents and reptiles, too (seriously!)
The bite is venomous, but not deadly – but that doesn’t stop them from moving at terrifying speed and jumping massive distances in the blink of an eye.
This tropical moth also goes by the name ‘pantry moth’, which gives some indication of where they thrive (if you’re currently eating, you might want to take a break).
The Indianmeal Moth will get into food stores and distribute worm-like larvae, which cover unprotected foods in webs. Thankfully, once they reach adulthood Indianmeal Moths don’t eat, and so only survive for a few days.
This tiny spider is a significant figure in Japanese folklore, in which it’s described as transforming into a beautiful woman who’ll lure men into a web of silk before devouring them.
In the real world, Jorō spiders are found in gardens in late-autumn, where they weave webs of up to a yard in diameter. They are venomous, and a bite from one of them will hurt - a lot. That said, it won’t cause lasting damage unless the victim is allergic.
Despite its name, the King Cobra isn’t actually in the same genus as other cobras, instead belonging to one all of its own.
King Cobras predominantly feed on smaller snakes, as well as birds, rodents and lizards. They can go for several months without eating, and despite their fierce reputation, they’re quite placid, only adopting their distinctive defensive posture when threatened.
This nocturnal primate lives in the tropical woodland that spreads throughout India and Sri Lanka. The ‘slow’ Loris is an omnivore which survives mostly on gum and nectar from plants. They’re capable of inflicting venomous bites, and are the only known primate capable of doing so. Despite this, they’re widely traded as pets, which tends to result in a lack of proper care and nutrition, particularly given the pet’s nocturnal patterns.
House mice find their way into homes just about everywhere in the world, and are among the most common household pests.
They’re able to breed quickly, which allows them to adapt to different climates with ease. The average female mouse can birth a litter every few weeks, which allows them to produce several dozen new mice each year. Mice eat just about everything, but they thrive on breadcrumbs and cereals. Their presence is often indicated by small, rod-shaped droppings.
The genus name of this creature is ‘myocaster’, which in Ancient Greek literally means ‘beaver rat’. That’s a pretty accurate description: it’s a large rodent with massive incisors that are used for chewing through vegetation. The nutria is native to South America, but it’s been introduced to Europe, Africa, Asia and North America. In the UK, a group of the creatures escaped from fur farms in the 1930s, and the species wasn’t entirely eradicated until the 1980s.
The opossum is the largest variety of marsupial in the Americas. By nature, it’s a nomadic creature that’ll wander from area to area in search of food and water. Occasionally, a family of them will burrow beneath an American house (or squat inside an already-existing burrow).
Opossums will feign death or illness when threatened, giving rise to the expression ‘to play possum’. With families of possums being aggressive when cornered, their removal often requires the use of cage traps, and a great deal of caution.
Despite their distinctly Egyptian name, these ants can be found across the world. They thrive in tropical regions, requiring around 18°C in order to breed. That said, they’re able to survive anywhere where heating is consistent, which makes them suited to indoor environments.
Pharaoh ants are just two millimetres long, which allows them easy access to a range of small spaces, where they can contaminate food supplies. As such, they pose a threat to hospitals and catering facilities.
The red-billed quelea holds the accolade of being the most numerous bird species on the planet – there are billions of them flying around in sky-darkeningly gigantic flocks right now.
Birds of this sort are native to Sub-Saharan Africa, where they travel enormous distances and pose a huge threat to cereal crops. As such, they’re despised by African farmers, among whom they’re known as ‘feathered locusts’.
Like mice, rats are found just about everywhere in the world. They are far larger than mice, with adult brown rats in the UK weighing in at around half a kilo.
Rats are notorious disease-carriers, and can transmit salmonella, listeria and hantavirus through their urine and faeces. They’re also capable of causing structural damage to pipe fittings and wiring. As such, they’re among the most feared household pests. They can be controlled by eliminating nesting points and limiting access to household waste.
This small insect looks, as you might imagine, a little like a silver fish. It’s found just about anywhere that offers a humid enough environment, and is often introduced unwittingly in containers.
Silverfish eat just about everything, including soaps, shampoos and glue. Given that they’re nocturnal, it’s often difficult to determine the severity of an infestation until it’s grown to serious proportions.
Young silverfish are born white, and moult over the course of their lives, causing them to gradually turn grey.
Ready for some bad news? Tapeworms aren’t just found inside the home; they’re also found inside the creatures that live inside the home.
Tapeworm eggs are ingested by pets and humans, and they hatch into larvae once they’ve entered the digestive system. Their spread can be controlled through proper sanitation - ensure that food sources are washed thoroughly, and don’t eat undercooked pork, chicken or fish. Adult tapeworms can grow to be more than twenty-five metres long, and can live in the gut for as long as thirty years.
Uinta ground squirrels spread through grasslands and meadows, where they subsist on everything from mushrooms, to grass, to carrion. They breed during spring, bearing litters of between six and eight babies. Ground squirrels act as carriers for fleas – but it’s their burrows that tend to inflict the worst damage to the home and garden.
There are several different species of Vervet monkey. Some have silver-grey skin, others are closer to green-brown. All of them, however, have black faces, hands and feet. They’re native to mountainous woodland regions on Africa’s east coast.
Being dependent on water, they tend to stick to rivers, where they subsist on a mostly vegetarian diet, only occasionally eating eggs, insects, and small rodents. Where their habitat extends into farmland, the monkeys can inflict serious damage on crops.
These extraordinary creatures are native to New Zealand. There are around seventy different species of wētā, with some of them being among the world’s most sizeable insects. In appearance, they resemble spiny-legged grasshoppers. Sadly, the species is in decline thanks to a combination of habitat destruction and predation.
This variety of frog comes from South Africa, but it’s spread across the continent and can even be found in Europe and America.
They’re fully aquatic, and are a popular subject for laboratory experiments thanks to their long lifespan in captivity and their ability to produce effs throughout the year.
At the genetic level, the Xenopus are in fact quite similar to humans, which means they’re useful for simulating human diseases.
This distinctive scorpion (also known as the Euscorpius flavicaudis) is one of just a few to have made a home in the UK, with isolated sites like the Isle of Sheppy in Kent being home to thousands of them.
They’re thought to have arrived there accidentally on ships, more than a century ago by Italian traders. Today they can be found sunning themselves on south-facing walls in Portsmouth and Southampton.
From pincers to tail these scorpions measure just two inches. They’re very timid, and only deploy their mild sting if backed into a corner.
The American noctuid moth produces a very distinctive larvae. It’s covered in black and white stripes, to which it owes its name. They pose a threat to vegetable patches during late summer, but it’s a relatively mild one compared to other garden pests. Zebra caterpillars develop their distinctive markings as they mature. Given that infestations are usually sporadic, control measures are rarely warranted.