They are among us: two hundred animal species with whom we share a flat | Well-being | ICON


Portrait of an ant in a suit.  In reality, ants are huge animals next to all the organisms that come with us, in our homes and on our faces.
Portrait of an ant in a suit. In reality, ants are huge animals next to all the organisms that come with us, in our homes and on our faces.Evgeniya Smirnova (Getty)

We see how the price of housing, especially in large cities, goes through the roof and many people have to give up. coliving, the kind way and cool of sharing a flat of a lifetime: a hard experience where there is any. Living alone is a privilege, but it is also almost impossible for biological reasons: even if we don’t see them, there may be dozens or hundreds of non-human bugs swarming around, without making themselves visible to our eyes. They are insects, mites, myriapods or crustaceans, and you, perhaps unknowingly, pay them the rent.

In a cute flat without fanfare there can be from 32 to 211 species of animals, and many individuals of each species. Don’t be alarmed – this domestic microfauna is generally not a threat. “But some bugs can be dangerous, such as mosquitoes, ticks or fleas, due to the diseases they can transmit,” explains biochemist and environmentalist David González Jara, who has just published the book A zoo at home. The microfauna we live with (Editorial Platform), where he describes the wild jungle that we have inside the house.

Other critters are beneficial, for example, certain house spiders that eat mosquitoes. “In my house, after arguing a bit with my wife, we respect them: we have them around the corners and they hunt mosquitoes,” says González. Going to the field of microorganisms we also find advantages: two kilos of our body weight are made up of bacteria, beings that we usually consider negative for our existence, as “microbes”, but which are essential for certain processes in our body, such as digestion. In part, we too are bugs. Some more than others.

The bugs prefer our hands

Depending on the characteristics of our home, we will have different types of fauna: it is not the same to live in the gentrified city as it is in empty Spain, it is not the same a basement than an attic, it is not the same to have two windows as ten, having a pet is not the same as not having one. “But regardless of where we are, nature is going to creep in,” says González. “It is impossible for us to disassociate ourselves from it.” Some places in the house are also more prone to life. Moths can live among clothes or carpets. On the heads are the resistant lice; in some crotches, crabs. Bed bugs can hide in sofas or beds. In the refrigerator we can find abandoned food in poor condition, where mold thrives, which are fungi that float in the air in the form of spores. Everything is full of life.

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An exhibition held in 2018 at the National Museum of Natural Sciences, entitled Roommates, domestic biodiversity I delved into the stories about these little cohabitants of the natural world. There it was explained which were, according to the studies, the places in the home with the highest number of species: the doorknob on the front door, the floor and the light switch in the bathroom, the kitchen counter, our hands or our noses. . Also the soles of our shoes, where up to 400,000 colonies of bacteria live. The mysterious fluff that appears in some corners, near the baseboards, so ethereal, is made up of hairs, dust, skin debris, mites, bacteria or spores, all together and mixed up.

“In our home there are many different ecosystems,” explains González. “These critters tend to prefer dark, humid and warm places, the bathroom, the attics, the pantry …”. And many of these beings prefer to go out at night, like partiers, when no one sees them. Have you ever caught a silverfish fleeing through the bathroom tiles when going to a midnight urination? “Are the lepismasThey like humidity and hate light, the only problem they cause is that they can eat the paper from the books and the walls ”, says the scientist. If there are problems with them, just let another bug grow, the Scutigera coleoptrata, a house centipede that is a fantastic predator of lepismas. All the natural drama of predation takes place at night, between the joints of the tiles in our shower. “The most surprising thing about this microfauna is its ability to adapt: ​​if there is food, it is good for them, if not also, they adapt to humidity, to temperatures …”, says the scientist. Not surprisingly, they have been on the face of the planet much longer than we have and will possibly survive the great catastrophes that we cause in the form of climate change or nuclear winter.

The most disturbing are some tenants who live on our own face. The Demodex folliculorum and the Demodex brevis, cousin mites of spiders that get comfortable inside the pores of our skin and come out at night to make friends on our cheeks; sometimes they have sex right under our noses, literally. They are microscopic, but are shaped like a Lovecraftian monster, with little hairy cuddles and the appearance of a worm. “It is possible that the disappearance of these mites from the face can cause imbalances in the immune system,” says the author. In the case of microorganisms, we know that our immune system is modulated by interacting with them. In fact, too much hygiene, too much absence of microscopic life around, can cause us to have a weak immune system, so it is advisable to let young children enguarren a little to strengthen it.

Why do we have a dislike for bugs? There are several hypotheses. One has to do with the central place that we believe we occupy within nature: everything that we consider useless or alien we consider annoying or threatening, such as bugs. In terms of arachnids, González explains, there are studies that indicate that there may be evolutionary reasons, just as in the case of snakes: these are atavistic fears from our ancestors, who could have had these animals as enemies. “In some experiments, young children are taught spider patterns and secrete cortisone and dilate their pupils, they were innately alert”, reveals the expert.

The concept we have about bugs is usually bad, related to pests and diseases, but we have to understand that in general it is not like that and that we live closely with them, even without realizing it. Humans, in our biological pride, locked in our buildings, we tend to forget our deep connection with the rest of life on the planet. “We want to disassociate ourselves from nature, but that is ridiculous,” concludes González. “Because we are nature.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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