What kinds of observations does Never Home Alone @ NCSU want?

For this project, we want to better understand the species living in indoor living spaces on and around the NC State campus. Though we anticipate this will mostly include arthropods like insects, the project is not limited to bugs! For example, where we live in the South, the anole lizard frequently enters homes and buildings, and we would want to know this for the project. So if you see any form of life in your living space, please submit the observation!

How do I submit an observation?

To contribute to Never Home Alone @ NCSU, simply follow the steps outlined in the How to Join page.

What if I don’t know what kind of creature I found?

No problem! This project uses iNaturalist, which crowd-sources wildlife identifications from a pool of thousands of experts, so just submit your best guess and an expert will come along shortly to give a correct ID on iNaturalist. For example, if you found an ant in your living room and understandably aren’t sure how to identify which of the 12,000 ant species in the world it is, you can simply submit your observation as being an “ant” (family Formicidae). Someone on iNaturalist with expertise in ant identification will then be able to suggest a more specific ID, which will be confirmed after multiple experts reach a consensus. Just please be sure to submit the best-quality pictures you can!

Are there any bugs I should be worried about?

While the vast majority of insects and other arthropods in the Raleigh area are harmless, there are some species to be careful of. One of these is the black widow spider, a glossy black spider with a red “hourglass” shape on its underside. These spiders’ venom is medically significant and in certain cases can be deadly.

Pregnant (gravid) adult female black widow showing red hourglass shape on ventral side of abdomen. Captured in Knightdale, NC. Photo by Shenrich91 (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Another dangerous spider in the United States is the brown recluse. While it is possible that these spiders are in Raleigh, it is relatively unlikely.

Other insects to watch out for include the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), the invasive ant species that commonly makes red clay mounds in our area. These ants have a painful sting which some people may be allergic to especially when stung repeatedly by many ants (if, for instance, you step in their nest). However, you are unlikely to encounter these ants in high quantities in your living space. Many other species of ants, as well as their cousins bees and wasps, are also capable of inflicting painful bites and/or stings. As with any wildlife, use common sense and don’t touch or handle any of the creatures you find in your home. Even if you need to move something harmless it is best to use a sheet of paper and a cup to avoid injuring the arthropod.

Why should I participate? Bugs are kind of gross!

Bugs are amazing, and many of them are incredibly clean! In fact, it is human homes that can be gross. Did you know the same bacteria found on your toilet seat are also found on your pillow? Many of the bugs that live in our homes are actually really helpful by picking up our messes, or eating the pests that cause us problems. By participating in this project, you will learn about some of these amazing insects. And you’ll also get to play a role in exploring an ecosystem that is  nearly wholly unknown to science– the human home. In fact, students that participate in this project have a good chance of finding a species that is new to science. So get out there and start looking!

If you’re still not convinced that this project is for you, see our “But…why?” page.

Help, I can’t find any life in my home!

It’s harder than it sounds! The best places to look tend to be along windowsills and baseboards, and under beds. Basically, anywhere that is infrequently vacuumed or is near a window or door is a good place to start.

Can I submit photos of my pet?

All observations of living things are welcome, but we’d like to know when things are
not wild / naturalized. So, if you feel compelled to submit a photo of FluffyMcFluffster the Cat, or SwimmyMcSwimface the goldfish, make sure to check the box next to “Captive / Cultivated” so that we can separate out these observations when we analyze the data.

Can I submit photos of species I found in a classroom or outside?

For this project, we are sticking to species that you find inside your living space.
BUT, if you find something interesting anywhere that you want to share, you can
always submit these to the iNaturalist platform at large, outside of the Never Home
Alone at NCSU project!

I’m having trouble taking photos of arthropods. They are so tiny! What can I do?

The NCSU Library is stocking a limited number of macro lens attachments for smart
phones. These will help you get closer to your subject while keeping them in focus! You can check them out from either Hill Library or Hunt Library. See the macro lenses here.
You might also want to check out Matt Bertone’s  “Guide to Taking Photos of Insects with a Smartphone.”

Can I photograph dead arthropods?

Definitely! It’s actually a lot easier to take photographs of dead bugs since they’re not flying or running away.

I found a bug and photographed it, but I don’t want to leave it in my house. Is that OK?

Most of the bugs you find in your home are harmless and were probably there on purpose (because it’s warm, they found food, etc.), so it’s usually not necessary to relocate your bugs outside after taking their picture. However, if you are uncomfortable with the idea of leaving them in your home or dorm you can take them outside. Using a sheet of paper to scoop them into a cup is often a good strategy.

What is an arthropod?

Good question! Arthropods are the the phylum of animals that includes insects (flies, beetles, ants, etc.), arachnids (spiders, scorpions, ticks, mites), myriapods (centipedes, millipedes), and crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, pill bugs). There are thought to be more than a million species of arthropod in the world. For the purposes of this project, we often just use the word “bug” as a stand-in for Arthropods, since many people aren’t familiar with that word.

How can I get in touch with the organizers of this project?

This project is a collaboration between the NCSU Libraries, the Public Science Cluster, SciStarter, and the Dunn Lab. Specifically, project organizers include: Karen CicconeDebbie Currie, Danica LewisCaren Cooper, Lauren NicholsRob Dunn, Sara FutchMaria Sharova, and Bradley Allf