Let live: wildlife in the home
Following recent media stories about kids accidentally coming in contact with household poisons, Merrilyn Serong a Biologist and Mother, tells us the tales of bugs that in our homes and why it's better - for us and them - that we let them live.
by Merrilyn Serong, Biologist and Mother
A tiny spider lived under the windowsill next to my bed when I was a child. I called it my pet spider. I liked to watch it run about on the wall before I went to sleep at night. A whole menagerie of small creatures lives with us in our homes. Here in Melbourne, many of these animals keep well hidden, but some are easy to find. All are interesting. Watching and thinking about these fascinating creatures is a wonderful way for a child to learn about life in all its amazing forms.
I do wonder how some creatures find their way into our house. More than once we have had a False Garden Mantid Pseudomantis albofimbriata inside. These praying mantises are not small. One was laying eggs in a neatly constructed case on a curtain in the lounge. I took the mantis outside, but there’s still a mark on the curtain where I removed the egg case. We have learnt to look twice at insects that look like large ants, but turn out to be immature praying mantises. They go outside, too, where they are very useful in the garden.
We see two different kinds of cockroach. One is the big black native one with a white racing stripe down each side of its body. They are probably the Common Shining Cockroach Drymaplaneta communis; very useful in the garden, but one took up residence in the house in our printer. Others sometimes run across the floor. They’re quick and hard to catch. The other cockroach species is a smaller exotic brown one, possibly the cosmopolitan German Cockroach Blattella germanica, which is not welcome inside, but the ones in the compost heap don’t worry us.
Australia has numerous ant species, all of which play an important ecological role, but almost the only one we see at home is the exotic Argentine Ant Linepithema humile, another species that has spread world wide. These ants tend to come in before rain. First there will be one or two, then long lines of them, coming and going. Apart from their use in weather forecasting, we don’t like them invading our kitchen, yet even they can be interesting to watch as they meet each other and tirelessly move on. To discourage them, we keep all food well contained.
Little flying creatures are here: moths, flies of various sorts and sizes, mosquitoes, wasps. On warm summer nights beetles and lacewings and others gather around the light on the front veranda. When they find their way inside, most are easy to usher out through a door. Others no doubt fall prey to the indoor spiders.
For a couple of years at least, a huntsman, Holconia montana I think, lived high on the wall in our dining room. Visitors used to eye it with a degree of concern, but we liked it. However, when another eventually joined it, we decided they would be better off outside. One bit me once. It was in the car when I was driving with our young children in the back. I stopped and caught the spider in my handkerchief. When I tried shaking it out on someone’s nature strip it jumped onto the back of my hand and sunk in its fangs. It hurt. I survived. Some things are better not handled directly.
Growing up in a household where there is an interest and respect for the non-human indoor inhabitants gives children an appreciation of the natural world without developing an irrational fear. What a lost opportunity it would be to automatically destroy the animals that share our dwellings. We don’t use poisons in our home. Perish the thought. They would be too harmful to human health and the environment. Some creatures we leave be, others we take outside. The process of removing them gives us a chance to watch them closely. A really successful way to catch them, particularly those you prefer not to handle, is to use a jar with a wide enough opening. Pop the jar over the creature and slip a piece of card across the opening when the little animal is safely inside. With practice you become adept. Tiny ants and the like can be picked up with the end of an artist’s paintbrush and deposited in a container. Before carrying them outside, take a closer look or a photo. If a mosquito or other biting or stinging thing must be destroyed, the most effective and quickest way is to squash it.
A shiny black spider is suspended in a web next to its hole in the frame around a window in my study as I write. I would like to take it outside, but each time I try to catch it in a jar, it nips quickly back into its hole. I can’t find a jar with an opening that is both wide enough to cover the spider and narrow enough to fit on the edge of the window. There’s always a gap for escape. I think I have another pet spider.
"My life-long interest in nature automatically became part of my parenting. When our three children were young, we regularly visited Wilsons Promontory, the Grampians/Gariwerd, Cape Conran and the like in Victoria. When the older two were in primary school, we took them out of school for six weeks and the five of us ventured north through NSW to Queensland on a camping trip, staying in National Parks and country camping grounds. All our children have grown up with a respect for nature.
The relevant parts of my working life include caring for various species of Australian mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians as well as several invertebrate species; conducting research on birds and plants in tall, wet forests; and teaching in practical classes in biological sciences at Monash University Clayton Campus.
My web site, www.timeinthebush.com, includes nature photos I have taken in a number of different places, mostly in Victoria."
*All photos in this article belong to Merrilyn Serong