Insects and their kith are essential to life on earth – but that doesn’t mean we want to share our houses with them. Here’s a closer look at some of our unwanted house guests and how to politely usher them out.

June 14, 2024 | | Environment

Creepy. Crawly. To most of us, bugs – those pesky critters found scuttling, scampering, flitting, flying and infesting our homes – are a nuisance, and sometimes an outright nightmare.

“Squash ’em!” I say. This is my immutable, sole-of-the-shoe or rolled-up magazine (but not this magazine!) death sentence for any insect home invader. No negotiation. No rehabilitation. Flattened!
My rationale is this: I inhabit my house; they inhabit everywhere else on the planet! On my turf, they die. Outdoors, they are swatted away with an indulgent frown. This seems fair, as I am outnumbered by bugs 10 quintillion (yes, “10” plus 18 zeroes) to one.

brown house moth ontario
The brown house moth is a species of indoor moth commonly found throughout Ontario. Illustrations by Anthony Jenkins.

Some people however – entomologists (and amateur enthusiasts) – actually like and are fascinated by these little six- and eight-legged (or more) creatures increasingly found sharing the sweater drawers, windowsills and under-sink and basement nooks and crannies of our homes.

A quick note about our use of the word bug. In everyday speech, bug refers to all the creepy-crawlies that inhabit the planet along with us humans – and that’s how the word is used in this piece. But many entomologists reserve the word bug for “true bugs,” a specific taxonomic category that includes, for example, insects such as stink bugs but not cluster flies. And then it gets complicated – because the common name of some insects that are not true bugs includes the word bug (e.g., ladybug).

asian ladybug
Left, the invasive Asian lady beetle has more spots than our indigenous two-spotted ladybugs (right).

Kim van Oosterom, a local bug fancier who also happens to be the art director of this magazine, sees things a little differently from me. Wholesale bug genocide by spray, zapper, lethal trap or satisfying stomp-and-squish are not options she entertains. She can’t count to a quintillion.

Eight years ago, a move from Toronto to a property on six “re-wilding” (letting lawns revert to wild grasses and flowers) acres in Mulmur brought her much closer to nature. “I’m a nature lover,” she says. “We should appreciate nature all the time. Bugs are a part of that – maybe a more challenging part. If we were to stop and look around more, I think we would derive more pleasure from things. “My interest spans everything I come across, not just bugs, but I love bugs. I see something and I want to know what it is. The more you know about insects and what their behaviour is, the easier it is to live with them.”

silverfish ontario
Silverfish are deterred by cleanliness, so mop, vacuum, wipe down, dehumidify the basement, and throw out piles of three-year-old newspapers.

While Kim may recognize my natural reaction, shared by many, to crush nature’s rich assortment of creepy-crawlies when they’re found inside our homes, she says, “Squishing them is not my natural reaction.”

She adds, “It’s not that I’m morally against it, just I find squishing something physically repulsive, and unnecessary. Bugs are generally not interested in us at all, and those that are and that can be harmful, such as mosquitoes and ticks, I’m okay with squishing. Stinging and biting us is usually just self-defence for bugs. Learning to live with bugs is totally the better route. Healthier for everybody.”

marmorated stink bug
The brown marmorated stink bug, also invasive, was first detected in Ontario in 2010.

Kim is an avid participant in iNaturalist, a public, worldwide, citizen-science database of everything in the natural world from forests to fowl to fungi to farm animals. “My section, my database of uploads, is mostly bugs, but that is because most things are bugs.” That quintillion thing again…

Her attitudes are admirable, but when enjoying a beer in a deck chair after a draining day of art directing, what if she should be interrupted by a bug doing the backstroke in her mug? “I’d take my glasses off, stick my face three inches from it and try to determine what kind it was. If I could, I’d get a good picture of it, then I’d let it dry off and fly away.”

Many people’s “ick” response to insects is understandable, even to Kim, particularly when we encounter bugs in our homes. “Nobody wants bugs in the house, especially if there are a lot of them,” she acknowledges. Faced with an infestation, she favours enlightened catch-and-release (maybe after a photo session?) whenever possible.

ontario crickets
Crickets are omnivorous, eating anything from food scraps, to insect eggs, aphids, fruit, fungi, and woollens. 

Of “exterminators,” Kim has no personal experience, though she admits to feeling a negative “knee-jerk resistance” to the idea, which she acknowledges may not be fair.

It is difficult not to feel a positive knee-jerk reaction toward the personality and professionalism of John Firth, operations manager with Environmental Pest Control. He is a “structural pest control technician” who has been hands-on in homes and commercial buildings throughout Headwaters for more than 25 years.

John doesn’t exterminate. “That was a term used quite a long time ago,” he says. “Integrated pest management is more than just spraying. It is trying to find solutions that don’t revolve around poisons.
“Pest control had a bad rap. Insecticides were being used that were toxic and not conducive to being around people and pets. What we do today is a lot of monitoring, mechanical traps and tools to gain control versus just spraying insecticide in people’s environments. None of that exists anymore.”

cluster flies
Feeding on nectar rather than filth, the cluster fly is a nuisance rather than a threat to people.

He adds, “We find solutions that will not affect the surrounding environment. We ensure that what we use is not going to affect non-target insects like honeybees. We are not going to get rid of everything, just get rid of a problem so people can enjoy their home.”

In John’s career “battle against bugs,” does it ever get personal? Does it ever feel like it is him versus them, with a winner and losers, and victory marked by a hearty “Yeah!” and a satisfied fist pump in a dark corner of an insect-free basement or attic?

“For sure. Sometimes it does get personal,” he admits. “You have problems to solve. If you don’t have a solution right away, you have to figure out what is going on. It can be tricky. You have to outsmart them. As a pest control professional, you want to use a variety of different things – pheromone traps, baits, microbials, insecticides, not the same thing over and over. It does get personal over the years, sure.”

house spiders ontario
The common house spider, which is not an insect but an eight-legged arachnid, is most happy indoors, where it remains warm and safe from natural predators.

Unconditional, unequivocal, absolute victory over insects in a home is “unrealistic, depending on the bug,” John notes. “It is something we strive for. It takes time. We have to explain that a few ants here and there are what we call ‘an acceptable threshold level.’ If there are hordes, we can definitely help.”

Help, most assuredly, better than Googled home remedies using stuff found in the fridge, under the sink or in a spice rack. “Those can deter, but not resolve a long-term problem. Home remedies or store-bought pest products may end up being more toxic than anything we are going to use.”

earwigs ontario
Despite the name, earwigs do not actually wish to crawl into your ear, but are attracted to damp environments like dripping pipes and mulch.

We unenlightened, brutish types squash any bug we catch invading our homes. Green pros manage insect incursions in a targeted, environmentally conscious manner. Bug aficionados love, understand and coax the little critters back outdoors.

Wherever you fall on this spectrum of indoor pest control, herein is a small sampling of what you might find yourself up against.

More Info

Want more details about your most commonly found unwanted house guests? Read on below.


Entomologists, when not using Latin, can apparently be an unimaginative lot when naming insects. The brown house moth is a species of indoor moth. It is brown and nondescript tan. Very common in southern Ontario, these small creatures lay eggs in pantries and around food sources, particularly in humid environments. Their tiny, clear larvae voraciously devour natural fibre garments and home furnishings, even book bindings. They leave discolouring “frass” (bug poop). Adult house moths choose scuttling over inelegant, jerky flight.

If you are unwilling to convert to an entirely polyester wardrobe, wrap off-season furs and woollens in polyethylene bags and store them in a cool environment. Turn your porch light off in summer, or use an amber bulb, and ensure screens on doors and windows are intact and cupboard doors and drawers fit tightly.


These particular bugs, an invasive species from Asia first detected in Ontario in 2010, belong to a family of many, many similar-looking bugs (thousands worldwide), only some of which stink, i.e., emit a foul odour when frightened or crushed. Spined soldier bugs, rough stink bugs and dusky stink bugs are kin.

But other look-alikes, such as assassin bugs, aren’t even in the same family and are best distinguished from stink bugs by lifestyle. Kissing bugs dine on animal blood. Wheel bugs prefer plant juices. Western conifer seed bugs and boxelder bugs like plant seeds. To differentiate some of these bugs from a brown marmorated stink bug, you may need very good eyesight or an entomologist’s cheat sheet. Many species in both families have the same biggish, medallion-shaped body, spindly legs and narrow head. And in addition to being hard to identify accurately, brown marmorated stink bugs damage fruit, vegetable and berry crops.


Classier (they feed on nectars, not filth) than common house flies, their smaller, greyer cousins, alongside whom they seem sluggish by comparison, cluster flies like the light and heat of a south-facing window. They cluster there for warmth after overwintering in hibernation. A nuisance rather than a threat to people, they don’t spread disease or do damage and, having only nectar-sucking mouths, they don’t bite like deer flies or horse flies.

They can live longer than a year and are clever enough to return to their lodgings in your home via the same cracks in foundations and window frames, torn screens, loose weather stripping and open vents. Defend your home accordingly.


The living definition of creepy and crawly, silverfish are found worldwide and have been for more than 400 million years. Small, primitive, silvery-scaled, wingless insects, silverfish scurry for darkness with a rapid fish-like wiggle when a light goes on. They are nocturnal, liking things damp and dark – think under sinks, in drains or along basement foundations. Deemed a mere nuisance, they don’t bite, sting or transmit disease, but their poop can contaminate foodstuffs.

Silverfish dine on starches – cardboard, newspapers, insulation, cereals, flour, adhesives, dandruff (!) – and can survive a year of their estimated three- to six-year lifespan on water alone. They are beneficial in their place and that place is outdoors, where they are excellent compost creators.

They are deterred by cleanliness. Mop, vacuum, wipe down, dehumidify the basement, throw out piles of three-year-old newspapers, eat your pizza and dispose of the box. They like both.


Crickets are not grasshoppers. They can be distinguished from grasshoppers as they are smaller, nocturnal, usually brown (not green) and have longer antennae. They can jump farther and males “chirp” (“singing” to attract females, repel males, and as postcoital boasting) by rubbing their forewings together as opposed to rubbing their hind legs against their forewings as grasshoppers do. Crickets are omnivorous, eating anything from food scraps, to insect eggs, aphids, fruit, fungi, and woollens. Outdoors, they in turn become food for frogs, bats, birds, spiders, snakes, mice, rats and other, bigger, crickets. In Southeast Asia, they are a diner’s delicacy when deep-fried and are sometimes kept as caged pets for their chirping song.


Medieval peasants started the pervasive myth that earwigs are wont to crawl into a sleeping human’s ear and lay eggs in their brain. Medieval peasants were wrong. Unfolded, an earwig’s forewings – it has two sets, fore and aft – do slightly resemble a human ear. Despite their abundance of wings, earwigs don’t fly much, or well.

Medieval peasants didn’t know about using amber porch lights to avoid attracting these nocturnal insects, or how to fix dripping taps, pipes and air conditioners, or about keeping a 12-inch dry zone (no mulch or shrubbery close to a home’s foundations) to deny earwigs, centipedes, silverfish, etc. the damp environment that attracts them.


Lady beetles, also called ladybugs, are considered symbols of good luck in many cultures. The Asian variety, alternatively prefixed by “oriental,” “harlequin,” “Japanese” or “pumpkin,” has a body colour ranging from yellow though amber to reddish-orange. And it is larger and spottier (6–20 black spots) than our indigenous two-spotted ladybugs. The Asian beetles also eat our domestic ladybugs, whose populations are declining.

Proliferating worldwide, the voracious Asian lady beetle was introduced to North America in 1916 to combat aphid infestations on soybean, alfalfa and rose crops. Oops! Invasive!

Asian lady beetles can live a year or more, eat other beneficial insects and after wintering indoors, their corpses can festoon spring window ledges like confetti. They can be denied entry to homes by the aforementioned attention to screens, cracks, gaps and vents. Alive or dead, they are best dealt with indoors by vacuuming and disposing of the results in a sealed plastic bag.


A new word for your vocabulary: synanthrope. A synanthrope is an animal that lives near, or with, humans and benefits from the environment created by people. The common house spider, which is not an insect but an eight-legged arachnid, is a synanthrope that is most happy indoors, where it remains warm and safe from natural predators such as birds and omnivorous insects. It poses little danger to humans, biting with mild venom only in self-defence, and is more likely to play dead. It can also help us humans, by spinning its webs to trap and devour insects such as fleas, ants, moths, centipedes and cockroaches in low human traffic areas such as basements and attics. So brush the cobwebs from your face, and say, “Thank you!”

About the Author More by Anthony Jenkins

Anthony Jenkins is a freelance writer and illustrator who lives in Brockville.

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