Hidden Housemates: The intricate ecology of a Student House

2017 April 28

So here we enter into the thriving habitat of the University Student. An ecosystem delicately balanced on every unwashed plate, every renegade sausage round the back of the cooker. While it may just look like a tip to you and me, it’s supporting an extensive web of organisms that have adapted to live in this unfastidious habitat.
Come, let us look deeper into this unique ecology, and appreciate it in all its rancid glory.


Rattus Norvegicuspicture-121

Aka: common brown rat

Telltale signs: take another look at those brown things on the floor that you came to accept as chocolate sprinkles.

In some parts of India eating food that has been touched by rats is considered a blessing… if only the same was true in England. They are perhaps the most notorious scavenger, and have unprecedented bad press. It’s really not their fault; you leave food out then they’re going to find their way into your kitchen. Simple logistics really: no food, no rats. But some people still struggle with this.

Ephestia kuehniella

Aka: Mill/Flour Moth

Telltale signs: Your bran flakes seem to have grown wings and circle the kitchen

No, you’re not being attacked by your cereal, flour moths have taken up residency in your cupboard. The flour moth enjoys eating cereal, pasta and other dry stuff lying about. They are a good way of deterring thieving housemates, who will undoubtedly be put off by moths-to-the-face when they open your cupboard. No home should be without them.

Living Room

Felis Catuspicture-111

Aka: Cat

Telltale signs: your favourite jumper has acquired a fashionable ‘mohair’ effect.

Trouble with the Rattus Norvegicus? Time to employ some help. Due to the fickle nature of the cat I find that stealing thy neighbour’s is surprisingly easy. Bribe it with little bits of tuna and you can win it over in a matter of days. The little girl next door may be pining over her Moggy, but at least you’ll be rat-free.

Anthrenus verbasci

Aka: Carpet Beetle

Telltale signs: You’re not tripping- the carpet IS moving

The larvae of the carpet beetle can live for years feeding off of dirty carpets and material. Normally these beetles will prefer to settle in bird’s nests, but if a window is left open, they are often inclined to upgrade to your living room. So, whilst it may seem just magical that a pretty house-martin has chosen your eave to live in, you are advised to get that damn bird and its carpet-beetle-infested nest as far away from your house as possible.


Alternaria, cladosporium, botrytis, mouldius cupius, etc.picture-15

Aka: Mould

Telltale signs: Your cup of tea has grown a furry blanket to keep warm

As mould spores drift around your house they are looking for organic matter, moisture and warmth. The cups left on your windowsill will provide a heavenly dwelling, and once settled they will set about creating a colony; like a little mould village. With mould parties and a little mould mayor. It almost seems a shame to throw it out.

Cimex Lectularius

Aka: Bedbug

Telltale signs: Look out for spots of blood on the sheets

Like a tiny vampire, but much less gothic. The bedbug will come out of the woodwork at night to suck the blood of its host. Bedbugs have notoriously become immune to most pesticides, which is never good. To get rid of these guys you will have to call in someone like the Ghostbusters- or their equivalent in pest control terms.


Meles melespicture-131

Aka: Badger

Telltale signs: Badger prints in your bath

Urban Badgers have been known to hide in bathrooms, living off of toilet water and bars of soap. Although they can be sizeable creatures (up to 3½ foot long) badgers are supreme hiders. Their preference is round the back of the bath, failing that they can disguise themselves as a towel. If you do discover a badger in your bathroom, for god’s sake do not poke it with a stick. They hate this. Leave him well alone and you can both live in peace.

Tegenaria domesticapicture-141

Aka: common house spider

Telltale signs: A spider

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being watched on the toilet/in the shower? It’s most likely down to the eight eyes of that pervy spider hanging from the corner of the bathroom. They have been reported to live as long as seven years, and will spend this entire life span hanging discerningly from your ceiling.

So when that old sandwich does eventually disappear, it’s doubtful that it’s your housemates being unseasonably house-proud.  The more likely solution is that wildlife is setting into your home. Some may try to excuse their animal ridden home under ‘Dr.Doolittle’ pretences, others may see this as the kick-start they need to finally start picking their shit up. But even if you are a neat freak, your home can play host to a range of unavoidable microscopic organisms. So whether you like it or not, the things living in your house will always amount to more than those listed on your tenancy agreement. Maybe it’s time we learnt to accept this, maybe even embrace it, and learn to appreciate a mouldy teacup for the intricate micro-organism that it is.

Words & Illustrations: Mike Gent