Editor’s note: the following is the first in a three-part series by a bed bug professional, whose identity is known to Nobugsonme (and will not be disclosed!), writing under a pseudonym. We hope you will converse with him though the comments below, but he can also be reached at WinstonOBuggy at bedbugger.com.
dispatches from the front
to: those in the trenches
An intro and some background you probably did not want to know.
By Winston O. Buggy
Greetings and good day. To date I have been fortunate in that my interactions with
bed bugs unlike many of you, has not been as a victim but rather as a predator. My involvement with them has been on an entomological /urban pest management and educational level.
Thinking back, my initial encounter with Cimex was a safe one via insect flash cards that I had as a kid (figures). My first live encounter with them was early in my career — probably around 1970 — in a single apartment. But by the time I got to study them at SUNY Farmingdale there were only pinned specimens and textbook photos. And that was it because as far as anyone in the US was concerned (except for Harold Harlan) up to around 1998 they were gone, out of here, history. But if there is one thing that we learn from history, it is that history repeats itself and bed bugs returned. It started slowly with an apartment here and an ID there. One of the early cases that was quite extensive was in a luxury building located on the upper east side. Then the western Queens area started to develop as a hot spot.
In late 1999 and again in 2000 I joined with an associate affiliated with Cornell University to conduct the first bed bug surveys in the NY area in over forty years. The results were not conclusive but they did indicate a steady rise in bed bugs, along with certain other factors such as that they were not economically specific but that hot spots did seem to center around areas with dense populations, especially those with large immigrating populations primarily from non oriental Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In addition early activity indicated a problem with used or reconditioned mattress and gave some indication of bed bugs ability for movement within buildings.
As bed bugs started their crawl into the new millennium, they were eclipsed at first by West Nile Virus and then by the Planes of September 11th, as our country was attacked. But
one thing can be said about bed bugs is that they are tenacious and so by the time we looked at them again, the problem was showing up across the City, in dorms, motels and hotels across the State and regional outbreaks were being reported across the country and planet especially in traveled areas. In response, pest control operators reached into their arsenal and especially in states like New York found them depleted by years of overly zealous yet organizationally savvy anti pesticide legislation and regulation. In addition, not having been a pest for awhile, folks were not up to snuff on the biology or survivability of the enemy and many younger applicators were more familiar with insecticide bait applications rather then the required search and destroy tactics of true crack and crevice warfare.
In order to continue at this juncture, a brief understanding of some basics is required. The bed bug is basically a shy, nocturnal insect who has a great ability to hide because of its body structure and shape and who feeds only on blood. The bed bugs’ vampireish habit is not optional and a well-meaning or remorseful bug cannot go Vegan, but rather is stuck as an ectoparasite because of its piercing-sucking mouthparts, not to mention its need for a protein blood meal prior to molting. As unwelcome as this biological fact may be, this mouthpart also serves to protect the little critters from such materials as boric acid. When used as an insecticide, it is an effective, reduced toxicity, slow acting insecticide which can be used against a variety of pests, however, to be truly effective it must be ingested. Let’s use the roach as an example, the boric acid is lightly dusted into cracks and wall voids then along comes a roach who after trekking through grooms itself, ingests the boric acid and dies. The bed bugs’ piercing sucking mouthparts, on the other hand, preclude this ingestion. The same is true with baits which are employed to control many other household pests.
So with baiting technology and other common products out of the arsenal, what do we have left? Years ago there were many different types of pesticide sprays such as chlorinated hydrocarbons, organochlorines (such as DDT), carbamates, botanicals, organophosphates, pyrethrins and pyrethroids along with others. A rotational use of these materials combated resistance which can result in applications being less than effective in controlling pests.
For a combination of good, bad and sometimes misguided non-scientific reasons, most of these materials have disappeared. As a result, the residual materials available are for the most part from a single group, pyrethroids. It is not to say that these materials flat out don’t work but their effectiveness varies dependant on the particular strain of bed bug, rate, formulation and method of application and of course what is considered to be a satisfactory (TTD) time to death. If you treat a female bed bug and it takes her four days to die but in the interim lays ten eggs, is the control a success? If you use a material which kills on contact but has no residual effect on any bed bugs not directly contacted or on the eggs, is it satisfactory?
Further compounding issues is that in some states if the site you want to treat, say a storage space, is on the label but the pest in this case a bed bug, is not, you (a trained professional) are permitted to treat for the pest under FIFRA 2ee guidelines but in one or two states you can not; New York is such a state. In fact as a result of recent legislation passed by the NY City Council with the adoption of Local Law 37, even pyrethrins have been banned in city owned buildings. Perhaps someone should check the bed bugs campaign contributions. Anyway, I digress, but you must see the point; this is not a simple “remove the food source” or “treat and forget” type pest. Research is needed and it needs to be funded. Currently it is being done by a handful of folks at places like Harvard, U. of Kentucky, Virginia Tech and New York’s Cornell University through the School of Veterinary Medicine as well as the Community IPM Program but it is not enough.
Now, you may wonder why the vet school, well, because bed bugs love chickens and it is quite a problem in chicken farming not to mention live poultry houses which may be found in many an inner city. Food not just for grilling but for thought as well.
Stay tuned for more insights and for what’s on the control horizon.