Texas A and M researchers: chickens and bed bugs?

by nobugsonme on August 20, 2007 · 12 comments

in bed bug research, bed bugs, entomologists

Courtesy of Hopelessnomo, who mentioned this in another thread’s comments, it appears that Texas A and M researchers have an interesting theory about how at least some strains of bed bugs came back (under this theory, I don’t mean “back to the US,” I mean back to humans).

Collaboration between Texas A&M Center for Urban & Structural Entomology and the University of Arkansas Insect Genetics laboratory is revealing important clues concerning the reasons for the current resurgence of bed bugs around the world and here in the United States. We are also cooperating with Virginia Tech University on molecular forensic studies which can assist in the identification of hosts for criminal investigations (see molecular diagnostic gel below). Because most registered pesticides currently labeled for bed bug control continue to have control issues, we are also investigating relationships between resistance and specific populations that appear to have elevated levels of insecticide resistance. Molecular investigations of these types will provide valuable information about the scope and nature of bed bug resurgence and offer possible reasons for this emerging pest problem.

Tha TAMU information then gets even more interesting:

One scenario that appears to have merit concerns geographic epicenters where bed bugs radiate from. In our preliminary investigations we have found significant populations occurring in poultry facilities in Arkansas and Texas, and we suspect that resistant populations of bed bugs have slowly increased in numbers in facilities such as these, and have subsequently been transported from poultry workers to other areas where they have subsequently spread. Population genetic studies of both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA reveal no genetic bottlenecks, yet significant variation with no apparent geographic structure with 19 distinct mtDNA haplotypes from only 50 populations from throughout the United States (see below). For this reason, we believe that populations never truly died out in the United States, but were forced to alternate their hosts. Ongoing research on host identification from blood meals of bed bugs is currently being investigated to support this hypothesis.

All preliminary and theoretical, but nonetheless very interesting. You can read the rest here. And via hopelessnomo, again:

More on the genetics research here and on forensics here.

We are glad that bed bug research in many areas is flourishing. Now if only bed bug research were to become as popular a career for young people as criminal forensics is becoming, we might see more solutions of our “little problem,” much, much faster.

1 James Buggles August 20, 2007 at 2:53 pm

What came first — the chicken or the bed bug? (Sorry, but someone had to say it.)

2 hopelessnomo August 20, 2007 at 2:53 pm

I still can’t wrap my head around the Gil Grissom angle, but what I’m thinking now is poor chickens!

I seem to have read somewhere that is lost to me now that free range chickens suffer more from mite problems. I wonder if it’s the same for bedbugs.

3 lieutenantdan August 20, 2007 at 2:54 pm

If bed bugs exist at poultry facilities then could bed bugs be included in packaging?
Open a package of wings and nymphs find a way to you.

4 Ru August 20, 2007 at 4:49 pm

WOW. What a story! A lot of people think Avian mites can adapt to new hosts. Now this with bedbugs! Well, hopefully, science will figure all this out in time to save us from Avian flu…..

and to think i used to love the birds ;^)

5 hopelessnomo August 20, 2007 at 5:31 pm

Hi Ru, since the idea that avian mites can survive on human hosts is a controversial one, I too hope that some wonderful scientists will put it to rest so that we don’t have to speculate.

6 hopelessnomo August 20, 2007 at 5:51 pm

I’m linking the following cautiously, very cautiously!

In 2000, this (archived) New York Times article discussed the upsurge in live poultry markets in New York City. There were 73 then in all five boroughs, up from 20 four years prior.

I found one reference in one of the personal bedbug blogs from a Vancouver bedbug sufferer who suspected becoming infested after riding commuter buses in an area she described as populated by poultry workers. (I think that speculating about the source of our infestations can be important but is usually futile.)

This is an interesting theory but my guess is that, like all the others, it cannot possibly explain everything.

7 concerned blogger September 3, 2007 at 1:02 am

Clarification: Bed bugs likely evolved from feeding on bats in caves, moved to birds at some point in their evolutionary history. When primative humans began dwelling in caves, it is believed they switched hosts to humans. As man migrated from caves to dwellings, bed bugs likely came along for the trip. When domesticated animals (such as chickens) came into the picture, bed bugs likely were relatively content on humans, but as time passed were likely forced back to birds. Widespread use of DDT contributed to the overall dissapearance of bed bugs; discontinuance of preventative treatments has likely contributed to their resurgence along with global transportation opportunities (airplanes, ships, busses, etc.). Resistance to pesticides is real, but cannot be generalized…some populations are probably equally susceptible as others can be resistant. Bed bugs can be managed, but it has got to be by thorough applications made by professionals in most instances. Consult your land grant institution or local pest control professional about problems in your area and use commen sense–don’t accept used furniture or bedding without thorough inspection and consideration of the potential problems that might await you.

8 nobugsonme September 3, 2007 at 1:18 pm

Hi concerned blogger,

Thanks for commenting! This article quotes directly from others’ theories and research, and does not reflect our opinions or hypotheses.

As far as treatment, you might be interested in reading our FAQs which make very similar recommendations.

9 hopelessnomo December 8, 2007 at 8:43 pm

The Arkansas Democrat Gazzette interviews University of Arkansas entomologist C. Dayton Steelman and James Austin of Texas A&M about the whole chicken thing as I’ve come to think of it. Also here.

And Steelman is speaking at the ESA Annual Meeting.

I note the reluctance to jump to conclusions:

But they made clear that they are not faulting poultry companies for the resurgence of bedbugs.

Sigh: if only others would take similar pains when it comes to the other purported causes of the resurgence.

(Edit: sorry, wrote this comment before I saw Nobugs’ post.)

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