Kells is at least one of the entomologists working on making an effective bed bug trap.
Alas, “we’re quite a distance off” from a monitoring trap, Kells said.
Eventually, it will be a wonderful invention.
It was interesting to hear how Kells got into bed bug research:
Kells first encountered a bedbug in about 2000 while working in the pest-control industry in Canada.
He dipped it into insecticide. The beast lived for four days and laid eggs.
“At that point, I knew we were in trouble,” he said.
Kells decided to study the insects further in an academic setting. He came to the University of Minnesota 3 1/2 years ago and set up a lab devoted to bedbug research.
About 2,000 bedbugs live there, housed in jars, where they crawl around pieces of filter paper that vibrate and twitch with their constant motion.
They eat Red Cross-donated human blood that’s beyond the expiration date, heated to body temperature.
Kells built a special platform he calls a bedbug arena, where he can observe the behavior of individuals when exposed to stimuli like heat. Part of his research is funded by the Propane Education Research Council, which wants to know whether propane-heaters can be used to kill the insects.
Another set of experiments involves attaching bedbug antennae to tiny electrical probes to see what kind of chemical compounds the antennae are tuned to receive. This might help develop the lure — maybe the carbon dioxide that sleeping humans exhale or the fatty acids on our skin — for a bedbug monitoring trap.
I am trying to envision the little tiny electrodes on the little tiny antennae. I also was fascinated by the bed bugs eating expired Red Cross blood, since all the other times we’ve read about researchers feeding their own bed bug colonies (as Lou Sorkin does) or having their grad students do it. I suppose it would be difficult to support 2,000 bed bugs.
The article also talks about the differences between captive bed bug colonies, and “wild” bed bugs, and it cites Harold Harlan, former Army entomologist (and author of the Armed Forces bed bug guide), as the source of Kells’ colony:
Bedbugs are a lot more resistant to poisons than they used to be. It takes 1,200 times the amount of insecticide to kill recently captured bedbugs than it takes to kill individuals from bedbug colonies that have been in captivity for more than 30 years, Kells said.
That captive colony was maintained by Harlan, who collected about 600 individuals from a barracks at Fort Dix, N.J., in the early 1970s. They were a novelty at the time, Harlan said. Over the years, he kept the colony alive in jars, letting it grow into the thousands, by allowing the bugs to feed on his legs.
“I’ve had them escape a few times in my house,” he said.
He had to leave the colony untended for a year when he was deployed in Vietnam and couldn’t find anyone willing to be a food source. When he came home, enough had survived to rebuild the population. Now his pets have become a resource for researchers.
I have a hunch this is where we got the information that bed bugs could survive, unfed, for a year. (We still aren’t sure where the “18 months” rule came from.)
Thanks to all the bed bug researchers, and universities, foundations and private companies that fund their work.
And thanks to the Pioneer Press for an informative article!