Mutant! Unkillable! Fleas?!? The Scotsman’s bed bug photo FAIL

by nobugsonme on April 15, 2012 · 8 comments

in bed bugs

In a new article, “New mutant bed bugs twice as hard to kill,”  the laments that

Many people cannot identify bed bugs… and often cannot recognize them until it’s too late.

Unfortunately, this claim is made directly under an enormous illustration of a flea!

I’m including a photo below because I am sure that it won’t be long before the Scotsman responds to those of us who wrote in to complain, by replacing this silly illustration.


The Scotsman is not alone in its confusion about what bed bugs look like.  See examples of other photo errors in the news media here.  I strongly believe that the media plays a role in helping people learn what bed bugs look like, by publishing accurate photos of bed bugs.

Photo error aside, the article focuses on the problem of pesticide resistance.  While it is a genuine concern, the article may hit too much of an alarmist note for the general public.

For example, University of Sheffield entomology Professor Michael Siva-Jothy is quoted as saying,

“Bed bugs are becoming resistant to the most commonly used insecticides, called pyrethroids. If you go out to infested houses you will find these bugs are very resistant to standard chemicals.

“What we are seeing here is evolution in action; genetic changes in bed bugs produce resistance to insecticides and in many cases patterns of pesticide use by home owners and pest control companies is making the situation worse.

“There is a big problem with home owners and pest controllers using increasing doses of the same pesticide to kill bed bugs. In the long term this will just make them more resistant. We don’t want to end up with a situation where bed bugs become resistant to all our available treatments.”

[Emphasis added.]

That last statement, while true and reasonable, placed in the context of this news story might make readers think,

“Oh no!  Mutant bed bugs!  Cannot be killed by any available treatments!”

The truth is that bed bugs cannot become resistant to certain types of treatment such as quickly and thoroughly heating the structure or enclosing the bed bugs in a closed space with a toxic gas like Vikane (sulfuryl fluoride).  These treatments must be done professionally by experts, of course.

Dry vapor steam, another form of heat treatment, can be applied by experts and consumers alike, and while it’s just a contact killer, it can be a remarkably effective one if used properly and persistently.  (See our FAQ about killing bed bugs with steam.)

Pesticide resistance is a very real concern.  However, I’ve also noticed that articles like this tend to make people who don’t know a lot about bed bugs panic.  Many people misinterpret the information, thinking it suggests pesticides in use right now don’t work at all.

We’ve heard repeatedly from consumers in our forums who have heard of pesticide resistance and think that there’s no point getting bed bug treatment at all since “pesticides don’t work anyway.”

Not true! 

Yes, it’s getting harder to kill bed bugs, but there are tools that work, and people who are experienced with killing them can treat your bed bug problem by using these tools, including a variety of pesticides which still do work.

Since we don’t get to mention it often enough, we’re very grateful for the fine work being done by researchers like Michael Siva-Jothy and Richard Naylor (also of the University of Sheffield), among many others.


Update (4/16):

As of the wee hours on Monday, 24 hours later, the flea image has been removed from the Scotsman article, but not yet replaced with anything.


1 CarpathianPeasant April 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Hooray! A new posting on 🙂

2 nobugsonme April 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Thanks for your support, Carpathian Peasant!

I’ve had some back trouble which makes it hard to blog as much as I’d like, but I hope to be more active from now on.

3 nobugsonme April 16, 2012 at 1:54 am

See update above: the flea photo is now gone. No bed bugs yet.

4 loubugs April 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm

There are plenty of good bed bug pictures in the U.K. to pick from.

5 nobugsonme April 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Yes, indeed, Lou! And if that fails, they can ask someone on our side of the pond.

6 sam bryks April 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I have been hearing the story of failure of control due to resistance now for years. Yes, we know that bed bugs have developed resistance to pyrethroids….. Before bed bugs, it was cockroaches.
Cornwell who wrote the two classic monographs on cockroaches in the late 60’s made it very clear that quality of treatment is the most common reason for failure of control, not resistance.
Treating in a home is quite different than the situation in the agricultural sector in which cultural methods are so much more difficult to implement ande are less effective in the overall, although IPM is still by far the best approach. The resistance of the Colorado potato beetle really exemplifies this. In this context of quality of treatment, we mean quality of preparation and non-chemical methods such as vac and steam and the way a firm approaches the entire treatment process.
We all know how very difficult it can be to achieve control with so many variables, but early detection and a meticulous responsible treatment can achieve elimination.
We need to put more emphasis on this, than bemoaning resistance. All the other elements have also been promoted, changing products, using crack and crevice instead of primitive “soak the place” fan spraying. I have even heard of firms fan spraying wall/ceiling junction.. unbelievable!!!
I have also seen errors in ID on pmp sites.. tick identified as bed bug, and stink bug illustrations identified as bed bugs… One can only wonder about the level of education in some firms, and you can imagine junk services being done by the same firms.

7 loubugs April 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm
Also shiny spider beetle and bed bugs often have people confused, but shouldn’t.

And not to leave out the plant community, see this image
People sometimes compare bed bugs and apple seeds (pips), but you can see that they don’t look alike. I suppose we are lucky that the publication used a flea and not the apple seed for their story.

8 nobugsonme April 17, 2012 at 10:49 am

@Lou — you’re right, a flea is better than an apple seed. 😉

We previously shared your ingenious apple seed/bed bug comparison photo.

I’ve now added a new post with the gibbium/cimex comparison, as well as an older gibbium photo we’ve used before.

Thanks for sharing these amazing images with us.

@Sam – yes, the article in the Scotsman does in fact nod to the fact that consumer overapplications and misapplications of pesticides are contributing to the resistance problem. (Though I suspect that, given the alarmist tone of the article, the message might not get through very clearly.) This needs to be more widely known.

We have also seen many PMPs (and perhaps even more k9 services) with incorrect images. I keep a collection of these. I usually email the company to warn them and am shocked by how often they don’t seem to care.

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