Dispatches from the battlefield, to those in the trenches

by Winston O. Buggy on May 10, 2007 · 9 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs

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.

1 jessinchicago May 10, 2007 at 2:43 pm

I really appreciate this insight. We always hear war stories from those on our side of the fence, but we rarely get an opportunity to hear such a detailed and informative account from the perspective of a professional. Thanks, Winston O. Buggy, for taking the time to share this with us. I’m looking forward to the next installment.


2 James Buggles May 10, 2007 at 4:19 pm

Talk about the law of unintended consequences. I hope you’ll cover detection methods and the tools needed (10x loupe, 20x loupe?) as the Web contains a lot of conflicting material. Thank you.

3 willow-the-wisp May 10, 2007 at 5:41 pm

It is shocking to me to hear that pyrethrin is banned in NY–no wonder NYC is such a hot spot for bed bugs–thanks W.O.B. I do recall the producet I purchased was banned in a few states.

4 willow-the-wisp May 11, 2007 at 2:28 am

Informative yet confusing literature: It goes to show that even simplified scientific writing can become as misleading or as confused as instruction kits which claim “even a child of 5 could understand.” We really have to put two and two together (and hopefully arrive at a figure close to 4.) But I find this especially so in these types of early statistics and “advice type articles”. On the one hand I don’t want to read too much into what’s not there and on the other—it’s not there for some reason or another.

For instance the topic of “the existence of Dormancy” is now very relevant in the forums:

In one of the above linked articles it said the life span is six months but then I also read a bed-bed bug can survive for up to a year (no quotes).
So, are we talking about misinformation or is “Dormancy thing” somehow figuring into the confusing details of life span? (See here is where I wish they’d insert things like … other factors figure into life span such as , bla bla bla … Or I’m left with more questions: were these authors talking about the life span of a well fed adult, or speaking generally from lain egg to last gasp and sigh? Was it talking about bugs being subjected to various chemicals? It is extremely difficult to write specifics (and I’m good at being so speculative it gets lost too). Perhaps most folks who are not interested in the scientific protocols and controls and all of those “extras” which some of us crave, were left out because they just haven’t been studied or left out because of the intended or expected readership.
We’ve 2 more installments yet to go!
I really appreciated your introduction as well as getting some OTC brand names and chemical names in two of the four links!
That was a real plus!
Thanks Again For all of the putting together of all of this for all of us!
I’m glued to the seat for part 2!

5 nobugsonme May 11, 2007 at 3:36 am

Thanks Winston!

Thanks to Jess for adding the linkage.

Willow–I don’t think Winston meant pyrethrins /pyrethroids are banned in NYC–they’re not, from what I understand. He said most of the substances listed were no longer available.

6 hymenoptera May 11, 2007 at 9:02 am

All this is so interesting as it allows for a broader view from a different
perspective. This type of thing is what makes this site so super. Keep
up the good fight and great site.

7 hopelessnomo May 11, 2007 at 9:35 am

I think it’s important to emphasize what Winston is suggesting, that the way to combat pesticide resistance is to rotate the pesticides used, not wholly abandon them.

I confess I was not aware of Local Law 37. I’m sure if you look it up, it’ll say you’re in deeper doo-doo than you previously imagined.

8 willow-the-wisp May 11, 2007 at 1:09 pm

FIFRA 2ee guidlines?
(Sounds like an installment all by itself).

DEEPER DO DO? lol, I’ve yet to break any of that down;)

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