portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary global

environment | technology

Experiments with bed bugs

Some amateur bed bug science
Bed bug bed
Bed bug bed
Lately I was surprised to discover that I have bed bugs.

Two previous stories I have posted on this subject:

'Sleep tight' and don't let the bed bugs bite

The bed bug epidemic

The attached photo shows my attempt at isolating my bed. My mattress and box spring have been wrapped, trapping inside the colonies of bed bugs dwelling therein. I am using no head board. The bed posts are sitting in stainless steel bowls filled with water and some disinfectant. The bed is surrounded by sticky glue traps made of double sided carpet tape, and there is also a glue trap barrier on the bed posts. I have not yet aquired fresh water Diatomaceous earth, and I am thinking of purchasing a batch of those really sticky glue traps that can trap a mouse. I also have my tent pitched on my living room floor as a backup in case all these precautions fail. The netting around the bed will only be effective against bed bugs in the larger stages (bed bugs molt and go through about six stages of growth). Bed bug nymphs are smaller than the head of a pin and can go right through mosquito netting, and at the present there does not seem to be any 'bed bug netting' available that I can find with a small enough mesh to stop even immature bed bugs.

I discovered that I have had two seperate nests of bed bugs in my bedroom, representing two different strains of bed bugs. There were bed bugs in my box spring, and probably my mattress as well. There is a small tear in my box spring just below where my shins would be while I was sleeping. This summer I noticed that I was suffering from what I thought was shin splinters. I sleep on my side, and it just so happened that since a bed bug will never crawl a foot if it can crawl an inch, these bed bugs would crawl over and bit me on the shins, and no where else, since that was shortest distance. This nest of bed bugs left painful welts on my shin bones, although once in a while I would notice a welt further from the shin bone on the calf area, which I thought was also a shin spinter (little pieces of broken bone). My shins have healed up in the past couple of weeks, since I did not have shin splinters, I had nasty bed bugs that leave welts. I also have another nest of bed bugs that set up camp in a cardboard box. This nest of bed bugs does not leave welts, but rather their bite leaves behind the tiniest little red dot. I have noticed a bed bug had walked along a vein on my arm, leaving bites spaced about half an inch apart. The only symptoms I notice from those bites is some itching that only appears four or five hours after I wake up.

It has been said that some people are 'allergic' to bed bug bites and develope welts, while other people do not. I know, given that I have had two different strains of bed bugs in my suite, that I am not allergic to bed bugs, but rather that there are two different strains of bed bugs in existence, a more primitive group of stone age throw backs, that leave welts, and the more modern and much better adapted bed bug that leaves no welt, and whose bite is almost undetectable, since it is just a small red dot that no one would pay much attention to and might not even notice if they were not looking for it. I also know that the nasty bed bugs were living in the mattress and box spring, and are now trapped in there, because while I was waiting for the netting to arrive I was sleeping in the living room, and was bed bug free for about a week and a half before the second nest of bed bugs once again tracked me down on the living room floor. I once again noticed the little red dots, the itching, and also some blood on a pillow which is also a dead give away of bed bug activity. The nasty bed bugs in the mattress and box spring have been wrapped, and have not reappeared, because I have received no more of those welts since they became trapped by that wrapping operation, and now I have only received those little red nips from those more modern and much better adapted bed bugs.

From this I conclude that while it might still be true that some people are 'allergic' to bed bugs, in most cases it is more likely that people who get welts have been attacked by a colony of primitive bed bugs.

What this suggests is that bed bugs are a species in transition, and thus what we are seeing is a remarkable example of bed bug evolution in action. The evolutionary strategy being adopted by the bed bug species consists of an attempt to become invisible so that they can carry on being bed bugs while remaining undetected. Creatures adapt when they are under pressure and thus must adapt or perish, and since bed bugs are now adapting in such a way as to 'cease to exist', and are 'faking their own extinction event', you might say, this suggests that bed bugs were pushed close to extinction and responded by adopting this strategy of faking their own extinction. Since primitive bed bugs still exist, bed bugs are a species in transition, which might suggest that this development in bed bug evolution is a relatively recent phenomena, adopted perhaps as one response to vigorous spraying of pesticides by human beings.

Bed bugs also display a remarkable ability to adapt to pesticides. I have done experiments, since I have bed bugs handy unfortunately, and I can report that none of the commercially available consumer products I tested work on bed bugs. You can soak a bed bug with pesticides and they will survive, and this includes consumer products which are labelled as being targetted at bed bugs.

If you read the bed bug blogs you will find lots of angry villification of Rachel Carson, who wrote the book 'Silent Spring', which then led to the banning of DDT, for the theory is that because DDT was banned, now we have bed bugs, a theory which makes no sense whatsoever since DDT was banned half a century ago, and we are only experiencing a plague of bed bugs in the last couple of years. People are also unaware that bed bugs became resistant to DDT back in the 1940s, which is one of the reasons why the pest control industry turned away from DDT and began using alternative chemicals in the last part of the century. DDT is constantly being promoted as the bed bug panacea, but the truth of the matter is that bed bugs are amazing creatures showing an ability to adapt to any form of pesticide, and that includes DDT, which bed bugs long ago defeated in the 1940s, and which they will defeat again should DDT be brought back onto the market because now we have bed bugs.

Bed bugs probably continue to carry with them the genes for DDT resistance, since such resistant strains existed earlier in the previous century. Hotels, including four and five star hotels which target the market for international travellers, are one of the hot spots for bed bug infestations. This has led some to speculate upon what possible connection might exist between international travel and the bed bug epidemic. It is worth remembering here that DDT has not been banned in every country for the last half century, and so therefore we must assume that the DDT bed bug exists in the countries which have continued to use DDT throughout the last half century, and that bed bugs resistant to such strong pesticides have infested hotels and in the great mixing bowl bed bugs have been trading genes for resistance to a wide variety of pesticides, including resistance to DDT. So therefore we must assume that the DDT resistant bed bug already exists, both those strains which continue to carry the previous resistance to DDT built up in the 1940s and those strains which have imported such resistance and can now no doubt be found in four and five star hotels, New York lofts, penthouses, and Manhattan office towers.

Now all these locations are the last place you would expect to find bed bugs, and the fact that they have bed bug infestations there is an indication that money cannot buy protection from bed bugs, because if you could pay to get rid of a bed bug they would certainly not be found persistently infesting such locations. The problem here is that we have pesticide resistant strains of bed bugs on the loose, and the connection with 'international travel' would have to be that we have imported some particularly virulent strains that have a very stubborn resistance to pesticides, since they had the opportunity to be exposed to worse pesticides than native bed bugs have been exposed to in recent decades.

The Illinois Pesticide Review reports on the growing problem of pesticide resistance in bed bugs being reported after scientific testing of samples of bed bugs being gathered by pest control experts around the nation.


Some quotes from the article : "Entomologists at the University of Kentucky report that some bed bug populations across the United States are resistant to pyrethroid insecticides...dult bed bugs from four infestations collected from separate locations in Kentucky and Ohio were several 1,000-fold resistant to deltamethrin and lambda-cyhalothrin, compared to a susceptible laboratory strain...Using a discriminating dose test with bed bug nymphs, the researchers further found that seven of the eight field populations submitted by pest-management firms across the country were well over 100-fold resistant to deltamethrin. These tests included bed bugs originating from California, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia...Bed bug resistance to insecticides is not a new phenomenon. Resistance to DDT was first reported in the late 1940s and was so widespread a decade later that other products were already being recommended as alternatives...resistance is likely a factor in the resurgence of this international problem.

no need for chemicals 12.Dec.2006 09:03

sleepful in vancouver

A good way to get rid of bedbugs is to mix equal parts of Pennyroyal Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, and
rubbing alcohol (distilled) and spray your mattress, pillows, around the baseboards, electrical
outlets, light switches or other places bedbugs may come through.

net tent? no thanks. 14.Dec.2006 13:00


Talk about a time to get proactive/aggressive with design. NOW! Your net tent and nest intuitions are indeed pseudo-science. If you're spending that much moola and effort, surely you can fight that fucker b-bug instead of being so passive. Hiding behind plastic shields and mesh is NOT a solution (as well as fairly irresponsible). I asked my friend who works at a shelter what to do about this exponentially growing master-adaptor bug. She says "burn everything! Ooh. Pandora's pestilence--a precursor to apocalypse? Maybe, but cockroaches have been around since the Paleozoic. Something survives. Humans have brains. Think out of the box, man. Take Direct Action! Move beyond the 'stuff paradigm' and think about new materials. Did you know that many foams and fabrics are boilable? What if you could boil your whole queen-sized bed (or house!) in a soup pot? I would post some designs, but my visual communication technologies are lost in a poisoned pile of rubble awaiting less paranoia and potential legal contest.

I am curious about other's legal/tenant rights experiences. As well as what's happening in transitional housing and institutions regarding bedbugs (I have noticed several OldTown dumpsters filled w/ bags of chemical smelling housewares,reminiscent of the chemicals that made me puke buckets after minimal skin contact). Lack of legal precedent and public knowledge seem to be a huge hurdle. I have personally experienced zero-day 'non-eviction', as well as treatment bordering on discrimination and slander. Obviously, media awareness is helpful, but so is innovative problem-solving and finding new solutions that don't make problems worse in the long run AND are accessable to people of all classes and living situations.

There are people who live, fearfully, in gated communities freaking out over this nearly invisible villain. Don't hide in a tent. Don't let fear be your motivator, it leads really bad things.

Bed Bug Resource 14.Dec.2006 15:15

Sean bedbug@telus.net


I am a former pest control technician and current entomologist.

I have created a bed bug website dedicated to providing resources to the
general public.

The Bed Bug Resource can be found at www.thebedbugresource.com . At
this site there is also a message board (forum) available. If you or
anyone you know would like to ask questions, vent, or offer assistance
to others in need please drop on by.


Entomologist / Pest Professional