Bed Bug Herbal Remedies Work Well With Traps

July 15, 2013

THE NEEM TREE (Azadirachta indica), a medicinal mahogany tree (Meliaceae) native to arid broadleaf and scrub forests in Asia (e.g. India), has been used for over 4,000 years in Vedic medicine and has a heavy, durable wood useful for furniture and buildings because it is resistant to termites and fungi. Nonetheless, despite US EPA registration as a pesticide for crop and home use and a long legacy of neem seed oil use for cosmetics, shampoos, toothpastes and medicines in India, Ohio State University researcher Susan Jones could not find any households near her Columbus, Ohio, home willing to try neem in her bed bug control experiments.

“We had no study takers because of the regulatory requirements,” which scared off people, Jones told the Entomological Society of America (ESA) Annual Meeting. “You have to read page after page to residents about toxicity without being able to talk about the toxicity of alternative products” not as safe as neem. In October 2012, an empty house with bed bugs became available for research when its occupant opted to escape a bad bed bug infestation by leaving the infested home; and inadvertently transferred the infestation to their new home.

Jones monitored the empty house by placing in each room four (4) Verifi(TM) CO2 (carbon dioxide) traps and four (4) Climbup(R) Interceptor traps. Visual inspections revealed few bed bugs. On October 24, 2012, prior to neem treatments, 38 bed bugs were captured in Climbup(R) traps, indicating bed bug infestations only in the master bedroom and bed of the empty house. Eight Verifi(TM) traps captured 48 bed bugs in the dining room, guest room and master bedroom. As part of an IPM (integrated pest management) approach using multiple treatment tools: Electrical sockets were treated with MotherEarth(R) D diatomaceous earth; 3.67 gal (13.9 l) at a rate of 1 gal/250 ft2 (3.9 l/23 m2). Gorilla Tape(R) was used to seal around the doors and exclude bed bug movement from other rooms.

The neem seed oil product, Cirkil(TM) RTU, was sprayed in various places, including on books, backs of picture frames and cardboard boxes. Vials of the insecticide-susceptible Harlan bed bug strain were placed around the house for on-site neem seed oil vapor toxicity assays. Two days after spraying, bed bug mortality from neem seed oil vapors was highest in confined spaces; with 48% mortality in vials placed between the mattress and box spring, versus 28% mortality in open spaces. On Nov. 6, two weeks post-treatment, 123 dead bed bugs were vacuumed up and live bed bugs were detected in a second bedroom. Bed bug numbers were low because the monitoring traps were doing double duty, also providing population suppression by removing many bed bugs.

Herbal oils can also be combined with heat chambers at 50 C (122 F) or carbon dioxide (CO2) fumigation chambers to combat bed bugs. However, heat chambers are expensive, and CO2 fumigation with dry ice can pose handling difficulties and room air circulation issues, Dong-Hwan Choe of the University of California, Riverside, told the Entomological Society of America (ESA).

Herbal essential oils are useful against head lice, and in Choe’s native Korea clove oil from from the leaves and flower buds of clove plants (Syzygium aromaticum) is used in aromatherapy and as a medicine. Clove oil is rich in GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) compounds such as eugenol, beta-caryophyllene and methyl salicylate (sometimes called wintergreen oil), which are useful as vapors in control of insects and microbes. In dentistry, clove oil (eugenol) is widely used as an antiseptic and pain reliever.

Clove essential oils work faster in closed spaces or fumigation chambers (e.g. vials, Mason jars) than in open spaces. Essential oils are even slower to kill bed bugs when orally ingested. In experiments at varied temperatures, Choe placed 10 bed bugs in plastic vials with mesh tops. The vials were placed inside 900 ml (1.9 pint) Mason jars; filter paper treated with essential oils was placed on the underside of the Mason jar tops.

Herbal essential oils worked faster at higher temperatures. For example, methyl salicylate fumigant vapors provided 100% bed bug mortality in 30 hours at 26 C (79 F); 10 hours at 35 C (95 F); and 8 hours at 40 C (104 F). Eugenol vapors produced similar results; there were no synergistic or additive effects from combining eugenol and methyl salicylate. Choe told the ESA that his future trials will include: botanical oil granules; exposing bed bug-infested items to essential oil vapors; and checking for sublethal essential oil effects on parameters such as female bed bug reproduction.

Narinderpal Singh of Rutgers placed bed bugs on cotton fabric squares treated (half left untreated) with synthetic pesticide and herbal essential oil products: 1) Temprid(TM) SC, a mixture of imidacloprid and cyfluthrin (neonicotinoid and pyrethroid insecticides); 2) Ecoraider(TM) (Reneotech, North Bergen, NJ) contains FDA GRAS ingredients labeled as “made from extracts of multiple traditional herbs that have been used in Asia for hundreds of years for therapy and to repel insects;” 3) Demand(R) CS, which contains lambda-cyhalothrin (a pyrethroid insecticide); 4) Bed Bug Patrol(R) (Nature’s Innovation, Buford, FL), a mixture with the active ingredients listed as clove oil, peppermint oil and sodium lauryl sulfate.&&

Temprid(TM) SC and Demand(R) CS proved best on the cotton fabric test. In arena bioassays with Climbup(R)Interceptor traps, none of the four insecticides were repellent to bed bugs (i.e. repellency was less than 30%). Ecoraider(TM) was equal to Temprid(TM) SC and Demand(R) CS against the tough to kill bed bug eggs. Singh concluded that field tests of Ecoraider(TM) as a biopesticide were warranted.

Changlu Wang of Rutgers told the ESA that travelers might be protected from bed bug bites and bring home fewer bed bugs if protected by essential oil repellents, as well as by more traditional mosquito and tick repellents like DEET, permethrin and picaridin. Repellents are more convenient and less expensive than non-chemical alternatives such as sleeping under bed bug tents and bandaging yourself in a protective suit.

Isolongifolenone, an odorless sesquiterpene found in the South American Tauroniro tree (Humiria balsamifera), is among the botanicals being studied, as it can also be synthesized from turpentine oil and is as effective as DEET against mosquito and tick species. Bed bug arena tests involve putting a band of repellent around a table leg, with a Climbup(R)Interceptor trap below. If the bed bug falls into the trap, it is deemed to have been repelled from the surface above. In actual practice, the bed bug climbs up the surface and goes horizontal onto the treated surface and drops or falls off if the surface is repellent. Isolongifolenone starts losing its repellency after 3 hours; 5%-10% DEET works for about 9 hours. In arena tests with host cues, 25% DEET keeps surfaces repellent to bed bugs for 2 weeks. But isolongifolenone is considered safer, and Wang is testing higher rates in hopes of gettting a full day’s protection.


Carbon Dioxide Gas Combats Bed Bugs

July 24, 2012

CARBON DIOXIDE GAS, an essential nutrient for photosynthesis and the human and animal food chain consuming green plants, can also play a key role in bed bug control. As an attractant, carbon dioxide (CO2) is useful for monitoring and trapping bed bugs and other vampire-like blood-suckers attracted to the gas, including ticks, mosquitoes, and assorted biting flies. Carbon dioxide gas, which has been used to fumigate everything from stored grain and food products to freight containers, museum collections, and hotel and motel rooms, can also be used to fumigate clothing, furnishings, books, electronics, and other bed bug-infested items.

Carbon, carbon dioxide, and the carbon cycle are integral to our very existence on planet Earth. “The carbon of the Earth comes in several forms,” writes University of Cambridge chemist John Emsley in his fascinating Oxford University Press book, Nature’s Building Blocks (An A-Z Guide to the Elements). “Most of what we eat –carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fibre – is made up of compounds of carbon…most ingested carbon compounds are oxidized to release the energy they contain, and then we breathe out the carbon as carbon dioxide. This joins the other carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, from where it will again be extracted by plants and become part of the carbon cycle of nature…The cycle rules the tempo of life on Earth and turns over 200 billion tonnes of carbon each year…In this way carbon is passed up the various food chains, with each recipient releasing some as carbon dioxide, until most carbon is back where it started.”

Does this mean that using carbon dioxide for bed bug control is environmentally acceptable, since it is kind of a “miracle of life” gas behind photosynthesis and plant life? Or is carbon dioxide really more the evil greenhouse or global-warming gas causing global climatic havoc and deserving of punishment via carbon taxes and elimination from the atmosphere via geological carbon sequestration (storage) schemes? Perhaps we should offset carbon dioxide releases for bed bug pest control with offsetting carbon dioxide injections into greenhouses, where elevated CO2 levels increase yields of greenhouse roses, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and other crops.

“Carbon is probably the most important element from an environmental point of view,” writes Emsley in Nature’s Building Blocks. “The Earth’s early atmosphere may have contained a lot of carbon dioxide and methane, but once life evolved that began to change. Today, there is very little of these gases and a lot of oxygen instead, thanks chiefly to the action of plants which convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrate and oxygen by photosynthesis. The Earth’s atmosphere contains an ever-increasing concentration of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, from fossil fuel burning, and of methane, from paddy fields and cows. Human contributions to these sources are still minor compared with natural sources: most carbon dioxide comes from plants, microbes and animals, while methane is given off by swamps, marshes and termite mounds.”

Obviously best to avoid bed bug infestations, and not have to think about remedies like carbon dioxide trapping or fumigations. Italian chemist Primo Levi makes the most persuasive literary argument: “Carbon dioxide, that is, the aerial form of carbon…this gas which constitutes the raw material of life, the permanent store upon which all that grows draws, and the ultimate destiny of all flesh, is not one of the principal components of air but rather a ridiculous remnant, an ‘impurity,’ thirty times less abundant than argon, which nobody even notices. The air contains 0.03 percent; if Italy was air, the only Italians fit to build life would be, for example, the 15,000 inhabitants of Milazzo in the province of Messina. This, on the human scale, is ironic acrobatics, a juggler’s trick, an incomprehensible display of omnipotence-arrogance, since from this ever renewed impurity of the air we come, we animals and we plants, and we the human species, with our four billion discordant opinions, our millenniums of history…”

Bed bugs concern themselves little with environmental correctness, and just tune into characteristics like the heat and carbon dioxide released by metabolizing warm-blooded meal hosts like humans, poultry, rodents, rabbits, etc. A flush from a CO2 cartridge is enough to flush bed bugs from their harborages or hiding places onto a bed in search of a meal. But more naturally, bed bugs follow CO2 gradients to locate live hosts for their blood meals.

“Carbon dioxide has been shown by several researchers to be the most effective attractant for bed bugs,” University of Florida-Gainesville entomologist Philip Koehler told a recent Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting. Humans produce about 700 mg (0.02 oz) of CO2 per minute. “Thus, detectors with very slow CO2 releases cannot compete with human hosts,” said Koehler. “A rapid CO2 release is a better mimic to the human breathing pattern. Detectors with fast CO2 release captured about 4x more bed bugs than detectors with slow release.”

Trapping or monitoring bed bugs with CO2 is complicated by the fact that at different times in the life cycle bed bugs seek out hosts (releasing CO2) for blood meals when hungry; and then when well-fed, instead of CO2 bed bugs seek shelter in groups or cracks and crevices. So although CO2 is the better lure for hungry bed bugs, bed bugs that have fed have different needs and respond to different lures.

A commercial product, FMC’s Verifi(TM) trap, is a dual-action detector combining “fast CO2 generation with liquid kairomone and pheromone lures to attract both host-seeking bed bugs and aggregation-seeking bed bugs,” Koehler told the ESA. Carbon dioxide and the kairomone lure blood-seeking bed bugs into a pitfall part of the trap from which there is no escape. A pheromone lures harborage- or aggregation-seeking bed bugs seeking shelter in cracks and crevices into another part of the trap.

“An inexpensive detector that can be left in place and routinely serviced is needed to aid pest management professionals,” Ohio State University’s Susan Jones told the ESA. “Rutger’s do-it-yourself dry ice (frozen CO2) traps are a cheap and effective method for overnight surveys of potentially infested habitations.” An experiment in a 13-story high-rise apartment building in Columbus, Ohio compared (see You Tube video) 3 Verifi(TM) bed bug detectors per room with 1 CO2-generating dry ice trap per room and canine (dog) detection teams (2 dogs/room; same handler).

Verifi(TM) traps detected bed bugs in 11 of 17 infested rooms in the first 24 hours; and in 14 of 17 infested rooms within a week. Dry ice traps had similar efficacy. Dogs detected bed bugs in 19 rooms, including 3 rooms where neither visual inspections nor dry ice or Verifi(TM) traps detected anything. But the dogs were also not perfect, as each dog also missed 1 room rated positive for bed bugs. So the quest to capture bed bugs with carbon dioxide and other lures goes on.

Human ingenuity seems almost unlimited when it comes to traps. Carbon dioxide, heat and other attractants are all being tested with traps as varied as Susan McKnight Inc.’s Climbup bed bug trap and pitfall traps made from inverted dog bowls painted black on the outside. Rutgers’ Narinderpal Singh tested CO2, heat, and lures such as nonanol, octanol, 1-octen-3-ol, coriander, and spearmint with inverted dog bowl pitfall traps. CO2 had an additive effect with multiple-component lures in inverted dog bowl traps, and may be developed into an inexpensive monitoring system for detecting low levels of bed bugs. Trials with baited traps are continuing.

Both carbon dioxide and ozone show fumigant potential against bed bugs. Purdue University’s Kurt Saltzmann told the ESA of “Two devices capable of delivering ozone to laboratory fumigation chambers.” One device delivered a short exposure to high ozone levels, and the other long exposure to low ozone levels. “Preliminary experiments showed that adult male bed bugs were susceptible to relatively short periods of ozone exposure when high concentrations of ozone were used,” said Saltzmann. “100% mortality was achieved when bed bugs were exposed to 1800 ppm ozone for 150 minutes.” Low ozone fumigation is also being tested with 1-2% hydrogen peroxide for up to 72 hours.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used by libraries, museums, and others as an insect-killing fumigant. Indeed, dry ice (frozen CO2) to release CO2 gas is cheaper than washing and drying fabrics to kill bed bugs, Rutgers University’s Changlu Wang told the ESA. At an 80% concentration, CO2 kills all bed bug eggs in 24 hours (eggs are the toughest bed bug life stage to kill). A 50% CO2 concentration for 8 hours is sufficient to kill bed bug nymphs (immatures) and adults.

Wang’s CO2 fumigations involved filling Husky garbage bags 90% full of items such as mattress covers and fabrics, leaving little room for air. Then the bags were sealed with dry ice inside for several hours. Books, electronics, toys and other items damaged by heat treatments might benefit from the low temperatures created by dry ice treatments. However, for safety reasons Wang recommends wearing gloves and turning on fans for ventilation when opening many bags filled with carbon dioxide gas (fumigant).


Native Bees Pick Up Pollination Slack (Combating Colony Collapse)

May 3, 2012

HONEY BEE COLONY COLLAPSE Disorder (CCD) is a murky headline catch phrase, a scientific-sounding term that is almost a euphemism, to describe a population decline. In other words, there are fewer honey bees than there used to be, which is bad for agricultural crops dependent upon these domesticated insects for pollination.

Why a population decline is called a “disorder” is a bit beyond me, though it sounds almost clinical or medical. Perhaps that is the point; and calling it a disorder makes it a more respectable object of study and aids in obtaining funding and public support for research and finding a remedy. The declining human populations in Russia, Italy, Germany, Japan and other developed countries are not called a disorder; which perhaps implies an underlying value judgment. Might be nice to discover a Bed Bug Colony Collapse Disorder (BBCCD) to give cause for celebration. Though the acronym BBCCD in the Google search engine would confusingly yield CDs from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Wikipedia makes it sounds like honey bees are being kidnapped: “Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, the term colony collapse disorder was first applied to a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honey bee colonies in North America in late 2006…” If such occurrences have been happening throughout history, then the “disorder” sounds more like normality. In any case, times are tougher for those relying upon domesticated honey bees for crop pollination.

The interesting flip side of honey bee colony collapse disorder is the almost metaphorical return of the natives: Really a rediscovery and new appreciation of overlooked native pollinators like North American squash bees, digger bees, miner bees, sweat bees, bumble bees, and syrphid flies.

Whether you call it a disorder or a population decline: Nature abhors a vacuum or an empty ecological niche, like an absence or paucity of pollinating honey bees in a flowering agricultural ecosystem. Niches tend to get filled in nature, though the process may take years. With fewer honey bees (Apis mellifera is an introduced species in the Americas) in the fields, native bees hitherto ignored or overlooked are taking over the pollination chores on certain crops, according to research presented at Entomological Society of America (ESA) meetings.

“Nearly 4,000 species of native bees are found in North America,” said the University of Kentucky’s Amanda Skidmore. Integrated Pollination Management (IPM) or Integrated Crop Pollination, jargon phrases that sometimes popup at meetings, refers to managing crop ecosystems as habitats for native pollinators.

“In order to best utilize bees as pollination service providers, agro-ecosystems must be managed to attract and sustain them based on their natural history biological requirements,” Skidmore told the ESA. These habitat requirements include “energy (nectar), larval food proteins (pollen), and protected nesting sites (i.e. untilled earth, nesting boxes, dead plant matter).”

Native long-horned bees (Melissodes bimaculata) take up some of the slack from depleted honey bee populations in Kentucky by pollinating squash, melon and vegetable crops. Sweet alyssum (white-flowered variety), a flower interplanted in agricultural crops to promote biological control of pests by natural enemies, was heavily favored by the native pollinators; along with bee balm (Monarda didyma) and wood sage (Teucrium canadense). The idea is to plant a succession of flowering resources, including native wildflowers, shrubs and trees, to sustain native pollinators from very early season to late season. Research on habitat plantings is on-going.

Native North American sweat bees (Halictidae) and digger or mining bees (Andrenidae) are abundant pollinators of Michigan’s important blueberry crop in some locales, Michigan State University researcher Rufus Isaacs told the ESA. Nearby meadows “grow” sweat bee populations that move into blueberries to provide pollination services. Well-drained soils mean more nesting habitat for digger or mining bees that also pollinate blueberries. Several dozen wild native annual and perennial plants with varied bloom periods are being test-grown near Michigan blueberries to determine which best boost native bee populations and reduce the need for honey bee pollination.

Similar strategies for adding habitat for native pollinators are also being researched in crops as diverse as apples, cherries, squash and watermelons in regions as far-flung as Florida and California.


Liquid Nitrogen Sprays Freeze Bed Bugs in Italy

February 24, 2012

THE WORLDWIDE BED BUG infestation, with all its miseries and desperation, has given rise to innovations from common molecules like cold liquid nitrogen gas (N2). Being 78% of planet Earth’s atmosphere and the air we breathe, liquid nitrogen gas is considered by some an ecological bed bug remedy. As John Emsley points out in his book, Nature’s Building Blocks, a copy of which I stumbled upon in Century Books near Pasadena’s Caltech: A bit over 78% N2 gas and the atmosphere goes from breathable to death by asphyxiation. Not that you would breathe better on Mars with its 2.6% nitrogen atmosphere; though neither would bed bugs survive, if leaving the planet to escape the plague were an option.

In its freezing cold liquid form, nitrogen gas freezes bed bugs and most everything else. Besides freezing and preserving genetic materials, liquid nitrogen is used in dermatology to freeze and excise warts, small lesions, early-stage skin cancers, and actinic keratosis. Liquid nitrogen treatments are called cryotherapy or cryosurgery, not because it makes you want to cry out in pain. But rather because cryogenics (physics) is the study of low temperatures. According to the National Cancer Institute, the extreme cold of liquid nitrogen is even used inside the body to freeze and excise cancerous pancreatic and liver cells, childhood retinoblastoma, precancerous cervix disorders (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) and noncancerous bone tumors.

Italy, which has 400 pest control operators (PCOs) specializing in bed bugs, is the meeting ground for liquid nitrogen and bed bugs, reported Riccardo Biancolini and Guglielmo Pampiglione of the Istituto G. Caporale (Teramo, Italy) at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting in Reno, Nevada. As people travel from north to south on trains and buses and stay at hotels or hospitals, Italy’s 21 regions and 50 million people have been exposed to the modern day bed bug resurgence.

The liquid nitrogen spray method developed by Ecotrade(R) (Roma, Italy) is called the Criopest method. Ecotrade’s Criopest method sprays liquid nitrogen at -196 C (-320 F) to freeze bed bugs and other pests. Liquid nitrogen has percolation effects, penetrating pillows and carpets to kill bed bugs. Italian hotels hire specialist PCOs who guarantee 100% results, and like the fact that after 1-2 liquid nitrogen treatments hotel rooms can be immediately rented again. The cost in 2011 was $400-600 euros per room. Well worth it if you are in the room rental business; and less costly than conventional bed bug treatments. The Italians told the ESA that 80% of their clients choose the Criopest liquid nitrogen option.

Liquid nitrogen is usually combined with other methods, as bed bugs are a tough pest to ferret out. As part of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) programs, the cold liquid nitrogen treatment of carpets and bedding might be combined with heat (hot dry air) to kill bed bugs on textiles. Also items to be disinfested are placed in bags with pyrethrin gels for 210 minutes. As part of the multi-modality IPM approach, pesticide treatments (only about 75% effective in 5 days) are also used to leave behind chemical residues in places like electrical sockets where bed bugs, cockroaches, and other pests might hide.


Hotels & Rooms Too Hot for Bed Bugs

April 7, 2011

HOT HOTEL ROOMS and hot dorm rooms are part of the bedbug buzz at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meetings. There are even indications that hot air remedies can work well in combination with other bedbug control methods, including pesticides and dogs that sniff out bedbugs.

More companies are getting into commercial heat treatments for bed bugs. It seems a matter of practical application of the scientific data that heat can kill bedbugs, if you can figure out how to get the heat to where the bedbugs are hiding. Check out You Tube to see some companies in action using heat treatments against bedbugs, and read the comments (not everyone is convinced).

It is called integrated pest management (IPM) when you combine methods. KTLA News in Los Angeles has an amusing You Tube video combining dogs to sniff out bedbug pheromones with a propane heating device with a fan to cook cockroaches and bedbugs hiding out in rooms. Bed Bug Central TV (BBCTV) is also turning up the heat on bedbugs on You Tube. ThermaPureHeat has one of the best videos, with a Bakersfield heat fumigation job followed by a jazzy closing chorus of “don’t let the bed bugs bite ya.”

Roberto Pereira has been working on hot air fumigation treatments to kill bedbugs in University of Florida dorm rooms during the summer breaks between school years. Heat treatments have a long history of use in entomology (e.g. termites, stored product pests), but it takes some air circulation knowledge and skill.

Pereira and the University of Florida have come up with a short video of their heat chamber idea to disinfest furnishings: “Basically, we put all the furniture of the room at the center of the room, we create an oven around it by using insulation boards, and then inside the box, we put two heaters and fans so that the air is heated and it’s circulated within the box.”

Pereira also tested the combination of hot air fumigation plus “pest strips,” like what you find for sale in supermarkets and hardware stores, for use in EMPTY dorm rooms after all the students have gone home for the summer. You definitely do not want to breathe in the dichlorvos fumes from “DDVP Pest Strips,” particularly when the heat speeds up the chemical release. Though labeled for use at the rate of 1 strip per 900-1,200 cubic feet (25.5-34.0 m3) or no more than 2 strips per room, Pereira cautions that this treatment is for EMPTY rooms in which no one will be living for several weeks.

“DDVP is not something you should be breathing,” said Pereira, who noted that there is a 4-hour per day exposure limit. Indeed, buried in the pest strip label is the following warning: “HOUSEHOLD USES: Use only in Closets, Wardrobes, Cupboards and Storage Spaces. DO NOT USE IN AREAS OF A HOME WHERE PEOPLE WILL BE PRESENT FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME (e.g. Living Room, Family Room).”

Pereira’s work with the easily available pest strips was what is known in science as a “proof of concept” experiment. The idea being that if pest strips worked well with heat, a “softer” chemical, perhaps a botanical or herbal product, could be then be substituted. For scientific experiments, dorm rooms are ideal because they are identical modules. When you start getting into homes with furniture, where every room is slightly different, circulating hot air to kill bedbugs gets trickier.

Box fans placed behind space heaters were used in the Florida dorm room experiments. At 95-97 F (35-36 C), heat killed exposed bed bugs, but bed bugs in hiding (insulated vials) continued living and laying eggs. DDVP pest strips alone, with no heat, took 7 days to kill 100% of bed bugs. With fans circulating heat and pest strip poisons, bed bugs were killed in one day.

Thomas Jarzynka of Massey Services in Orlando, Florida, told the ESA that heat can penetrate walls to kill bedbugs missed by chemical treatments. Two 1,500-watt heaters were inadequate for a hotel room. Jarzynka recommends three 18,000-watt heaters. Besides being energy intensive, temperatures have to be monitored closely to avoid burning furnishings or surfaces. Heat treatments of hotel rooms are started at 7-8 a.m., and temperatures held at 120 F (49 C) for at least 4 hours (sometimes up to 8 hours). Wallboard probes are used to measure temperatures, as it is especially tough to circulate heat to kill bedbugs at carpet level in wall-floor junctions.

Heating a room to kill bedbugs is a bit of an art, combined with some knowledge of engineering and construction materials. Arrangement of room furnishings is critical to heat circulation by fans, said Jarzynka. Fans can be arranged to move hot air along an outer circle, direct heat to a central area, leave cool spots, etc. Rooms can be heated one section at a time, and furnishings can be moved or turned 360 degrees to avoid being burned by heaters.

Bedbugs are tough to get in their hiding places, even with chemicals. So heat treatments, if done right, make good sense. But you need to do your homework, if you want to make life too hot for bedbugs to bite.


Pirate Ships & Trojan-Horse Bed Bugs

December 7, 2009

BED BUGS PLAGUE houses, apartments, hostels, hotels, motels, barns, caves, and even ships on the high seas. There is no escaping bed bugs, even for frigates, warships, passenger ships and pirate boats plying the world’s oceans. If you doubt it, just talk to U.S. Navy entomologists like David Claborn at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meetings.

Cockroaches, rats, lice and bed bugs sometimes outnumber sailors on ships at sea. About the time of the American Revolution, in the 1770s, ships were often such damp, putrid, scurvy-ridden pest-holes that half the crew would be sick during the voyage. And mortality was high. Captain James Cook of Great Britain’s Royal Navy was one of the early advocates for bringing ship hygiene up to modern standards.

Scrubbing decks with dilute solutions of sweet-smelling vinegar was one of Captain Cook’s practices to keep rats, lice, bed bugs and cockroaches at tolerably low levels. Caribbean pirate ships, a less sanitary lot, used “primitive fumigation techniques” like placing “tubs full of flaming tar and sulfur inside the hulls to kill the vermin and improve the odor,” said Claborn. Infestations were sometimes so bad that brandy casks were poured onto the decks as mop water and scrubbed into the wood.

In the modern world of asymmetrical warfare in the pirate-ridden waters off the coast of East Africa, bed bugs and other vermin have been used like weapons by the pirates. When a small pirate boat fired a rocket on a U.S. Navy ship, the U.S.S. Fearless, a wooden minesweeper, took action. The Fearless scooped up the pirate boat into its well deck. The well deck, a dock for floating military equipment, was raised up and the pirate ship came to rest high and dry.

“That’s when the insects and the rats started leaving the boat, perhaps lonely for the recently incarcerated pirates,” said Claborn. “When the corpsmen called me from the ship they reported, and I quote this: ‘at least three species of cockroaches, bed bugs, spiders, rats and some really scary things that we don’t recognize’. Our immaculately clean warship now has a Trojan horse populated not with Greek warriors, but with bed bugs, cockroaches and rats.”

Just like on land, the bed bugs and their harborages were hard to find and hard to disinfest. A minor victory for the pirates. All infested shipboard items had to be discarded, all the fabrics washed, and crack and crevice residuals were sprayed to stop the bed bugs from biting.


Bed Bugs, Turning Up the Heat

August 21, 2009

PESTICIDE RESISTANCE and bedbugs’ innate ability to avoid toxicant contact by hiding in cracks and crevices during daylight hours make alternatives like traps and heat hot topics at Entomological Society of America annual meetings. In contrast to ticks, where researchers have at least investigated biocontrols like micro-wasps, insect-killing nematodes and fungi, bedbug natural enemies have mostly escaped scientific scrutiny and testing.

Rutgers University’s Changlu Wang, an IPM (Integrated Pest Management; using multiple techniques) expert, is better known for his cockroach trapping skills in large public housing and apartment complexes in Indiana. Against bedbugs, Wang uses natural diatomaceous earth in bedbug interceptor traps (Climbup(TM); Susan McKnight, Inc.). This is in addition to clutter removal, bagging and washing infested belongings, new encased mattresses, and steam treatment (vaporized hot water) of floors, drapes and sofas.

Interceptor traps are designed to monitor bedbug infestations, and provide researchers population data. But these bedpost traps are also good control tools: In 10 weeks capturing 50% of the 8 to 1,103 bedbugs per one-bedroom apartment in Indiana. Though bedbugs can still crawl up from walls or behind headboards if a bed is flush against them, or even drop from ceilings.

Unlike “moat” traps surrounding bedposts, interceptor traps have a small container (which Wang fills with 20 ml of antifreeze for insect collection) inside of a larger container that Wang fills with an insecticidal formulation of diatomaceous earth. Future bedbug traps may also be able to take advantage of recently discovered airborne bedbug aggregation pheromones.

At the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Roberto Pereira and others are working on heat fumigation to kill bedbugs. When test tubes containing bedbugs are placed in 111-113 F (44-45 C) hot tubs, these hardy insects survive an amazing 2 to 6 hours.

However, specialized pest control companies in the southern California counties of San Diego and Orange routinely use heat (hot air) fumigation instead of chemical pesticides against drywood termites embedded deep in wooden structures. It requires skill to arrange fans to circulate hot air in buildings. Temperature readings inside the wood are needed every half hour or so to calculate the heat dose needed to cook the insects. If it can be done economically with termites living in walls, heat fumigation can also be done with bedbugs. But expect stiff resistance to heat technologies from established companies with large fixed investments in traditional chemical fumigation skills and equipment.

A cheaper alternative to whole room or whole building heat fumigation is relatively low-cost portable heat chambers. Small heat chambers (e.g. constructed of foam boards) costing $400 or less are already used by the hotel industry, shelters and others to disinfest furnishings. In Florida, portable heat chambers stop the annual spread of bedbugs on preowned beds and furnishings purchased by students. Hospitals have used heat to disinfest wheelchairs of patients too sensitive for pesticide treatments.


Beating the Bed Bug Blues

July 15, 2009

“SUCH BUGS and goblins in my life,” said Shakespeare’s Hamlet during the medieval era when “bug” meant bed bug. Indeed, bedbugs have been part of the human condition from prehistoric times. By 400 B.C. the ancient Greeks were scratching bedbug bites and singing the Big Bed Bug Blues. Bat caves, bird nests and animal barns are the natural habitats supporting bed bugs and their goblin-like natural enemies like itch mites, assassin bugs, assorted ants, centipedes, and spiders.

Though bedbug biocontrol by the currently-known crop of natural enemies seems better left to the Batcave and more rustic outdoorsy habitats, natural ecological principles still apply in human dwellings. Contrary to the DDT-nostalgia (interestingly, lacking scientific citations) infesting Wikipedia, pesticides cannot substitute for human smarts in fighting bedbugs. Even in the heyday of DDT bed bugs were hard to kill and there was pesticide resistance, Clemson University urban entomologist Eric Benson told an Entomological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting. Indeed, overdoing pesticides is likely to kill natural enemies and stimulate outbreaks of new indoor pests (e.g. rat mites).

An integrated pest management (IPM) approach pits human ingenuity and a multiplicity of tactics against bedbugs. Shripat Kamble of the University of Nebraska told an ESA annual meeting of traditional bedbug remedies rememebered from a childhood in India: “People commonly used in the summertime heat treatment. Keeping the cot outside in the hot sun,” and shaking the bed so the bugs spilled onto bare ground hot enough to kill. “Another treatment that was commonly done was boiling water, and then pouring boiling water through all the hiding areas of the bed bugs…A lot of times it worked, and sometimes we still had problems.”

Nobody, not even the professionals, has a surefire remedy guaranteed to work against bedbugs every time in every household. Like Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks, bedbugs are likely to remain a part of the modern human condition.


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