Carbon Dioxide Gas Combats Bed Bugs

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).

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20 Responses to Carbon Dioxide Gas Combats Bed Bugs

  1. ozone therapies…

    […]Carbon Dioxide Gas Combats Bed Bugs « Biocontrol Beat[…]…

    Joelg replies: Lots of abstracts on Ozone and Oxygen therapies in Library (database) of this web site: http://www.oxygentherapyexperts.com/library.htm

    To quote from their web site: “…Oxygentherapyexperts.com is an information source for Oxygen and Ozone Therapies..The use of ozone (O3) gas, a molecule containing three oxygen atoms, was discovered during the 19th century by Dr. Joachim Hansler, He was also the very first to invent an ozone machine. Even during the First World War, ozone has already been present in the medical field. It was used to give remedy to German Soldiers, who, at that time, were severely affected by gangrene. The procedure was done by positioning the affected extremity inside an airtight bag filled with medical ozone. Ozone worked by destroying the harmful bacteria. It was during 1940s and 1950s that Dr. H. Wolff administered ozone into the blood. This procedure is known as major autohemotherapy and is being performed by taking out 200cc of blood from the body. The blood is temporarily placed inside a vacuum-sealed bottle using a tightly closed sterile system and is then combined with amounts of oxygen and ozone. The mixture is then re-infused back to the body…Furthermore, ozone can be immersed in olive oil for topical treatment of fungal infections…It can also be applied as treatment for non-healing lesions and skin infections by way of trapping bagging the area and instilling gas…Another significant effect of ozone therapy is in enhancing the body’s immune system…

    Lots of food for thought and further research, especially since, as noted in the Biocontrol Beat blog (Ozone Oxygen (O3) Fumigation for Organics) ozone fumigation is also used to control insects, fungi, and other vermin.

  2. Faz says:

    When you say bed bugs, I guess you don’t mean the dust mites that are commonly referred to as bed bugs in Europe, rather you mean ticks (in German: Zecken) which can spread Lyme’s disease ? There was a story about some tourist returning from some Italian island holiday in a first class cabin, waking up to find herself covered in ticks ! What a horror..

    Joelg replies: The bed bug research cited in the blog refers to the genus Cimex, commonly referred to as bed bugs, which are insects. Ticks and dust mites are technically not insects; rather they are Arachnids more closely related to spiders, crabs, etc. Ticks and bed bugs do however share an attraction to carbon dioxide and warmth, and both feed on warm-blooded animals. So what attracts bed bugs and ticks is similar, though they have different life styles.

    Dust mites, while causing allergic reactions, in contrast to ticks and bed bugs, are not known as blood-suckers; interestingly, there are predatory mites that eat dust mites, if my memory serves me accurately.

    There are lots of biting horrors, and in the blog post on pirate ships and bed bugs I report on some much worse experiences dealt with by the U.S. Navy.

    BTW, as your blog link refers to your wonderings on gold and inflation, you might enjoy: Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis.

    • Faz says:

      Just been looking at mish’ stuff – thanks for the pointer.

      • joelg5 says:

        Thank you, Faz. I’ve been enjoying your blog, everything from batteries and baking very well written and wide ranging.

        You might like two new books I read last week:

        Philosophy Bites Back – Edited by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton.
        [podcast interviews edited into short chapters, each by an expert on their favorite philosopher)’

        Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown.
        [Some amazing history embedded here. Norway and Normandy – the Nor refers to the North Men like Rollo the Viking who settled in as boss of Normandy before William the Bastard (aka William the Conqueror) crossed the channel. Reading stuff aloud in Old Norse language around fireplace at college in Scotland with students was genesis of Tolkien’s Hobbit and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia and modern day Gothic. The history of Iceland, settled by those wanting to live free from kings and then creating their own laws from scratch was a big revelation to me.

  3. Shane says:

    I didnt realize carbon dioxide was a good way to get rid of bed bugs!

    • joelg5 says:

      Carbon dioxide can be part of the solution, combined with other methods. By itself I am not so sure any one technique alone is enough. Combining multiple strategies is called IPM or Integrated Pest Management. Multiple tools each reducing bed bugs by a certain % get you closer to the solution against this amazingly tough insect pest.

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  8. Erick Kline says:

    Good information!

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  12. […] Carbon Dioxide Gas Combats Bed Bugs | Biocontrol Beat […]

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