Last week, readers of this blog enjoyed the special treat of a one-of-a-kind first in human understanding of insect behavior. I know that many of you, still reeling with delight from last week's engaging conversation, were looking forward to a bit more time with our new friend, Leon Redbelly, an adult bed bug. But what I have to tell you readers may be one of the most difficult things I've been called on to do in my nearly four weeks as a blogger who focuses on urban entomology. You see, Leon Redbelly enjoyed his last blood meal on the morning that we spoke.
I returned to the place in which Leon and I had our first conversation, just two days afterward. With none of our agreements concerning his privacy any longer in place, I can disclose to you that the headboard that Leon called home, was in a hotel. I expected to find Leon feverishly pursuing the things that we all know he loved: idle time, blood meals, and mating. Instead I found a hotel room completely devoid of any insect life, disassembled, sanitized. The headboard had been removed from where it once hung and leaned against a wall, bed rails taken apart and arranged on the floor, the mattress and box spring encased with zippered covers.
I found out from the hotel staff that the evening after my visit with Leon, the guest that had stayed in the room called the hotel in a panic, demanding a refund for what they had spent on their stay, and wanting compensated for a professional treatment of bed bugs in their own home. The reason was that while unpacking their belongings at home, the guest had found two bed bugs in the contents of their suitcase. The hotel management responded by immediately ordering professional treatment of the room with the report of bed bugs, and requesting that thorough inspections take place in all surrounding rooms. We do not know if Leon was one of the bed bugs that traveled in the suitcase to the guests home or not, but we do know that there were no survivors of the incident. While this was a difficult reality to face on a personal level, it is just a small demonstration of what occurs daily on a global scale; human vigilance eradicating bed bug infestations.
So what specific things are people doing that results in the deaths of countless millions of bed bugs? How is it that people are intentionally and effectively eradicadicating entire household populations of bed bugs? We're going to review a few of the most common methods.
- Inspection. Whether you are a professional or a person who is concerned that they may have an issue with bed bugs, inspection is key. A flashlight and a willingness to inspect on a closer level than you ordinarily would will help you to determine if your suspicion/fear is correct. Remembering that bed bugs aggregate in narrow cracks, crevices, and tight spots will help as you inspect the corners and undersides of bed platforms, mattresses, headboards, baseboards, nightstands, couches, recliners, and suitcases. Additionally, it has been my experience that bed bugs will more likely be found on stable items that move less often, meaning that you are more likely to find a bed bug on your bed's platform than you are your pillow. Look for live insects, shed exoskeletons or skin casings, black circular fecal spots which stick to surfaces, and translucent barrel shaped eggs.
- Extreme Temperatures. While bed bugs prove themselves to be resilient creatures, their durability meets its limits in the face of extreme temperatures. If bed bugs at any life stage including eggs are exposed to temperatures at or above 122*F they die. The same is true for exposure to freezing or lower temperatures for what is usually described as several days. What this means in practical terms is that if you have an article of clothing, upholstery, window covering, pillow, etc. that will survive a normal cycle through your drier, do it. This includes dry-clean only items because you do not have to wash the items, only dry them to be effective. If you have something that would not fair well tumbling through the drier such as books, dvds, hard sided luggage, or a lamp, you can place these items in the freezer for 3-5 days and you will get the same result.
- Insecticides? I put this tip out there with a bit of reservation. Often times when a person is in a bed bug-inspired frenzy, the first reaction is to grab the strongest available insecticide and apply as much of it as possible to as many places as possible. This can result in applications that end up doing more harm to the occupants of the home than it does the bed bugs. The point is, always read and follow the label. If you are finding bed bugs in your room or suitcase, it is ok to spray them with an insecticide provided that what you are using is labeled to control bed bugs, and that the site or item which you are treating is also on the label. EPA approved insecticide labels are not published for the benefit of the printing industry, they are published for the benefit of people like you who have to live side by side with the insecticides that are applied in your home. No one knows this better than your local professional, which brings us to our next point.
- Call a Professional. What is the difference between most people and your average pest management professional? Besides a strange enjoyment of working with bed bugs, spiders, mice, ants, termites, flies, etc, your local pest professional has experience, expertise, products, methodology, and resources that are not available to the general public. How do you know if your professional is making the most of these things that are available to them? One good indicator is their level of professional involvement, how well they keep up with changing scientific findings and technologies in their field. A great way to find the best professionals is by visiting www.Pestworld.org, the official website of the National Pest Management Association. This website has loads of quality information about detecting and managing numerous household pests, as well as a locator that will help you find the professionals in your area that are committed to providing the highest level of professional pest control possible.