Bed Bugs: Do It Yourself?

Bed Bug Bites

Bed Bug Bites

Bed bugs cause rash, irritation, mental trauma and the bites can become infected. In the United States, much of the response to the bed bug problem at the federal level has been led by EPA. Their role is primarily a clearing house for information. The issue of bed bugs has primarily been left to the private sector, with minimal involvement of government agencies, other than contracting services for eliminating bed bugs from government property.

Among the information available from EPA is a publication, “Do-it-yourself Bed Bug Control“. The money quote, “Treating bed bugs is complex.” The publication outlines the a 6 step plan to eliminate bed bugs:

1. Identify the problem
2. Develop a strategy
3. Keep the infestation from expanding
4. Prepare for treatment
5. Kill the bed bugs
6. Evaluate and prevent

Simply spraying insecticides is not enough. Eggs and harboring bed bugs may not be killed in an initial treatment. Eradication requires consistent monitoring and treating repeatedly when bed bugs are detected. Factors influencing likely success of a “Do-It-Yourself” strategy are:

Extent of the infestation.
Site-specific challenges: Clutter, Neighbors with infestations, Ability of all of the residents to participate.

A small local infestation is easier to eliminate than a large dispersed population. Site specific challenges can make a problem more difficult to eliminate. Multi-unit buildings are more challenging than stand alone units under control of a single person. Neighbors with infestation can be a source of re-infestation after bed bugs have been eliminated from one unit. Neighbors who are unwilling or unable to treat their bed bug population will leave a reservoir for re-infestation. Clutter can be an issue. Clutter can greatly increase the harborage for bed bugs. Severe clutter can create too many sites to be treated efficiently. Bed bug control may require coordination that is beyond the Do-It-Yourselfer. In these cases, professionals and coordination among multiple agents may be necessary.

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Friday Cat-erpillar Blogging: Eyespots

A mutation in a regulatory factor (+p) leads to loss of eyespot and crescent markings on the silkworm caterpillar Image:

Top: Eyespot (left) & Crescent (right) markings on a silkworm caterpillar are controlled by regulator factor, +p.
Bottom: Mutation in a regulatory factor (p) leads to loss of eyespot and crescent markings.

Image: Shinichi and colleagues*

Many caterpillars have eyespots and other markings that adapt a caterpillar to its environment.  How is the shape and location of the eyespots determined?  The process involves gene regulation.  The Silkworm, Bombyx mori, has many color pattern mutations available for study. A group of scientists* have used these mutations to identify the regulatory gene that controls eyespot formation. In areas of eyespot formation, a regulatory gene called apontic-like is a key switch that turns on the pigment production and melanin synthesis in the cuticle cells where the spot is located. The gene can have multiple alleles (forms). Different alleles can produce different color patterns or in some case no pattern.

Future studies can look for regulatory factors that control the apontic-like gene or how the gene stimulates the cells under the eyespot to produce pigment. This research helps understand the control of gene expression of many traits including morphological features, not just color spots.

*Shinichi Yoda, Junichi Yamaguchi, Kazuei Mita, Kimiko Yamamoto, Yutaka Banno, Toshiya Ando, Takaaki Daimon & Haruhiko Fujiwara.  2014.  The transcription factor apontic-like controls diverse colouration pattern in caterpillars.  Nature Communications 5, Article number: 4936

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Insecticides, Efficacy, and EPA

Bed Bug

Underside of Immature Bed Bug

The US has a hands-off policy for most interaction between marketers and consumers. Caveat Emptor: Let the Buyer Beware! Consumers are often at a disadvantage. The seller knows how well their product works. The consumer often lacks the ability to test efficacy of the product and may rely solely on the claims of the marketer. In the case of a pest that is new to a consumer the choice is more difficult. One important source of information for consumers are University Extension Service Bulletins. Universities evaluate products for efficacy and publish the results.

Consumers are sometimes confused about the implications of EPA insecticide registration. EPA primary concerns are product health and safety. EPA is minimally concerned about product efficacy except as it affects health and safety. The guidelines for establishing the EPA left recommendations on quality of the products to “The Market”. EPA registration does not mean that a product will provide control that is completely satisfactory to the consumer. EPA registration implies that an insecticide has minimal risk if used according to directions. An insecticide may have a substantial risk of harm if directions are not followed.

Some insects have negative impacts on human health.   EPA maintains a List of Pests of Significant Public Health Importance. The insects on the list includes:
Cockroaches; Due to Asthma, Allergenic Effects and food contamination.
Human Lice; Due to rashes, skin irritation and human disease transmission.
Mosquitoes; Due to human disease transmission.
Bed Bugs; Due to bite allergies.

For these pests, EPA requires significantly more efficacy data to approve an insecticide for their control. Of the listed pests, Bed Bugs are the most recent addition. Bed Bugs were not a major problem in the US less than a generation ago. Even though EPA has a list of products approved for “Do-It-Yourself Bed Bug Control”, the knowledge required for successful elimination is not trivial.  There is little cultural experience in eliminating bed bugs.  Consumers must rely on professional advice about best practices and how to use the products to best effect.

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Hostel To Hospital

Bed Bug Bites

Bed Bug Bites

Carolyn Archer of the reports on two young women who traveled to Bundaberg, Australia on vacation working tour. They stayed at a hostel and worked jobs at local farms as an inexpensive way to see the countryside. Unfortunately, the hostel was infested with bed bugs. The tourists complained, but the landlord claimed that the bites must be due to hayfever. The bites on one of the tourists became infected, and the vacation went from hostel to hospital for antibiotic treatment. Bed bugs in a pay-in-advance room can become an issue for people without the resources to move elsewhere. One would think that landlords would be concerned about the potential for bad publicity and be more proactive about bed bugs.

It is a good idea to inspect a room for bed bugs before you settle. Most hotels will offer another room which may well be uninfested. Even hotels that stay on top of their pest problems can be infested by careless guests who unwittingly bring bed bugs with them.

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Crickets for Sale



Pet stores commonly sell live crickets as food for pets. Where do they get the crickets? Crickets are produced on a massive scale by large companies and in smaller numbers by small companies. About 2 billion crickets are produced by the 10 largest US producers annually.* The most common cricket sold is the House Cricket, Acheta domesticus. It is not native to the US having been introduced to North America in the 1700s. Crickets have been mass produced for over half a century. Rearing techniques have been refined to make cricket production efficient. Crickets are marketed in the US for a little more than a penny each.

*Marianne Shockley and Aaron T. Dossey. 2014. Insects for Human Consumption. IN: Mass Production of Beneficial Organisms. Elsevier Inc.

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Living Without Mountain Pine Beetle

Lodgepole Pine

Dead and Dying (Due to Mountain Pine Beetle) Lodgepole Pine Photo: US National Forest Service

Mountain Pine Beetle has killed millions of pines in the western US and Canada. The outbreaks are associated with warmer weather. Some efforts are being made to utilize the dead trees as lumber. Minnesota is worried about the spread of the beetle into its forests. Mountain Pine Beetles have been detected in wood shipped to Minnesota for firewood, lumber or furniture. Minnesota is proposing a quarantine that would ban the import of freshly cut logs from states where Mountain Pine Beetle is present.

The spread of wood boring beetles is affecting the quality of our forests. Entomologists have demonstrated that the pines common in Minnesota are suitable hosts for MPB. Protecting our forests in the era of invasive insects and changing climate requires restriction on movement of lumber and tree products that can spread undesired insects.

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Living With Silkworm Artists

silkworm sculpture

Artist: Elsabe Dixon
Photo: Artisphere

Elsabe Dixon has created a living art work called ‘Live/Life’ which uses silkworms in the creation of her art. Dixon’s art is inspired by rearing silkworms from an early age in her native South Africa. Her art explores the relationship between nature and art. Sculptures on the ceilings and walls house silkworm larvae who add their silk strands, pupate and emerge as moths within the sculpture. Visitors can admire the beauty in nature and contemplate metamorphosis and other mysteries of life.

‘Live/Life’ is showing at Artisphere in Rosslyn, Virginia through February of 2015.

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