Insects at the movies

Thrilled by classic films about giant ants (Them, Empire of the Ants), killer bees (The Swarm), giant praying mantids (Mimic) or prehistoric beetles (Caved In)? There is a new insect in town and the phobia doesn’t stay in the theater. The main action is not on the screen. Bed bugs have been reported in a movie theater in Times Square of New York City.

Bed bugs are in resurgence. After a long hiatus (likely induced by the indoor use of insecticides) bed bugs are back in force from 5 Star hotels to flop houses. Bed bugs have been reported in the corporate headquarters of Time Warner and have closed upscale clothing stores. They have been found in dorm rooms of college campuses and wherever travelers sleep.

I first became aware of the bed bug resurgence in the late 1990s through complaint calls. The first call was from a wealthy alum (and donor to the University) who had encountered bed bugs in the cabin of a cruise ship. The caller was not concerned about the bed bugs. The caller was concerned that the staff had sprayed the cabin (without notification) to control the bed bugs and concerned about the effects of the pesticide. Since that time bed bugs have exploded onto the scene and are a major headache for hotel managers everywhere.

Bed bugs harbor in cracks and crevices and are difficult for home owners or tenants to eliminate. Effective control requires pesticide treatment including difficult to reach areas. Controversies between landlords and tenants over who is responsible for bed bug elimination have left people frustrated. An apartment dweller may be continually re-infested from adjoining apartments that harbor infestations. The bed bug problem is receiving national attention including a first ever National Bed Bug Summit hosted by EPA in August 2009.

What to do about bed bugs? When you check into a hotel room, check the mattress and bedding for small stains (bed bug excrement). Check under the bed frame. If your room has bed bugs, request another room. Keep your luggage and clothing off the floor and on the stand. This makes it more difficult to carry the bed bugs home. Bed bugs do not fly and depend on people to move them around in their clothing and possessions. If you stay in a place that has bed bugs, it is a good idea to unpack outside, launder all clothes in hot water immediately and treat infested luggage.

Researchers are working on better methods of bed bug detection including improved traps. Purdue University is part of the effort to inform the public and improve detection and control. I am currently on an advisory committee for a student studying bed bug behavior. (Understanding the behavior is useful for designing effective traps.) Detecting an infestation quickly and eliminating it before it spreads is helpful. Better treatments are needed, but those will be slower to be implemented. In the meantime, don’t let the bed bugs bite.

The underside of an immature bed bug. The bed bug has sucking mouthparts in the shape of a beak that penetrates the skin like a needle. Bed bugs inject substances with anesthetic properties so they can feed undetected.
Bed bug bites

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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1 Response to Insects at the movies

  1. Pingback: Comedy, Art, Infotainment | Living With Insects Blog

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