The curious case of a photophobic bug
Quick! Name one thing that cockroaches and spiders have in common. Surprise – they’re both predators of the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius! Well, this and other cimexic facts were news to all of us who listened raptly at what Dr. Gale Ridge described at the most recent Tilde Cafe (note: “cimexic” is not a real word, but with all the intriguing characteristics of bed bugs, one wonders why it isn’t one; particularly as we encounter newly fabricated words at an astounding frequency).
Dr. Ridge studies insect behavior, in particular the behavior of bed bugs. Bed bugs essentially disappeared in most parts of the western world by the middle of the last century, thanks in part to the use of DDT, improved designs of buildings, and access to appliances such as the vacuum cleaner. However, use of DDT came with disastrous consequences and the chemical was banned across the globe, except in certain situations for the control of malaria as recommended by the WHO. Fast forward to the end of the last century, when the world became more connected as a consequence of globalization. Not long thereafter, there was a sudden increase in reports of bed bugs, and surprisingly, as Gale demonstrated, a global map of these reports coincided with major routes for transport of goods.
Top map shows global reports of bed bugs. Image courtesy Gale Ridge.
While we have observed an increase in global reporting of bed bugs, it is important to note that there have been no reports of diseases spread by bed bugs, unlike diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks. Which is what makes the bed bug a rather fascinating insect. Due to the stigma associated with bed bugs, there is in equal measure misinformation about this insect, and consequently bed bug infestations are often poorly controlled. Of course, this has been a boon for fly-by-night operations claiming to exterminate bed bugs.
Bed bugs in a vial from Gale Ridge’s laboratory
Over the course of an hour, Tilde Cafe attendees learnt more about bed bugs than you’d ever dreamed of – bed bugs are as large as apple seeds, and very easy to spot unlike ticks; they don’t fly; they are tan colored, but are much darker soon after a blood feeding; they don’t bite – they suck blood from a host through a beak; they aren’t loners; they like to make their homes in crevices and folds; adults can live for up to a year; adult females lay about five eggs each day; eggs take up to ten days to hatch; they are sensitive to host movement and startle easily – but wait, there’s more! A lot more. Check out the video of the afternoon here.
In addition to expanding our knowledge about bed bugs, we also learnt of some simple ways to keep ahead of bed bugs and not get scammed by some of the advertising by exterminators as well as pesticide manufacturers. It would be wonderful if news outlets – print and electronic – would carry useful bed bug related information rather than sensational stories of people burning cars in an effort to get rid of bed bugs; clearly when it comes to tick and mosquito outbreaks the outlets take the matter more seriously. But until such time, share the video of the afternoon with as many people as you can – bed bugs are really more of an annoyance and a cause of discomfort, unlike the potential long term hazards of tick and mosquito infestations. Perhaps the least expensive way to keep ahead of the bed bug curve is to frequently use your vacuum cleaner with the crevice tool attached – at least every ten days – to catch the previously unhatched eggs. What’s more, if you’re partial to cockroaches and have your own Archy, then you’re off to a good start! As Archy said in a poem entitled “Crazy as a Bed Bug”
“… a plodder
but he attains
his object with the
and makes his escape
with a deal of cleverness”
But katsaridaphobia (fear of cockroaches) is common, so you’re probably better of following this: