Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite

September 11, 2015 | Deirdre Baker

Iowa pest control companies explain how heat is a popular non-chemical bed bug elimination solution.

Two generations of Americans didn't know a thing about bedbugs, but that has changed in the last decade or so, according to Donald R. Lewis, an entomologist at Iowa State University Extension, Ames.

Bedbug outbreaks began to be reported about 10-15 years ago, and in that time, many more Americans have been educated, to some extent, about the insects, the entomologist said.

Yet there is a deep aversion to bedbugs. Like vampires, these insects live on blood.

Small, like apple seeds

Mayo Clinic researchers report that bedbugs are small, reddish-brown parasitic insects, about the size of an apple seed. They bite the exposed skin of sleeping humans (and animals) to feed on the blood. Although bedbugs aren't known to spread disease, they can cause public health and economic issues.

Even the report of one bedbug can cause a panic or crisis, Lewis said. "If you have bedbugs, it can carry the sense of being the worst possible thing that can happen to you," he added.

These days, many pest control operators treat the bedbugs several times each week. Tony Arguello, of Ace Pest Control, Davenport, is one firm that handles bedbug control in the Quad-Cities.

He uses products available to professionals, and rotates them to try and avoid a problem that Lewis mentions: Bedbugs are becoming resistant to some of the chemicals available.

"Whatever you use, these are tough sons-of-a-gun to get rid of, forever," Arguello said.

Non-chemical choices

Heat treatment is a popular alternative to pesticides, the entomologist said. "But," he warned, "it's incredibly disruptive."

Experts bring in special high-capacity heaters to a location, and hook them up to a generator. Average temperatures need to reach about 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes the process expensive, both for operators and the homeowners or landlords.

Arguello does heat treatments at times, but most of his customers choose chemical treatments. In some cases, with the heat, the bedbugs may hide in walls for a few months, or below the floor, where they are safe. That's why Arguello may follow up with a chemical treatment.

Not too fast

Bedbugs move at about the pace of a ladybug, and according to the entomologist, are "not terribly good at spreading themselves around." Most bedbugs travel in a person's luggage, or in any personal effects left on a floor. They do not fly.

In a situation that has a "infestation," Lewis said the bugs will hide within close proximity to the humans. This is often in beds, mattresses, frames and springs, but also in couches and easy chairs.

As humans sleep, the carbon dioxide level rises, and the bugs wander to the human. A small amount of blood is extracted, and then they wander back to their hiding places, Lewis explained.

Bedbugs are fairly long-lived. Females live several weeks, and they can lay dozens of eggs if a food source is available. Babies can grow to adulthood in about a month, again, if food is available, Lewis said.

There is no season for bedbugs; they are an issue at all times of the year. "There is a constant need for food," Lewis said.

However, he is philosophical about bedbugs, even as he admits they cause alarm among most people. "Yes, it can be terrible, but it's not the worst thing to happen to you," he said.