Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bed Bugs!

I know we've been quiet here for a while, and some of you may be expecting a juicy return, but I have a peripherally related topic, instead: bed bugs.

Several articles in the popular press [1,2,3] have made a big deal about them, backed by the internet amplification [4], so I presume this is a topic of broad interest. If you travel much, or if you live in a major city in the United States, you've probably had bed bug bites, or known someone who has. Here I simply wish to share my two simple tips for not bringing them home. (If you have them in your house, look elsewhere for help, and good luck!)

I've read somewhere early on, maybe 2005, that heat (around 120F) can relatively easily kill them at all life cycle stages. The main problem is exposing your stuff. I have a related pair solutions that seem to have worked, preventing their spread after I've been savaged by them. (My field assistant in Chile suffered from bed-bug-induced PTSD, no joke.) First, in several instances, I placed all of my belongings in black trash bags, and simply left them out in the sun on hot pavement or roof top. Second, I highly recommend using your car as an oven. The last time I was doing field work, I baked all of my stuff in the rental car, parked in full sunlight, and then, after I landed at O'Hare, I left all the luggage inside my car here, which is easily over 120F on most April-October days. I get a towel and shove what I'm wearing into a dryer. So far so good--no bed bugs at home. I don't mean to revel in this fact; it's clear that it is also a matter of luck. (The last time came back, it turned out I also had scabies. Ew.)

The source of the present infestation is unclear, but it seems like a rather straightforward phylogeographic question, taken on by at least a pair of labs [6]. Also, this bed bug sensor seems fairly accessible to biologists, in case you think you may have them, but aren't sure (requires a bottle, dry ice, and a plastic pit fall trap to hold the bottle). I haven't tried tanglefoot yet, but it could be a band-aid solution on the legs of a clean bed.

Hope you never need any of this advice!