Bedbugs, common pre-WWII pests, return


OSU Ext. program assistant

Before World War II, bedbugs were a relatively common pest. People learned to watch for signs of them and took early action to deal with infestations.

In the 1940s and ’50s, pesticides like DDT, which left long-lasting residues, were very effective in controlling bedbugs, so they all but vanished in the U.S. But they persisted in many areas of the world.

Decreased use of pesticides and increased reliance on baits for ant and cockroach control have resulted in a comeback of bedbugs since the late 1990s. Because of their blood diet, baits are not effective against bedbugs. Increased international travel and commerce also have contributed to their resurgence.

Common bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, brownish, flattened insect parasites found in northern temperate climates. They prefer feeding on humans, but will also feed on other warm-blooded animals. While a roach infestation can be seen as the result of a housekeeping problem, bedbugs merely signal a supply of blood, even in a highly sanitized environment.

Female bedbugs lay up to 12 eggs per day, roughly the size of a dust spec. The sticky-coated eggs are deposited on rough surfaces or in tiny cracks and crevices. Nymphs, resembling small adults, hatch in one to two weeks and immediately begin to feed. They must molt to grow larger and require a blood meal in order to molt. After five molts, they become adults roughly the size of an apple seed.

Bedbugs are nonflying, fast moving, usually nocturnal feeders that can survive months without feeding. They pierce skin of a sleeping human painlessly with an elongated beak, injecting a fluid that assists with blood removal. It is that fluid that results in the skin irritation that can indicate their presence. They hide during the day, preferring sites close to where hosts sleep, and seem to prefer fabric, wood and paper surfaces.

They are usually transported to a home on luggage and clothing, but also on second-hand furniture.

Watch for telltale signs on sheets, mattresses, bed clothes and walls: bloodstains, fecal spots, molted skins and live bugs. If detected, placing items in a clothes dryer at medium to high heat for 10 to 20 minutes will eliminate the problem, but severe infestation should be handled by an exterminator.

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