By Marcia Anderson
A few weeks ago I visited a popular state park to view wildlife in its natural setting. The park had a beautiful rustic lodge and conference center with antique, rough-sawn beams that gave a real western ambiance. The chairs, benches, tables, and bed headboards were made of peeled tree branches that were roughly fitted together.
After checking in, I conducted a precursory search for pests in the room, as I do whenever I enter any overnight lodging. No bugs showed up on my radar. It was not until about 9 pm, when I was about to prop up some pillows, that I saw a little brown spot on one of the white pillowcases. Then, the spot moved! OH, it couldn’t be… but it was.
I caught and placed it in a clear plastic bag for a better look. It was a healthy bed bug. I caught two more on other pillows. Two more on the wall near the headboard scurried down into the crack behind the floor molding before I could grab them.
I then decided to check out the box spring where I noticed two more near the plastic corner guard. I caught one, but the other got away, deep into the box spring innards. I noticed another coming out a joint in the headboard. Missed him also. He crawled in so deep it was impossible to get ahold of him. At this point, I had captured four of the eight bed bugs sighted. All were very healthy. I took lots of photos then called the front desk.
The receptionist alerted the staff and sent one to investigate. The person who came insisted that she had never seen a bed bug before. She asked if she could keep the four I had caught. No problem, but I warned her not to open the bag — don’t want any escapees.
When she returned to help me move to another room, I explained the importance of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, when confronted with a bed bug infestation. I talked about exclusion and monitoring being two key IPM practices for managing bed bugs. I described how sealing cracks, such as in the head board and behind the floor moldings, and eliminating hiding places for the bed bugs were essential.
Placing encasements on the mattress and box springs would prevent having to replace these expensive items. They would block access for new bed bugs and, in time, kill the any trapped inside. Bed bug inspection dogs might be cost effective in checking the entire lodge and guest cabins for other infestations. Bed bug dogs are trained to sniff out bed bugs, even just one, in the same way that drug-sniffing dogs identify drugs and alert customs agents at border crossings of positive findings.
I explained that they should enlist a pest management professional with experience in dealing with bed bugs. Heat treatment for spaces is effective when conducted properly. Spraying pesticides is not the silver bullet that it was many years ago for multiple reasons. Some bed bugs have become resistant to some pesticides, rendering them ineffective. Another reason is bed bug behavior.
Bed bugs hide in all sorts of tiny cracks and crevices for at least four days between meals. Therefore, they may not be out to be exposed to a pesticide being applied. Remember that they were nowhere to be seen when I conducted a precursory check the afternoon I arrived. If the bugs are hidden in the moldings, furniture or box spring crevices, the pesticide may never reach them.
This was my first personal bed bug encounter and hopefully the last. My husband asked me to please not bring home any souvenirs. No problem. However, I do hope the lodge took my advice on IPM and checked out the bed bug prevention, detection and control flier on EPA’s bed bug website. The site provides numerous bed bug control resources, one of which is the bed bug traveler card, pictured here. They are the size of a credit card, so print one and take it with you the next time you travel.
About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.