How do you get bedbugs?
They are good hitchhikers. Often people carry them unknowingly in their luggage. This can be baggage when you are traveling, a briefcase, a backpack or just clothing. They can be picked up in public transportation sometimes or in theaters. They will travel on pipes and wiring and conduits from one apartment to another.
Are they dangerous?
As far as the research shows, they don't transmit diseases, but they do bite and take blood. People can get secondary infections if they scratch their wounds. In some people, the itching is unbearable. There's some disagreement as to how many people don't itch at all. That's one reason why infestations can be so bad, because people don't realize they have them
In a few cases, there may be an anaphylactic reaction. It is also possible to have an asthmatic reaction because of the shed skin the bugs leave behind as they grow and die.
How do you know if you have bedbugs?
If you have unexplained bites, that's a good way to know. You can also look for their blood droppings. The excrement is a liquid that varies from either light brown to black and can either bead up or be absorbed by the surface.
In some cases, we use dogs who are trained to sniff out live bedbugs or past infestations. They'll pick up on the odor of even one bedbug. We can't typically smell bed bugs, but we do pick up their alarm pheromone when they are disturbed, which smells like coriander. If there are a lot of live bugs, there may be a smell of blood, like rusty iron.
If you are traveling, you should examine the headboard in your hotel room. The headboard should be taken off and looked into. Massive headboards would be a great condominium complex for bedbugs.
How do you get rid of them?
Often you have to seek the services of a pest control expert who has had a lot of experience. You don't have to get rid of your furniture. Insecticides can be sprayed on furniture or furniture can be taken apart and sprayed with orange oil or Murphy's oil, both of which have an insecticidal quality. There are special preparations labeled for mattresses.
The nonchemical ways to remove bedbugs include low-vapor steam treatments, which are done for mattresses and furniture. There are also encasements that you put the mattress box spring in. You starve them to death, but it will take months.
In medieval times, when people would travel to inns with bedbug problems, they would send a pig into the room first so the bedbugs would feed and be satiated.
Don't you have a colony of bedbugs at the museum?
I've only had them for three years, but the original population had been collected from Fort Dix in New Jersey by an Army entomologist in 1971.
I have two eight-ounce jars with about a thousand bugs. There's a fine screen and I have duct tape around the base of the screw-on lid. Inside, there is just cardboard and paper, because they like to hide between the pieces.
Once a month, I just have to invert them on my arm in order to feed them. I get a bump on my arm for an hour or two and then it goes away. It doesn't itch.
And why is it that you keep these vile creatures?
They're mostly for educational purposes. I can show people and reporters all sizes of bedbugs. I also supply bedbugs to the companies that train the bedbug-sniffing dogs.