by Barbara Turnbull Reprinted from The Toronto Star February 18, 2011
bedbug is in a class of its own. They’re tiny, tenacious and love to travel.
Humans have been tormented by insects since we first entered caves — but the (released this week by Skyhorse Publishing). The New York-based entomologist makes a strong argument that we shouldn’t let sleeping arthropods lie — even if our own sleeping quarters aren’t infested. He wrote the book, he says, to “intrigue, horrify, entertain and be useful.” It is chock-full of the history of the bedbug, its life cycle and its current place in our ecosystem. Most importantly, it is a useful guide to prevention and treatment.
The key, he says, is vigilance — and to make simple changes to thwart them. He says one reason our forebears put legs on beds is to keep our bedding off the ground and away from the bugs. We’ve forgotten that, and today often put bedskirts under our mattresses — providing a perfect ladder for bedbugs to climb up and move in.
What follows is an edited version of the Star’s recent telephone interview with Maestre.
You say there is no other pest like the bedbug?
Because of the fear it induces in the human psyche. Even when an infestation is gone, there’s a lingering psychological recovery period of up to six months. It brings a lot of deep nightmares to the forefront.
Maybe it’s because they’re in our beds while we’re sleeping?
It’s also how we perceive the bedbug. If you have them you feel shame — because at some level you think it means you’re dirty or you’re poor or you’re not a good housekeeper. And if you have an allergic reaction it can feel like you’re being bitten again and again.
These were long periods when they went under the radar and you didn’t hear much about bedbugs.
There’s many reasons for that. Many people thought that DDT wiped them out, and that’s not necessarily the case. Our appreciation of the importance of sanitation and the proper disposal of garbage helped. We changed — our furniture changed, our lifestyle changed, the way we did things changed. Then when they went away, we changed back. Now that this pest has returned we have to start thinking along those lines yet again.
Is pest management busier now than ever?
It’s a growing industry because the population continues to grow. But world travel is also allowing all sorts of new invasive species to enter the country, and bedbugs are just one.
So what are we doing wrong and what are we doing right?
What we’re doing wrong is panicking. There is absolutely no need. What we’re doing right (and it’s started in this past year) is that there are many people in the pest-control industry and government who are performing the research necessary to control these pests and educate the public. It’s vigilance that’s going to be the key to all of this: education, learning what they are, what they look like. Slowly but steadily, government is coming into the picture and realizing what steps are going to be needed to really help society.
You recommend checking for bedbugs everywhere. Do you really check every seam of your coat and every seat before you plant your butt?
I’m not talking about taking 15 minutes, but as you’re putting your coat on take a look-see on the outside, on the inside, stick your hands in the pockets and pull them inside out. And just that little bit, which takes maybe 10 to15 seconds is probably going to be enough. If you know the location has had a bedbug problem then you want to be more thorough. If you’re staying in a hotel absolutely go through everything. If you go into a movie theatre, go through everything a little more thoroughly than you normally would. If you’re taking the train or the bus, take just a quick look-see.
Travel seems to be a big culprit.
One person may introduce the bedbug into a hotel room and then the next person is in the hotel room the next night. They may pick up one or two of them and then leave. Then a third person checks in. The exposure becomes exponential. That’s why vigilance in that situation is so important. It may take several days before the hotel itself becomes aware that there’s a problem in the room and reacts to it.
So there’s still much to learn about these guys.
They’re doing so at university levels all the time, learning about the behaviour. One example: There are 10 to 12 different pheromones that will attract bedbugs. Most males and nymphs (young ones) will congregate in and around that area, and so do females that aren’t pregnant. But for those females already pregnant, it acts as a repellent. That’s why no one has been able to come up with some sort of trap, like a roach motel, to attract bedbugs. You’ll catch some, but you you’re not going to catch all of them.