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It’s hard to believe it’s been over 15 years since bed bugs made their return to North America. Cryptic pests were virtually wiped out by improved sanitation and the use of pesticides like DDT in the 1940s and 1950s. They began to reappear in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the popular tourist destinations and hotels catering to business travelers in major cities.

Within a decade, bed bugs were a widespread problem affecting multifamily and single-family housing, college dorms, healthcare facilities, public transportation, office buildings, and even laundromats.

And while their reintroduction was likely due in part to increased international travel, immigration, changes in pest management practices, and resistance to existing pesticides, people were also to blame.

“A general lack of public awareness is largely responsible for the rampant spread of bedbugs across the United States,” writes Dr. Richard Cooper in the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control, 10and editing. Cooper, who is vice president of BedBug Central and chief technical officer of Cooper Pest Solutions, a Terminix company, says the pest’s secretive behavior and public ignorance meant the infestations went undetected for months. , which gave bedbugs an opportunity to spread.

And it’s not just the general public who were caught off guard. Most pest control professionals have never seen bed bugs before. The industry had to learn from scratch how to control pests, starting with how they behave and why.

Biology and Behavioral Questions. Bed bugs are nocturnal insects that feed mainly on human blood, necessary for their development and reproduction. A bed bug needs a blood meal at each of its five instars, or immature stages, during which it molts and eventually becomes an adult. Males even seek out recently fed females to mate with.

Mated females lay two to five small, cream-colored eggs at a time and will lay 200 to 500 eggs in their lifetime. The eggs hatch in 6 to 10 days. Up to four generations can occur in a year. The parasites tend to live in aggregations near the bed, as well as in upholstered furniture where people rest. With large infestations, bed bugs can be found in less predictable areas, such as in books and electronic equipment.

From egg to egg, the bed bug life cycle takes four to five weeks when the relative humidity is 75 to 80 percent and the temperature is 83 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (28 to 30 degrees Celsius). The length of the life cycle can lengthen when temperatures are reduced or blood meals are limited.

Become more strategic. Ongoing research and development has helped PMPs become much more effective at controlling bedbugs.

“Bedbugs came along and it took us a while to figure out what to do about it,” says Chelle Hartzer, technical services manager at Rollins in Atlanta. “Now, after 20 years, we know this is going to be an ongoing issue and we have the research and the information to really deliver great service,” she said.

More efficient tools have also helped PMPs gain the upper hand. “I think the materials are much, much better now,” says Bart Foster, technical and training manager at Bill Clark Pest Control in Beaumont, Texas. Early bed bug treatments relied on the tools available at the time. “We were successful, but there was a lot of room for improvement,” he says.

Since then, manufacturers have introduced products specifically for bed bug control that reduce the risk of the pests developing resistance to insecticides, a very real threat.

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Bed bugs in numbers

1 mm – the size of a bed bug egg

2-5 – number of eggs laid at a time by a mated female

200-500 – number of eggs laid by a mated female during her lifetime

6-10 – number of days it takes a bedbug egg to hatch

4-5 weeks – typical bed bug life cycle from egg to egg

75-80% – optimal relative humidity for the development of bed bugs

83-90 degrees F – optimum temperature for bed bug development

1 – minimum number of blood meals needed at each stage

5 – number of instars, or immature stages, before becoming an adult

316 days – typical lifespan of a bed bug

Source: Mallis Pest Control Manual, 10and editing; University of Tennessee

William L. Hart