Curiosity Corner: Some world travelers make for unwanted guests | Curiosity Corners

Curiosity Corner: Some world travelers make for unwanted guests | Curiosity Corners

Back to the bedbugs. Last week, we learned about their characteristics, but why have they become so prevalent? No one knows for sure, but it is suspected that it has to do with the ban on the insecticide DDT, which all but eradicated bedbugs in the United States. DDT was banned in 1972 after it was linked to the dramatic decline in eagle and condor populations. First introduced in the 1930s, DDT had a lingering effect on surfaces where it was used and continued to kill bugs for weeks.

Although bedbugs are commonly found around mattresses, where the prey is sleeping, they can hide in any small space, such as joints in furniture, cracks in wallboard and linings of suitcases. Experts believe that the latter might be a major cause of the infestations. Because of increased global and domestic travel, travelers can bring bedbugs to and from hotels and motels in their luggage. Note that one female lays hundreds of eggs that may go along for the ride with some delayed biting.

So, what do we do to get rid of them? They are usually hidden — and can stay hidden — because they are able to survive for up to a year without feeding. Professional exterminators rely on sprays to kill the bugs hiding in cracks, with a dusting backup to get the ones that survive the spray. Bedbug eggs aren’t generally affected by these applications, so it takes another treatment a couple of weeks later when the eggs have hatched. Trying to take care of the problem yourself with off-the-shelf pesticides might not be the solution. Applications are usually limited and the bugs may flee to another location while their eggs survive.

In the meantime, researchers are studying bedbugs, hoping to find a chink in their armor. Maybe a new, environmentally friendly pesticide or some way to disrupt the bug’s life cycle will come along. A main thing to remember is that anyone can get bedbugs — not just from a dirty (or clean) mattress, but even from that Christmas present you got from Aunt Jane last year!

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “Goodnight, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner.

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