Bedbugs back in the news

The bedbug problem is one that just keeps growing. According to a 2010 survey, 95 per cent of exterminators in the United States were hired for at least one bed bug infestation during the year. The estimated population of these persistent, blood-eating pests has jumped by a whopping 500 per cent in recent years.

Experts say the problem is caused by an increased resistance to insecticides — and modern travel means it’s easier for infestations to spread from one region to another.

And now researchers have found another issue making it difficult to control bedbug infestations: inbreeding. Like cockroaches, they can do this easily and frequently — and for generations. This makes it incredibly easy to infest a home or apartment since all it takes is one mated female to hatch — and from there the brothers and sisters mate with each other to keep the population growing.

Coby Schal, a professor of entomology at North Carolina State University, says this about inbreeding in bugs: “For the vast majority of insect species, inbreeding is detrimental. Inbreeding depression’ occurs, because it leads to mutations that have deleterious effects and eventually kill off the population. But some colonizing species such as cockroaches and bedbugs are resistant to inbreeding depression because they have little opportunity to breed with other populations that might be some distance away — bedbugs can’t fly — so they’ve evolved the ability to withstand extensive inbreeding without deleterious effects. A single female can produce a very thriving population that can spread through a building very rapidly. We think that global transport and travel are bringing highly resistant bed bugs to the U.S., and through their ability to withstand inbreeding, they are generating large populations wherever they land.”

Since so many of the bedbugs in North America today are resilient to the pyrethroid insecticides regularly used to get rid of the bugs worldwide, the inbreeding just spreads that resistance.

What does this mean for us? The best course of action, as always, is to take care of the situation as soon as you suspect you have a problem. Any sign of bedbugs in your home (white egg casings or rusty stains on your bedding or mattress) should be taken seriously and dealt with immediately. Contact an exterminator who can deal with the problem before they start rapidly breeding.



Photo © Norman