Category Archives: Insects & Spiders

Treating for bedbugs

Bedbugs have been a rising concern for the last two decades. You can read more about the biology of these pesky house bugs here. In this post we will investigate several methods that might help you deal with them.

The first thing to do is to confirm that you have an infestation, and this can be tricky. Bedbugs can live in large numbers near their food source (you), but they are masters at avoiding detection. Since they generally feed at night, they congregate near beds and sleeping areas. Often they hide in headboards, mattresses, baseboards and carpet crevasses, and bedside furniture. Adults are easily identified when seen as they are about 1/8 of an inch long, dark brown in color, and have dark bands across their backs.

Bedbug nymph

Bedbug

Other telltale signs of bedbugs are blood spots in the bedding, fecal spots in the mattress and box springs, shed skins of the bugs, and of course bites on people. The bites of the bedbugs are on exposed skin, often on the extremities, and the can welt up and itch. You may find that some of the welts line up as the bugs might bite several times while going in a straight line.

Once an infestation has been confirmed action is called for. These pesky bugs can be very hard to eradicate. And for many, they cause great stress and anxiety. When you know that you are being fed upon at night you may hate to crawl into bed and sleep. After all, your bed is your place of refuge, and if you are not safe there, nights can become a nightmare.

The process for getting rid of these little suckers (literally) can be a lot of physical work. Start by physically cleaning all the areas around the bed. Wash all bedding in hot water. The heat will kill any bugs and eggs. Take clutter from around the bed, places where the bugs could hide, and heat treat it as well. You cannot simply tie up the stuff in plastic bags as the bugs and their eggs can live for a very long time between feedings. However, I have found it to be effective to place the bags in your car in the hot sun. Repeated heating in a hot car is enough to kill the bugs and eggs.

Pull drawers out of bedside tables and look behind them, cleaning everything in the drawer and behind the drawer meticulously. A vacuum can help. Clean the crevasses around the baseboards and any cracks. Check the box springs carefully, and clean any debris so at least you can see later if there is new activity.

Bugs can also hide in clothing, so you may need to re-wash your entire wardrobe, and then store it in sealed plastic bags to protect from re-infestation. Clothing should be washed and dried in a hot dryer. You may wish to use the commercial machines at a Laundromat. Vacuum your carpets thoroughly. If you have furniture that is infested you may just wish to throw it away. If you do however, be sure to either destroy it or mark it clearly that it is infested so someone else does not carry it home.

Even all this meticulous cleaning will likely not be enough. There are a number of non-chemical treatments that have been suggested. I offer them there for those who would like to avoid the chemicals, but realistically I am not sure how effective they really are.

There are commercially made bed bug traps. Mattress covers might be a good idea. They are designed to trap any bugs inside so they cannot get to you. You would need to also cover the box springs. And while they may trap those already inside, that is likely not the only population you have. Bed post dishes have been suggested. This is where you place the bed legs into a container and put oil or something similar that the bugs cannot cross. The idea is it keeps the bugs from climbing up into the bed in the first place. The problem with this is you have to keep the containers full, and it would only take one time of a blanket falling to the floor, or of you having a bug on a bed slipper and unknowingly giving it a lift to the bed.

Diatomaceous earth has been suggested. The idea here is that the clay will desiccate the bugs, dry them out, and kill them. But direct contact with the bugs is required, and if they are not adequately covered it will have no effect.

Heat does kill the bugs, so steam can be effective. The problem with it is the heat has to be applied very close to the bug itself, and if you cannot get the steam deep into every surface where the bugs might hide, they simply will retreat to a safe place and reemerge.

As much as we all shy away from chemicals, this may be a time to bring out the big guns. I highly recommend a professional exterminator as they are trained in the use and application of the insecticides, and since you will be spraying surfaces that you will come into contact with it is best to get professional help.

I have read (but an not endorsing) that you can effectively spray for the bugs yourself by using a combination of 2 oz of Cy-Kicks-CS (with 6% cyfluthrin) and 1 oz of Martins IGR (1.3% of 2-{1methyl2(4phenoxyphenoxy)ethoxy}pyridine) per gallon of water. These chemicals should be available at a local do-it-yourself store. You will have to repeat the spraying and thorough cleaning of all areas 5 to 7 days after the first treatment as the bugs are not killed instantly but the chemicals inhibits growth and breeding.

Bedbug infestations can be a nightmare. It is best to catch them early. Also, be aware that if you live in a multi-unit dwelling, you cannot just treat one apartment—all of them must be thoroughly dealt with or the bugs will simply move from unit to unit.

So, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite—ever again!

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Dangerous animals—spiders

In this installment of the Dangerous Animals series we look at a group that is very misunderstood, and often erroneously indicted for being dangerous—spiders. In the summary chart of dangerous animals, summarized from various sources, spiders are accused of causing 6 deaths a year, on average, in North America. This is more deaths than caused by bears, mountain lions, and wolves combined, and I am highly suspicious of the figure.

In his review of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, Langley (2005) summarizes death by all sorts of wild animals, and spider bites have their own classification code, suggesting that the medical community has decided it is worth watching for. For example, the data suggest that between 1991 and 2001 there were 5 fatalities by alligators, and a whopping 66 deaths by spider. People seem to be dropping dead left and right from spider bites. What gives?

In North America, there are two types of spiders known to cause medically significant envenomations in humans: the widows and the recluse. Let’s look at each.

Latrodectus, the Black Widow

Latrodectus, the black widow

Latrodectus, the black widow, showing a characteristic pose, upside down in the web.

There are currently 30 species of spiders within the genus Latrodectus, commonly called widows in North America. The species are distributed world-wide and are on every continent except Antarctica. The venom of the widow contains neurotoxins that inhibit neurotransmission. The spiders like dark and quiet places, with bites occurring when people unintentionally grab or sit on the spider, perhaps under a porch, on lawn furniture, in the tool shed, or in gloves or other item clothing. In the past bites sometimes occurred in outdoor toilets. Symptoms of bites tend to be local and radiating pain, and sometimes back, abdominal, and chest pain, sometimes accompanied by fever, agitation, hypertension, and interestingly, priapism (Vetter and Isbister 2008). People have described it to me like a case of the flu. Untreated, symptoms can last from hours to days. Despite their infamy, death is very uncommon.

Loxosceles reclusa, the Brown Recluse

Loxosceles reclusa, the Brown Recluse

Loxosceles reclusa, a Brown Recluse female guarding her egg sac on a cardboard box in Kansas.

Few spiders generate as much passion and aversion as the brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa). I currently live in an area where black widows are extremely common, and local people are very casual about them, but are terrified of the brown recluse. I have done many educational programs where I have displayed live spiders, including black widows, and unvaryingly I am treated to several stories by visitors about how they (or someone they know) were bitten by a brown recluse, usually with very bad consequences. (I literally had one person tell me that his aunt had her entire arm removed because of a bite). The thing is brown recluse spiders do not live here! Nothing generates fear like the unknown.

Prior to living where I do now, I lived in an area with gobs of brown recluses, and the people there were generally nonchalant about their presence, as there were almost no cases of bites resulting in horrible wounds.

Distribution map of species within the genus Loxosceles, including Loxosceles reclusa, or the Brown Recluse

Distribution map of species within the genus Loxosceles, including Loxosceles reclusa, or the Brown Recluse (from Vetter 2008).

To be clear, Loxosceles is confirmed to have bitten people and caused wounds that in rare cases take a long time to heal and can leave disfiguring scars, or even death. They are a spider of medical concern. But, having said this, the threat is far over blown.

They are named “recluse” because they like very quite areas, and can frequent homes and storage sheds in quite places. They like corners of basements, and particularly cardboard boxes. Sometimes they crawl into clothing and shoes left on the floor or in the closet. Like with the widows, people are most often bitten when they catch the spider between their body and where the spider is—the bite is defensive.

In a majority of cases, the bite results in local discomfort and nothing more. In some cases a larger wound forms that is tender, but most of these heal with minimal medical intervention, usually within days. Sometimes the wound heals slower, and in rare instances does grow large and can leave a scar. And in very rare cases (<1%) there are more significant systemic issues that can affect major organs and cause death. (Vetter and Isbister 2008).

As mentioned, I lived in an area with known recluse populations. In fact, in one case, 2,055 individual recluse spiders were captured in 6 months from one home in Kansas where the family lived for many years without a single incident attributed to the spiders (Vetter 2008). However, popular perception about these spiders is very different. Why is this?

The most likely explanation is that when the recluse was implicated in bites the most extreme cases got widely reported, heightening awareness in the public and medical community. Diagnoses of recluse bites have become common place, often in areas where the spiders have not been found in the wild, and usually without clear evidence that the symptoms presented were actually caused by a spider, or any other bite for that matter. For example, in Florida, an area without a known population of recluses, during a six year period, 844 brown recluse bites were reported: 124 by medical personnel, 198 by people seeking information about bites, and 522 from people reporting bites treated at a non-healthcare facility (Vetter and Furbee 2006). Physicians are thus occasionally guilty of “practicing Arachnology” by identifying bites, and even spider species, from clinical symptoms alone. The truth is, there are numerous conditions that have been, or could be, misdiagnosed as a recluse bite (Vetter 2008) (see below).

Given the obvious over-diagnosis and misdiagnosis of spider bites, and of recluse bites in particular, I find the assertion that 6 deaths a year in North America are caused by spiders to be highly doubtful. At the very least, this is an undeserved slam against our eight-legged friends, and at worst is misleading the public and medical community, causing potential misdiagnoses and poor treatment choices.

Conditions that have, or could be, misdiagnosed as a bite from a brown recluse (Loxosceles reclusa), from Vetter 2008.

Infections

Atypical mycobacteria

Bacterial

– Streptococcus

– Staphylococcus (especially MRSA)

– Lyme borreliosis

– Cutaneous anthrax

– Syphilis

– Gonococcemia

– Ricketsial disease

– Tularemia

Deep Fungal

– Sporotrichosis

– Aspergillosis

– Cryptococcosis

Ecthyma gangrenosum (Pseudomonas aeruginosa)

Parasitic (Leishmaniasis)

Viral (herpes simplex, herpes zoster (shingles))

Vascular occlusive or venous disease

Antiphospholipid-antibody syndrome

Livedoid vasculopathy

Small-vessel occlusive arterial disease

Venous statis ulcer

Necrotising vasculitis

Leukocytoclastic vaculitis

Polyarteritis nodosa

Takayasu’s arteritis

Wegeners granulomatosis

Neoplastic disease

Leukemia cutis

Lymphoma (e.g., mycosis fungoides)

Primary skin neoplasms (basal cell carcinoma, malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma)

Lymphomatoid papulosis

Topical and Exogenous Causes

Burns (chemical, thermal)

Toxic plant dermatitis (poison ivy, poison oak)

Factitious injury (i.e., self-induced)

Pressure ulcers (i.e., bed sores)

Other arthropod bites

Radiotherapy

Other Conditions

Calcific uremic arteriolopathy

Cryoglobulinemia

Diabetic ulcer

Langerhans’-cell histiocytosis

Pemphigus vegetans

Pyoderma gangrenosum

Septic embolism

Related posts:
See the rest of the Dangerous Animals series
Pesky house bugs–bed bugs

References:

Langley, R. L. 2005. Animal-related fatalities in the United States–an update. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine 16:67-74.

Vetter, R. S. 2008. Spiders of the genus Loxosceles (Araneae, Sicariidae): a review of biological, medical and psychological aspects regarding envenomations. The Journal of Arachnology 36:150-163.

Vetter, R. S., and R. B. Furbee. 2006. Caveats in interpreting poison control centre data in spider bite epidemiology studies. Public Health 120:179-181.

Vetter, R. S., and G. K. Isbister. 2008. Medical aspects of spider bites. Annual Review of Entomology 53:409-429.

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Pest Control For Ants

If ants have taken over your home and you want to get them out, there are a few things that you can do. In order to begin the process of extracting the ants you will want to identify the type of ants that you are dealing with. There are different methods that are used to make ants go away depending on which type they are. Once you have identified the type that you are dealing with there are a few things that you can do.

The preferred pest control to use when trying to get rid of ants is sweet bait. You will be able to find different types of sweet baits that are made by different companies. One company that makes a good one is Terro. What you want to do once you have obtained some sweet bait is place it in the areas where there are the most ants. When they see the bait they will attack it and it will kill them. You will want to place as much bait out as it takes to get rid of all the ants in your home.

Another option is to us a bait from the company DuPont. It is called Advion Ant bait gel and it has a specially formulated active ingredient that just knocks ants out. The bait matrix is also composed of highly attractive foods that ants just eat up. The best way to use this bait, and any other for that matter, is to place it out in small pea size amounts along the foraging trail. The foraging trail is the path the ants are using to find food and bring it back to the colony. When you put the bait out right in the foraging trail the ants will find it and eat it up. This is a slow acting poison so it may take a week before you don’t see any more ants from that colony.

When you are using this method of pest control o get rid of the ants that have invaded your home it might take a few days to rid yourself of all of them. As you know, ants travel in colonies, so there could be thousands of them that you will have to get rid of. Make sure that you find some good sweet bait that you can use in order to trap the ants and kill them. If you ever have the same problem again then use the same solution to make the problem go away.

Please use chemical pesticides responsibly, and make sure any baits are away from areas that pets and children can access them.

Related Posts:

Pesky house bugs–bedbugs

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Pesky house bugs—bedbugs

“Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbug bite,” was a common saying when I was a kid, but I did not really understand it. What was a bedbug anyway? I thankfully went through most of my life without knowing because they were largely eradicated as pests throughout the developed world. However, since the 1990s they have been on the rise.

Bedbugs are parasitic insects in the true bug order Hemiptera. Like other true bugs, they have piercing mouthparts, but unlike most other bugs, bedbugs use them to pierce you and suck your blood. While feeding, the bedbug injects its victim with an anticoagulant saliva. They can live for long periods between meals, but prefer to feed once every five to ten days.

Bedbug nymph

Bedbug nymph

The adult bedbugs are large enough to be easily seen. They are about 1/8 of an inch long and dark brown in color. Their bodies are rounded and flattened front to back. Younger nymphs are small and clear. Bedbugs live in large groups, usually close to their food source, and with a food source their numbers can balloon very quickly. They can be easily transported on clothing, luggage, or furniture and in this way are easily spread from place to place. Infestations can be very hard to detect and eradicate. In recent years dogs have been trained to detect infestations and can do so much faster than a human exterminator in most cases.

Signs of bedbugs include blood spots on the bedding, molted skins of the bugs themselves, clusters of droppings, and the bugs themselves hiding in mattress folds or in the box springs. There is still a stigma about infestations as many people assume that an infestation means the home is unclean, and this stigma means that infestations may not be reported. Hotels increasingly have issues as they serve many people from all over, and once infested, the travelers can carry the bugs home.

Bedbugs feed mostly at night, and they will attack any exposed skin. Bites are not felt at the time, and after feeding for about 10 minutes the bug goes back to hiding. Later, the bites might welt and itch. Sometimes they occur in a line of bites, and are often mistaken for bites from other insects like fleas or mosquitoes, or some other skin rash. This is one reason that infestations can persist for long periods without detection.

You do not have to live with bedbugs however. Getting rid of an infestation is generally not easy, and usually involves a professional exterminator. All areas where the bugs occur should be cleaned and vacuumed. Clothing and bedding should be washed to kill eggs and larva. The bugs will live on mattresses and box springs, behind headboards and in furniture, behind picture frames, and in crevices like around baseboards. Clearing up clutter around the bed is also a good idea. Getting to all the areas where the bugs could be hiding is very difficult. An exterminator will spray insecticides which should be used only as needed since they will be applied to bedding and carpets that you come in contact with too. There is evidence that the bugs are becoming resistant to common insecticides, which is a source of concern.

Be aware. Early detection helps keep infestations from becoming more difficult to deal with. These days more people understand the meaning of “don’t let the bedbugs bite” as these pesky house bugs make a comeback.

A good reference with lots of photos can be found at bedbugger.com. Also check out the story on Fresh Air.

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