If you're rearing a bed bug colony, they need blood. Yours, if you don't mind.
Someone else's, if there's no one else around.
A big draw at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's recent open house, "Parasite Palooza," was a bed-bug feeding demonstration, featuring bed bugs from a UC Davis-reared colony.
When it was feeding time for the parasitic insects, Cimex lectularius, two scientists stepped forth and offered their arms in the name of science.
Charlotte Herbert, who is studying for her doctorate in entomology, volunteered to be the first "blood donor." Next to step up was nematologist/parasitologist Lauren Camp, who received her doctorate last December at UC Davis.
The particulars: Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart, handed each scientist a bed bug enclosed in fine netting. The netting proved fine enough to prevent escape, but large enough to allow feeding.
"We don't want any escapees," Yang said.
The insects originated from the parent colony of UC Davis entomology graduate Danielle Wishon, now a forensic investigator for the Sacramento Police Department. She began rearing them several years ago, intending to do research. Later she gave some of her bed bugs to UC Davis researcher Jenella Loye of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who in turn loaned some to the Bohart Museum for its "Parasitic Palooza: Botflies, Fleas and Mites, Oh, My."
Wishon says it's fairly easy to rear bed bugs. "If you want a fast growing colony, you can feed them once a week. When I was very actively feeding them, I chose to feed them once or twice a month so the colony didn't get too big too fast. I've gone as much as six months without feeding them, and they repopulated just fine. I started this colony several years back, but I would occasionally add individuals I find on mattresses discarded by UC Davis students during the great fall quarter move."
Wishon acknowledged that in the past, she 'sub-let' feeding responsibilities to forensic entomologist Bob Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty and to entomology student/Bohart associate Wade Spencer. "Hey, they offered!" she said.
Has Wishon ever encountered bed bugs in a hotel room?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation."
"Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep," the CDC points out on its website. "These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep."
Bed bugs are not known to spread disease, according to the CDC. However, excessive scratching can "sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection."
Wishon noted that some people experience a "pretty negative reaction to the saliva--flu-like symptoms if I remember correctly. That's really the reason I want to keep feeding a colony even though I am not going to be doing research on them anytime soon--most of the older researchers I know who once fed a colony but stopped, or who traveled to countries where they were common and were exposed regularly but then moved back, and were exposed to them many years later, seem to develop hyper sensitivity to bed bug saliva. This could be completely anecdotal and coincidental, but I've heard this familiar story enough times to want to error on the side of caution and continue feeding without years of breaking. I don't want to develop a negative reaction to exposure."
Both Camp and Herbert said they basically didn't feel much of anything when the bed bugs began feeding. Here's why: "When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten," according to the CDC. "Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea -- a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites."
Any reactions? "It took a while, but I did react to the bed bug bites," Camp said. "On the third day (Jan. 25), I saw raised red marks on my right arm, that were a bit itchy. Guess it took me three days to react."
Said Herbert: "I had a very small red mark where it bit, but no lasting marks or feelings. I felt it bite, but just barely. However, I have had bed bugs before while visiting my grandparents in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the bites were pretty terrible! I was itchy and thrashed all night, I didn't realize what was happening until the morning when I was covered in little bite marks and we found the bed bugs on the edges of the mattress. They looked very well fed!
No wonder folks say: "Good night! Sleep tight! And don't let the bed bugs bite."
How much do you know about nematodes?
What would you like to know?
You'll be able to learn more about both, plus fleas, mites, lice, bed bugs, botflies and other critters, when the Bohart Museum of Entomology of UC Davis hosts an open house on “Parasite Palooza: Botflies, Fleas and Mites, Oh, My” from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 22 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane.
It's free and open to the public. You can meet scientists one-on-one and ask questions.
Senior public health biologist Mike Niemala of the California Department of Public Health will participate in the three-hour open house, discussing ticks and other health issues, and handing out fliers and brochures. He received his master of science degree from UC Davis.
What are nematodes? That's a question often asked of nematologists.
"Nematodes are a large group (phylum) of roundworms," Camp said. "Most nematodes are not parasites, but people may be familiar with some of the parasitic species. Some well-known nematode parasites of humans are pinworm, Ascaris, hookworm, and guinea worm. Dogs and cats can also become infected with nematodes including heartworm, hookworm, or Toxocara."
Camp, who grew up in rural northern Indiana, received her bachelor's degree in biology in 2005 from the University of Chicago and her master's degree in biology in 2007 from Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C. As a UC Davis graduate student, she focused on the evolutionary relationships and genetic diversity of Baylisascaris procyonis, a nematode parasite of raccoons. Her career plans? Researcher in infectious diseases or genetics/genomics or a science communicator.
"I first became interested in parasites during my undergrad degree at the University of Chicago," Camp said. "My specific interest in nematode parasites developed when I read some of Dr. Nadler's work on the evolutionary relationships of nematodes for an invertebrate biology class. Nematodes are an amazing phylum of organisms- they exist in almost every known environment on the planet, and different species eat everything from bacteria and fungi to plant and animal tissue. I find parasites particularly fascinating, because they are dependent on another organism (or organisms) for part or all of their life cycle."
The Bohart Museum event is free and open to the public. For the family craft activity, attendees will attach stickers of parasites on origami paper hats.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It also maintains a live “petting zoo,” featuring walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tarantulas. A gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most of us remember the old nursery rhyme, "Good night, sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite," and vow to do everything we can to avoid any blood-letting.
Whether we call them "blood suckers," "menace in the mattress," or "human parasites," it's not cool to be bitten by bed bugs.
"Bed bug biting," however, is not part of their job descriptions.
The crowd watched in awe as the reddish-brown blood suckers turned from flat to bulging. The insects, Cimex lectularius, are "visually adorable," Wishon said, noting that they are pests but they don't spread diseases. She keeps two colonies in Briggs Hall for research purposes.
Several visitors told of their personal experiences with bed bugs--in their hotels and homes, and in their bedding and baggage.
Wishon made sure no one took any home.
For more information on bed bugs, check out the Entomological Society of America (ESA) website on bed bug resources. ESA includes the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM). Another good source is the relatively new University of Florida bed bug site.
"Despite their name, bed bugs can infest areas other than beds," according to the University of Florida website. "They tend to locate in cracks and crevices, such as behinds baseboards, wall outlets, and wallpaper; between bed joints, slats, and dresser drawers; and along mattress seams and in linens and clothes. Most bed bug infestations occur in the home, along with hotels, dormitories, and cruise ships. Bed bugs easily transfer from one site to another through infested belongings like clothes, suitcases, second-hand furniture, beds, and bedding."
Bed bugs, lice, ticks, mites, fleas and mosquitoes.
If you want to see and/or learn more about them, attend the Bohart Museum of Entomology's "Snuggle Bugs" open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 12 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
It's free and open to the public, and families especially are encouraged to attend, says Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
A highlight will be a display of bed bugs reared by Danielle Wishon, a 2013 UC Davis entomology graduate and an affiliate of the Bohart Museum. Wishon. She plans to feed them (her blood) around 2 p.m.
Wishon began rearing her first research colony of bed bugs in October 2012. She's since added a second colony. She's deliberately keeping the colonies small. Total count: around 100.
Wishon, a lab assistant at the California Department of Food and Agriculture since late last summer, said she became interested in bed bugs while studying with UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey. Also spurring her interest: the questions asked at the Bohart. "Visitors were bringing in various insects and asking if they were bed bugs," she said. Among the insects: carpet beetles, dog ticks, swallow bugs and bat bugs.
Wishon aims to dispel the myths about bed bugs. There's a lot of misinformation on the Internet, she says. Unlike many insects, "they don't spread diseases."
Wishon maintains her colonies in Briggs Hall, home of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Any escapees? No. She's especially observant with the first instars, which are about one millimeter long.
Wishon is a past president of the UC Davis Entomology Club and recipient of the department’s 2011 Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis and housing nearly eight million specimens, is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum in 1946.
Special attractions at the Bohart include a live "petting zoo," with critters such as Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, millipedes, tarantulas and praying mantids. Visitors can also shop at the year-around gift shop (or online) for t-shirts, jewelry, insect nets, posters and books, including the newly published children’s book, “The Story of the Dogface Butterfly,” written by UC Davis doctoral candidate Fran Keller and illustrated (watercolor and ink) by Laine Bauer, a 2012 graduate of UC Davis. The 35-page book also includes photos by naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, a volunteer at the Bohart.
Sunday' open house is just one of the many scheduled weekend open houses held throughout the academic year. Regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The insect museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information, including information on group tours, is available from Tabatha Yang at email@example.com.
There's a good reason why they're called "the menace in the mattress." The mattress is one of their hiding spots.
They? Bed bugs. Parasites that feed on human blood.
"Bed bug infestations are rampant locally, nationally and globally," says Tanya Drlik, integrated pest management (IPM) coordinator of Contra Costa County who will speak at the May 3rd meeting of the Northern California Entomology Society, to be held in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis.
“We’ve had a reprieve from bed bugs for about 50 years, but now they’re back,” said Drlik, who will discuss “The Resurgence of Bed Bugs and Current Effective Control Methods” at 9:45 a.m. in the Laidlaw conference room.
The society (membership is open to everyone) will meet from 9:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Drlik is one of five speakers on topics ranging from bed bugs to lacewings to endangered species.
Drlik, who formed the Bed Bug Task Force to help prepare Contra Costa County to meet the challenges of the mounting bed bug infestation, says that bed bugs “have no regard for wealth or class—everyone is vulnerable. Bed bugs can be found all across the country in apartment buildings, hotels and motels, private residences, hospitals, waiting rooms, fire station, taxis and buses…and the list goes on. They’ve infested four-star hotels and penthouses as well as homeless shelters and rundown apartment buildings.”
“Judging by history and the experience of other jurisdictions across the country, the problem is only going to increase, and more and more public buildings and homes will experience infestations,” said Drlik, who has a master’s degree in ecosystem management and nearly 40 years of experience in the field of IPM.
“Bed bugs are difficult to control because of their small size, their secretive nature and their growing resistance to the pesticides we have at our disposal. Poverty, clutter, and poor housekeeping do not cause bed bug infestations, but they make eliminating infestations much more difficult.”
Bed bugs “can be seen in epidemic proportions in some areas of the United States, including New York City and central and southwestern Ohio,” said Drlik, adding that since 2004, New York City has experienced a 2277 percent increase in complaints about bed bugs in the five boroughs (source: New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development). “Colleagues in the Franklin County Health Department in central Ohio have commented to us that they were completely unprepared for the rapidity with which bed bugs spread throughout their county.”
Other topics at the Nor Cal Entomology Society meeting include:
- “Protecting Invertebrates Listed as Threatened or Endangered Species in California” by Darlene McGriff, California Natural Diversity Database (California Department of Fish and Game).
- “California Forest Insect Conditions Going into 2012” by Cynthia Snyder, U.S. Forest Service, Shasta-McCloud Management Unit.
- “PG&E’s Use of Safe Harbor Agreements and Programmatic Permits to Protect Endangered Organisms on Utility Rights of Way” by Peter Beesley, PG&E.
- “In-Depth Look at Lacewings, an Augmentative California Biological Control Agent” by Shaun Winterton, California Department of Food and Agriculture Biological Control Program.
All great topics, to be sure. Bed bugs, however, are the big draw, in more ways than one.
We remember an Entomological Society of America (ESA) seminar on these bloodsuckers that resulted in a flurry of inspections back in the hotel rooms: mattress, baseboard, furniture, closet and luggage checks.
For excellent bed bug resources, check out the ESA website. And for more information on the Nor Cal Entomology Society meeting, see the UC Davis Department of Entomology website.