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    April 2013
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Scientists try to recreate nature’s control for bed bugs

An article in the New York Times on April 9 announced a new project by several U.S. researchers to produce a new way to control bed bugs. Their product was not chemical, nor did it involve excessive heat or plastic in which to wrap furniture. The goal was to reproduce a natural control for bed bugs that was discovered in eastern Europe decades ago.

In Balkan countries, women would spread the leaves of the red kidney bean over their floors and beds. The fibers on the leaves were shaped like tiny hooks, and functioned as such when a bed bug would walk across it. The bug would catch one leg in the hook-like hairs, and as it tried to escape, would find all of its legs ensnared.

Scientists studied and videoed how the insects would become trapped on the leaves, and then tried to recreate the medium. With no luck. The bed bugs walked on the synthetic substrate, became momentarily caught, and then managed to dislodge themselves and walk on. The team consisted of scientists from the University of California at Irvine and the University of Kentucky.

A few commenters after the NY Times article asked why scientists were bothering to try to replicate the leaves, and why they hadn’t thought about simply growing mast quantities of bean plants and selling them as bed bug remedies. There were a couple of responses, but one came to mind almost immediately, considering that such an enterprise would require massive kidney bean farms.

Synthetic “leaves” would be more sustainable than real leaves.

First, we have many more pests and plant diseases than the Balkans faced in early times. Growing real bean plants may require chemical treatment. Legumes are susceptible to several pests and diseases such as rust. Filling a bed with chemically-treated bean leaves would undermine the chemical-free nature of using the leaves for bed bug control.

Second, shipping and supplying the leaves to buyers would be more difficult than supplying a synthetic substance that could last permanently. Bed bugs multiply rapidly, and depending on the length of time shipment of the leaves took, keeping them fresh and keeping a bed bug infestation from growing would be very difficult. While scientists have looked at the effect of the leaves on small numbers of bed bugs, testing for a massive bed bug infestation has yet to be done.

Considering those deterrents, the scientific team will need to consider the second step to the Balkan control: disposing of the trapping substance. The Balkans would tie the leaves up at night and burn them, killing the insects. Depending on what the synthetic “leaf” is made of, burning may not be the optimal solution. In that case, scientists will need to determine how, after the bed bugs are trapped, will they be permanently disposed of.

One Response

  1. Love science! I think there is real potential here. Especially since a lot of these bugs are now resistant to some chemicals…

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