Bedbugs are back — and stronger than ever

Bedbugs are seen in a container from the lab at the National Pest Management Association, during the National Bed Bug Summit in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011.
Bedbugs are seen in a container from the lab at the National Pest Management Association, during the National Bed Bug Summit in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. | Alex Brandon, Associated Press

Due to global travel and inadequate pest control, bedbugs have made a strong comeback in 50 countries since the late 1990s. However, the resurgence now presents a new challenge: Exterminators may encounter not one, but two different types of bugs during their pest control efforts, according to Knowable Magazine.

In addition to the common bedbug typically found in the Northern Hemisphere, sightings of its cousin, the tropical bedbug, are now occurring in temperate regions, per The Atlantic.

How do tropical bedbugs compare to the common bedbug?

Both tropical bedbugs and common bedbugs share similar habits and life cycles, feeding predominantly on humans and hiding in cracks and crevices. Their bites can cause itchy reactions and psychological distress.

However, common bedbugs are prevalent in temperate regions like the United States, whereas tropical bedbugs are usually found in warmer climates like Asia and Africa, according to Pest Control Technology.

Distinguishing between tropical and common bedbug infestations can be challenging at first glance. Live bugs from both species may appear similar without magnification.

They share common features such as dark fecal spots and shed skins. However, upon closer inspection under a microscope, a key difference emerges. The pronotum or neck, located behind the head, in the tropical bedbug is less thick. The common bedbug’s neck is U-shaped and thicker, per Pest Control Technology.

Why tropical bedbugs coming to temperate locations is bad

The truth: Another species of bedbugs coming means more bedbugs.

The tropical bedbug, like its common counterpart, has become resistant to many usual pesticides. Some experts believe spraying isn’t effective anymore if your home is infested, according to The Atlantic.

In the United States alone, fighting bedbugs costs about $1 billion yearly. This means that for many people, dealing with bedbugs is becoming customary again, just like in the past. Scientists are rushing to find new ways to fight these pests, such as using special fabrics or fungal spores to trap or kill them, per Knowable Magazine.

How are scientists trying to kill bedbugs?

The Atlantic reported that there are multiple methods scientists are working on to kill bedbugs.

  • Bean plant leaves: The leaves have small hooks that catch bugs. A scientist at the University of California, Irvine, is making a “physical insecticide” that looks like a synthetic material with curved tiny structures similar to those on the bean leaves. These structures impale the feet of bedbugs, and they can’t get away.

  • Essential oils: These strong smells can repel bedbugs temporarily.

  • Fungal spores: The spores go inside the bedbug and kill it. Products containing this fungus, beauveria bassiana, are now available in U.S. markets.

  • Body odor: In 2021, scientists at the University of Kentucky found that some odors in human skin repel bedbugs. This makes them go back to their hiding spots during the day.

  • Fake trail markings: As bedbugs go back to their hiding spots, they leave their own scent trails. Exterminators are trying to trap the bugs with fake trail markings.

How can you protect yourself from bedbugs?

Stephen Doggett, who works at the Department of Medical Entomology at Westmead Hospital, said to Knowable Magazine that if bedbugs invade the home, “the biggest mistake is to try and get rid of them on one’s own. The average person doesn’t appreciate how challenging it is to control bedbugs and will use supermarket insecticides that are labeled for bedbugs but don’t work. The infestation will spread, and the costs escalate.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers help on how remove bedbugs, which includes calling an expert and tasks that you can complete yourself.

1. Identify the problem

  • Collect a sample of the pest to show an extension agent or insect expert.

  • Extension agents can identify the pest for free and know your local area.

  • If confirmed as bedbugs, notify your landlord if you live in an apartment and check housing codes.

  • Inspect all areas for bedbugs and determine the extent of infestation.

2. Develop a plan

  • Schedule the steps needed to address the problem and keep detailed records.

  • Keep checking for at least a year to ensure all bedbugs are gone.

3. Keep the infestation from spreading

  • Seal hiding areas and remove infested items.

  • Use protective covers on mattresses and box springs.

  • Vacuum frequently and discard furniture responsibly if necessary.

4. Prepare for treatment

  • Prepare your home for treatment to monitor for remaining bedbugs.

5. Kill the bedbugs

  • Use safe, effective and legal methods to eliminate bedbugs.

  • Consider nonchemical methods like heat treatment or steam cleaning.

  • Hire a pest management professional if needed and use pesticides carefully.

6. Evaluate and prevent

  • Continue inspecting for bedbugs regularly and take preventive measures.