Property Management Pest Control: Bed Bugs Know Colors

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Entomologists say that bed bugs, the property management industry’s pest enemy number one, like certain colors, especially red and black. But suggesting to apartment residents that they avoid dark sheets may be going a little overboard when trying to keep the little buggers away.

A recent University of Florida study revealed that the tiny, hard-shelled pests that have caused plenty of angst among property managers are drawn to some colors and not to others. Red and black tent-like traps placed in petri dishes attracted bud bugs while yellow and white tents sent them scurrying.

UF researchers say bedbugs, which generally congregate, may have preferred the darker traps because they were mistaken for other bed bugs. Or that they feared lighter colors were exposure to light, which causes loss of bodily fluids and possibly death.

While the results might suggest how to shun the pests, the real benefit could be in how to attract them. Jim Fredericks, Ph.D., who is Chief Entomologist and Vice President, Technical and Regulatory Affairs at the National Pest Management Association, says the color of bedding and other surroundings isn’t that important because bed bugs are most active at night. But traps and monitoring devices that are visually pleasing may offer better chances to control populations.

Many of the bowl-like traps and monitoring devices used for bed bugs are black or white. That’s likely to change, says Fredericks.

“What we’re going to be able to use this for is subtle, nuance changes to monitoring devices and traps to make them more attractive to bed bugs,” he said. “There are many things taken into consideration, like the shape of the trap and texture. Now (the study) is showing there are some differences in color of the traps. What we’ll see is that will be incorporated into some of the trap technology going forward.”

Pest control industry relying more and more on trapping

The new research, when applied to trapping and detection, can be a benefit for the apartment industry in the fight against the number one pest for 2015, according to the NPMA’s Top 10 Pests of the Year.

Bed bugs draw wide attention in multifamily, and are on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s radar.

Because a bed bug problem often is perceived as a social stigma, detection can go unnoticed even in the cleanest homes until an infestation becomes obvious, Fredericks said.

Generally, treatment varies, depending on the degree of the infestation. Sometimes pesticides work, but vacuuming and steam and heat remediation may be required. By then, the homeowner or occupants usually have to vacate the premises for a day or more until treatment is complete. Whatever the treatment, it’s costly.

The pest control industry is relying more on trapping in addition to visual inspections to detect and prevent infestations. Some traps, which are bowl-shaped and allow bed bugs to climb in but not get out, can be useful for long-term monitoring, especially where bed bugs may seem unlikely to inhabit, like common areas.

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Infestations not limited to the bedroom

Most often,, the insects go or are transported anywhere people sleep or are sedentary for long periods of time. But Fredericks reminds that bed bugs don’t always make just the bedroom or walls next to sleeping areas their home; they can be found in hallways, kitchens and bathrooms.

Large gathering areas that encourage extended lounging now common in today’s multifamily design are not exempt, either.

“Primarily we think that bed bugs are a pest of the bed, really they are going to be a pest of anywhere people spend a lot of time resting,” Fredericks said. “Community rooms or common areas where people spend time are certainly places where bed bugs are found.”

Placing effective traps in common areas, just as an apartment may do to control other pests, could help reduce spreading an infestation.

“This could be a way for a large scale detection and monitoring in a large area across the entire community,” he said. “If there is way to get these into as many locations as possible, populations can be detected early.”

Bed bug research has ramped up in the last 15 years

Fredericks said results of the study, performed by UF’s urban entomology research group and published in April by the Journal of Medical Entomology, is another example of productive research since the pests began making news around 2000. A number of major universities across the country that have urban entomology programs are funding extensive studies with a sense of urgency.

“It’s certainly intensified in the last 15 years,” Fredericks said. “At the turn of the Millennium, there was no new study of bed bugs. At this point, we have full-blown bed bug research programs that are probably taking place in close to a dozen universities around the country. They’re operating at full speed right now, and we’re seeing some really interesting research coming out of those places.”

Some has focused on bed bug physiology and how they have become more resistant to insecticides. The exoskeleton or hard outer shells on some bed bugs are becoming more durable and not allowing insecticides to penetrate.

Certain bed bugs are genetically predisposed to have thicker exoskeletons, Fredericks said. Those bed bugs are reproducing offspring with thicker cuticles that are more resistant to chemical treatment, an evolutionary march that is nature’s way of fighting intruding forces.

“In some cases professionals will run into populations that are more difficult to control,” Fredericks said. “Upon studying them we’re seeing there are changes in not only their exoskeletons and enzymes of their biological processes that they use to detoxify insecticides.”

Not to worry, however. There are no strains of mutant monster bed bugs.

“When we talk about resistance, I wouldn’t want to sound the alarm that there’s a problem,” he said. “The fact is that over the past 15 years or so pest management professionals have gotten really good at controlling bed bugs. When they first made their comeback, the industry had to adapt. It had to change protocols, retrain technicians. Now, we’re operating with all cylinders firing.”


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

One response to “Property Management Pest Control: Bed Bugs Know Colors”

  1. Dahai Dong says:

    A starving method is far more efficient than any bed bug killing methods. Google “Bed Sized Bed Bug Trap” to convert an entire bed into a bed bug trap with sleeper as inaccessible CO2 bait. Anyone can solve bed bug problem immediately if he/she trusts common sense instead of what most people believe. Approximately 99% bed bug feeding is at night. Bed Sized Bed Bug Trap (a U.S. patent) builds a sticky barrier between sleeper and bed bugs. It is not important when the last bug starves due to no bite since day one. It is also easy to eliminate the remaining 1% daytime feeding if you believe that exterminators never carry bed bugs home. Catch bed bugs into a jar to confirm their short life after they detect CO2 and crawl for food in futile every night without dormant. It is nonsense to believe the one-year life. Most bed bug killing methods are obsolete because they fail even only one bug survives and lays eggs. The invention with starving effort succeeds even none of bugs is caught.

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