What’s Eating You?
The recent uproar over bedbugs barely scratches the surface
Matt Mignanelli / www.mattmignanelli.com
Bugs have always been in our houses and on our persons.
Truly, the arthropods shall inherit the earth. Or they would if they weren’t already running the show: Insects outnumber us 200 million to 1. Ants alone may account for as much as one-third of all animal biomass on earth, according to an estimate by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson. But in the summer of 2010 bedbugs seemed to be on our minds more than usual.
New York, and therefore a large portion of American news consumers, were terrorized by bedbugs. But so what? There’s a story like that almost every summer, because reporters have less news to cover yet just as many pages and broadcast hours to fill.
So bedbugs are no big deal and you should sleep easy, America. Bedbugs are not as bad as you’ve heard. Right?
Actually, they are much worse than you have heard, says Gail Getty, a leading bedbug expert and entomologist at the University of California–Berkeley’s Urban Pest Management Center. “I don’t think people should necessarily panic at this point, but everything we know in the scientific community suggests this is going to get worse,” Getty says.
Bedbugs were a common household pest in America up through the 1930s, but after the massive DDT fumigation campaigns of the 1940s and 1950s, only small pockets of the insects remained. Their resurgence in the past decade probably has a number of causes, Getty says. The bedbugs that survived fumigations grew increasingly resistant to existing pesticides. Insect control became more targeted toward specific pests, meaning that if you call an exterminator for cockroaches, he’s just going to kill your cockroaches. Finally, bedbugs were never comparably reduced in the rest of the world, and international travel has become more common.
If these trends aren’t creepy enough, consider how bedbugs’ disturbing sex lives—which make even rape-happy otters seem like models of enlightened gender relations—influence their migration patterns.
Bedbugs have the expected genitals, Getty says, and they’re fully capable of having insert-tab-A-into-slot-B sex to reproduce. That’s not what happens. This is: “The male grasps onto the female, and it’s very graphic; they’re rolling around. It’s not a smooth-looking thing. The male takes his reproductive organ and starts to stab her all over her body, all over her abdomen, and punctures a hole through her—and remember she already has one that would work just fine—and releases his sperm into her blood.”
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