Rare bed bug re-emerges in Florida after 60 years

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — After disappearing for 60 years, the tropical bed bug has turned up in Florida.

And these nasty little creatures can spread faster than the ordinary variety bed bug, causing all the same havoc and threat of widespread infestation throughout Florida and the South.

“This could mean that this species would develop more quickly, possibly cause an infestation problem sooner, and also could spread more rapidly,” Brittany Campbell, a UF doctoral student in entomology, said in a media release.

Campbell and her colleagues at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences confirmed the tropical bed bug's reemergence, which they recently documented in the journal Florida Entomologist.

No one had confirmed the tropical variety of bed bug in Florida since the 1930s and 1940s. But in 2015, a family in Merritt Island, near the Ulumay Wildlife Sanctuary, reported the tiny unwanted creatures had infested their home.

The UF scientists confirmed the bugs were the tropical species, but so far, Brevard County has the only confirmed case in Florida.

"I personally believe that in Florida, we have all of the right conditions that could potentially help spread tropical bed bugs, which is the case in other southern states,” Campbell said. “As long as you have people traveling and moving bed bugs around, there is a real potential for this species to spread and establish in homes and other dwellings.” 

Campbell coauthored the recent journal article about the tropical bed bug discovery in Brevard.

It's unknown how the bed bugs got here, but Campbell suspects it could have been via Port Canaveral.

"A lot of pests that do get into Florida, a lot of them do pop up in ports," she said. "We don't really know where these bed bugs were introduced from."

The UF researchers urge the public to send them samples of suspected bed bugs for identification, to try and nip the bug's spread in the bud.

The common bed bug lives throughout the United States and the globe, typically in more temperate climates. Before the 1990s, it kept at low levels for 50 years, via widespread use of DDT and other pesticides, the UF researchers say.

The bed bugs eventually bit back, building resistance to pesticides and resurging in the late 1990s.

A similar rebound might be at play with the tropical bed bug, the UF researchers say.

Tropical bed bugs biologically mirror common bed bugs, Campbell said. They feed on human blood, so they can cause similar health problems during severe infestations: fear, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and itchy, blistery reactions on some people.

 

The UF researchers ask the public to send bed bug samples to their laboratory to identify the species.

“If they do have a bed bug infestation, because they are so difficult to control, I ask that people consult a pest-control company for a professional service," Campbell said. "There isn't as much research available on tropical bed bugs as common bed bugs, but hypothetically they should be able to be controlled the same way as the common bed bug species because their biology/behavior are similar.”

Nationwide, health and environmental officials warn of increasingly pesticide-resistant bed bugs and a "pandemic" creature comeback.

DDT nearly wiped out bedbugs after World War II, when people soaked mattresses in the pesticide. The bugs first were reported to show resistance in the 1950s. Then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972 because of concerns about cancer and birth defects.

Over the next two decades, Malathion almost took care of the bed bugs that survived DDT. But, the wily creatures grew resistant.

In more recent years, they've grown more resistant to commonly used pesticides.

Follow Jim Waymer on Twitter:  @JWayEnviro


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