By Josh Lancette
When I was growing up, my mom used to tell me, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” As a child this greatly concerned me. I didn’t like the thought of bugs biting me while I slept. However, she always assured me that people used to have bed bugs, but they don’t anymore — they’ve disappeared.
But it turns out that they haven’t disappeared. And in recent years, they’ve been on the resurgence, appearing more and more often in beds around the world.
Luckily, entomologists are on the case, and some researchers in France believe they have developed a tool that will aid research on the bugs. Their device is described in an article called “A High-Performance Vacuum Cleaner for Bed Bug Sampling: A Useful Tool for Medical Entomology” that was published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
With the goal of collecting bed bugs to be used in laboratory research, they modified a Dyson hand vacuum (model DC34) with a sampling vial and a nozzle and created a device that proved to be effective at collecting bed bugs. In a bed bug-infested apartment where the device was tested, it collected more than 700 bed bugs in under 15 minutes, including adults, larvae, and eggs.
“The need for bed bug amelioration requires increased bed bug monitoring and control,” they wrote. “To increase monitoring and control levels, laboratory research on this pest insect is required for the development of innovative strategies and tools to eliminate bed bug infestations. Prior to developing laboratory experimental protocols to control bed bugs, field collection of this insect is necessary.”
In the United States, bed bug researches often get their specimens from Harold Harlan, who has been rearing bed bugs on his own blood for 45 years. This decreases the need for collecting bed bugs in the field.
However, in France they don’t have a Harold Harlan, which means researchers need to collect bed bugs from infested areas in order to rear colonies for research. But collecting bed bugs has been difficult.
Typically, researchers have collected bed bugs with an aspirator, which is sort of like a mouth-powered vacuum, or they have used actual high-powered vacuum cleaners. However, the mouth method often isn’t powerful enough to suck up bugs or eggs that are hidden in crevices or attached to mattresses, and it could potentially expose collectors to diseases. And the high-powered vacuum method often damages the insects, making them difficult to study.
Enter the modified Dyson contraption. During the field test, it was powerful enough to collect the bugs, but gentle enough to not damage them. Furthermore, it was light and easy to clean.
The researchers are optimistic that this new contraption will be able to safely and effectively collect bed bugs in the field to be used in laboratory research. However, they aren’t limiting its uses to only bed bug collecting.
“The modified vacuum has other uses besides collecting bed bugs,” said Dr. Jean-Michel Bérenger, one of the authors. “We have already tested it on lice, and we will also test it for fleas. It’s not adapted for fragile insects such as mosquitoes, as it’s too powerful, but I think it will be used for crop pest collecting or by entomologists using mouth aspirators (pooters) in the field, like coleopterists collecting under loose bark or in caves where there is often a risk of contamination, with histoplasmosis for example.”
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Josh Lancette is Manager of Publications at the Entomological Society of America.