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A Model for Effective, Reduced-Cost Bed Bug Monitoring

bed bug dorsal view

A new study finds that placing just a few pitfall traps for bed bugs—or even just one—can have a high success rate in detecting low-level infestations in a studio or one-bedroom apartment, which could lower the cost of monitoring and increase adoption in housing facilities where resources for pest management are limited. (Photo credit: Gary Alpert, Harvard University,

While the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) can target all varieties of human habitats, it is a significant concern in settings such as multi-unit, low-income housing, especially those for the elderly or disabled, where the pest can spread easily and resources for management of the pest are often limited.

However, a new study published in March in the Journal of Economic Entomology offers encouraging evidence that a simple monitoring plan can effectively detect bed bug infestations and potentially reduce management costs. The results show even just one passive pitfall trap placed in a studio or one-bedroom apartment can detect low-level bed bug infestations four out of five times.

Karen Vail, Ph.D., professor and extension urban entomologist at the University of Tennessee and lead author of the study, says the success rate was similar to those found in studies of monitoring plans with greater numbers of traps. “The lower cost of using fewer monitors and less time required to place them may encourage pest management professionals and housing managers to use them more frequently and thus detect bed bugs before they spread,” she says.

bed bug monitors

Researchers at the University of Tennessee tested various bed bug monitoring devices in arrangements of one, two, or four traps per apartment and found pitfall traps (left and middle, labeled A and B) to be much more effective in detecting low-level bed bug infestations than sticky traps (right, shown open and closed, labeled C and D). (Photo credit: Karen Vail, Ph.D.)

Vail and research specialist Jennifer Chandler conducted their study in three high-rise apartment buildings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the winter of 2014. They tested two pitfall-style traps and one sticky trap, and they also varied the number of traps placed per apartment (one, two, or four). Over the course of the eight-week test period, the pitfall monitors detected bed bugs in 79 percent to 88 percent of apartments where bed bugs were otherwise confirmed to be present. The sticky monitor, however, had only a 39 percent detection rate. In the apartments with pitfall traps, there was no significant improvement in detection when placing two or four monitors versus placing just one.

Previous studies have shown that placing larger numbers of pitfall monitors (anywhere from eight to 40) in an apartment can detect bed bugs in just one or two weeks, while Vail and Chandler’s study showed the reduced number of pitfall monitors took longer—four weeks, on average—to detect the bed bugs. That rate, however, still fits within pest management plans in housing where inspections may only be conducted at one- to three-month intervals, the researchers note.

Vail says her long-term goal aims to show housing managers that quick visual inspections combined with optimal number and placement of pitfall monitors can be cost effective and increase adoption of proactive monitoring for bed bug infestations. “Housing managers must realize early detection will provide savings due to reduced treatment costs and that they should avoid basing monitoring program selection exclusively on the cost of the monitoring program alone,” she says.


  1. I am here to tell you, most housing managers are ignorant, (insert a not so nice word of your choice here)
    It is incredible how secrecy plays a role in the spread of bedbugs. And generally, spot inspections, researching further, can only find visual evidence if there is a moderate to heavy infestation, and can allow spreading, through electrical outlets and cracks in walls between apt.
    Most buildings get sucked into a spraying chemicals routine by some pesticide company, Cooks, Ace, who see dollar signs and contract for life.
    People are poisoned, the bed bugs evolve, to resistance.
    I have stated this before, the only way to kill all stages is HEAT!
    To prevent re-infestation on the other hand, you have to be diligent in checking for hitch hikers.
    Seriously, chemical people will attack me now.
    They would bring back DDT if they let them and spray and powder it all over everywhere the way they did just less than our lifetime ago.
    Childhood cancer is UP 80% since the 1950’s.
    The people are becoming more and more chemically sensitive in this country now.
    I wish the pitfall traps worked to nip the blood sucking devils in the bud, but if you go to someone’s apt. and one or two hitch a ride home to your couch, chair, or bed where you sit, and wait for night time to bite you. The female lays eggs, and you’ve got trouble.
    They hitch home on kids back packs from school, just about anywhere people go.
    If diligent heat treatments were used, it would eradicate them.
    It is expensive.
    The building managers would rather spray for life.

  2. Yes I agree,after finding the infestated mattress in one bed room,and tearing down the whole bed room to bare nothing,I found them in my ceiling fan,a.c vent,and electrical out lets,also, after months of spraying and countless dollars on bed bug spray I have no choice but to try heat treatment we’ve got it under control with the spray but they keep showing up one here one there in different parts of the house now this is been going on for over 12 months

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