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Like many people, when I was a kid I remember being told “Don’t let the bed bugs bite” I remember thinking that bed bugs were some type of mystical bug that used to live in filthy beds hundreds of years ago, so I believed. Today, in the 21st century, bed bugs have returned.
Scientifically speaking, bed bugs really are bugs. To an entomologist, a bug is a type of insect that has mouth parts capable of piercing and sucking fluids as opposed to insects that chew. Bugs are classified as hemipterae. Bed bugs are very flat, ovular, and have a red or rusty color as can be seen below.
Since 2009 bed bugs seem to have taken off. While most people (even some entomologists and most pest control professionals) would have had no chance at identifying bed bugs just ten years ago, today so many people have had run-ins with bed bugs that they are often be identified by non pest control professionals. Why this resurgence? And where were they before?
Bed bugs have grown to prefer biting humans but will feed on other animals, like pets, if available and necessary. Richard Jones in ‘House Guests, House Pest’ reviewed the commentary in Europe in the 1600s concerning the seeming arrival of bed bugs. While bedbugs did arrive on merchant ships and tended to affect port towns in Europe more than rural areas, the bed bug insurgence of the 1600s was due less to arrival and more to warmer homes and people taking notice of them.
Reports of bed bugs in Europe have existed for nearly 1000 years. Before that, bed bugs were found in Egyptian ruins pushing their verified coexistence with humans back to a few thousand years. Going even further back, the best guess is that bed bugs may have originally lived off bats and other animals in caves. At some point they were picked up by a human (or Neanderthal) and have been carried around hidden from sight ever since. They have coevolved with us long enough to prefer human blood.
As our houses became warmer they also became more inviting to the bed bug. In the 1600s and earlier, bed bugs were really more of a problem of the well off. As common people acquired better housing they also acquired more bed bugs (and other pests). Up until the WWII bed bugs were the way of life and most people dealt with them. WWII saw the invention and mass production of DDT. After WWII DDT became the pesticide of choice and was widely use. It was so effective against bed bugs that they seemingly disappeared.
The resurgence of bed bugs has occurred, so it is believed, because of two main factors. First, DDT is no longer used. DDT has been outlawed since the 1970s so why didn’t bed bugs come back sooner? This leads to the second reason, increased global travel. While DDT was used extensively in the first world, third world nations never had the money for DDT so bed bug number never flinched. Travelers brought bed bugs back home with them.
Bed bugs hitch rides with people by climbing into luggage. Never put your luggage on the floor of a hotel room. Also, never leave your clothes lying around either. If you must use hotels, keep your belongings on a table. Bed bugs can also hitch rides on shoes or the clothes you’re wearing. Most bed bugs live within several feet of a bed so be vigilant when near someone else’s bed. However, you can pick up a bed bug at just about any public seat. A bed bug may have arrived on the person who sat there before you.
Finding Beg Bugs
Bed bugs like to hide during the day so they can be difficult to find. However, you may be able to find them tucked along windows, baseboards, or in corners. They also like to hide behind items like pictures or wall paper.
The easiest way to spot a bed bug is to look for its fecal stains. Bed Bugs leave poop as small dots that often appear on walls in the place you would expect to find them.
These stains can also be found along the folds of mattresses or on the sheets (if you don’t wash them frequently).
Should you find bed bugs in your house, first, realize it’s probably not because of something you did. Bed bugs will live just about anywhere people sleep. Bed bug bites can be numerous if you have a large infestation. While the idea of bugs biting you in your sleep may freak you out, it’s not a major health problem. Bed bugs do not transmit diseases the way ticks or mosquitoes do.
Many people like to try to fix things themselves. Online you can find all kinds of supplies to rid yourself of bed bugs. Don’t bother. Call a professional pest control company. Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of because of the way they like to hide. Also, bed bugs can go a year without eating. Getting rid of bed bugs requires a handful of approaches to be successful.
Bed bugs have been with humans for a long time. The idea of bugs biting you in your sleep may sound horrible, but really they are just more of a nuisance than health hazard. They have learned to survive and they are probably here to stay.
Identifying all types of carpenter ants can be difficult. Most people have a good understanding of what they think a carpenter ant looks like. Home owners can usually identify a major worker carpenter ant but miss all the others. Unnfortunately, most people cannot identify the various forms carpenter ants come in.
Let’s start with color. Here in Ohio, the most common type of carpenter ant is camponotus pennsylvanicus which is the big black ant we typically think of as a carpenter ant. While many carpenter ants are black, they can also be brown, tan, reddish, yellowish, or a mixture of the colors. So color is not definite, but black will help clue you in to find the most common type of carpenter ant in Ohio. Below are two different colored carpenter ants I found.
The other way people identify carpenter ants is through size. Carpenter ants are big, right? Many times yes, but not necessarily. There are four different types of carpenter ants, each with a different size and shape. The big black ant is a major worker. Major workers are responsible for protecting the nest and foraging for food. These ants can measure around ½ inch which is quite larger than other ants.
The minor workers are responsible for tending to the nest and the young. These ants can be as small as ¼ inch. Here is where many people go wrong. Minor carpenter ant workers at ¼ inch long are the same size as other species of ants. A field ant can look almost identical to a carpenter ant if not for one major identifying feature which I will get to in a minute. But first, let’s finish the two other types of carpenter ants.
Carpenter ants also produce winged male and female ants (they lose their wings after finding a place to start a colony). When the colony matures it sends out winged male and female ants to start a new colony. The winged males are about the same size as the major workers but with wings. The females, on the other hand, get quit big at around ¾ of an inch. The females also have a slightly larger and different shaped mesosoma (think thorax).
Male winged ant.
So how do can you be sure an ant is a carpenter ant just by looking at the? Here in northern Ohio a major worker is the biggest ant your likely to come across. To identify the minors you need to use two, or possibly three, identifying features.
First, all carpenter ants have a round thorax as can be seen below on the left. The field ant, which can be mistaken for a carpenter ant, has an indented thorax as can be seen below on the right. (photo courtesy of April Nobile available at www.antweb.org)
The next major identifying mark is a single petiole with a few hairs on top. The petiole is a node between the thorax and abdomen. Other ants can have none, one, or two. Carpenter ants always only have one petiole node. Below on the left is the location of the single petiole. The photo on the right is a microscopic view of a carpenter ant petiole I took from a specimen I found.
The third identifying feature is actually quite hard to see without magnification. At the end of the abdomen is the acidopore surrounded by a ring of small hairs. Below on the left is the location of the acidopore and on the right is a magnified view.
These physical characteristics are enough to identify carpenter ants from other species of ants. But, if you find the physical characteristics a little difficult where you find the ants is equally important. Carpenter ants do not build nests in the ground or under pavement. Field ants build mounds in the dirt while pavement ants locate their nests under sidewalks, stones, and ‘pavement.’ Carpenter ants live in wood usually. Wood framing in houses is just as good as a log in the woods for carpenter ants. It should be noted that carpenter ant colonies you find in houses are usually satellite nests.
Carpenter ants prefer to build their main nest (where the queen lives and eggs are laid) outside homes in big old trees. The nests you find in homes or garages are usually satellite nests where the pupa and larvae are sent to be raised.
It is quite common to find non-carpenter ants in or on your house. During winter small ants like to roam houses for food and warmth. It's also common to find small ants around trash cans. However, they do not infest and damage houses. They are typically just visiting.
Carpenter ants can be a real problem for your home. They chew tunnels, called 'galleries', in wood to nest in. The galleries they excavate cause damage your house. Once established, carpenter ants in your house can live for years if all of their requirements are met.
So, the next time you see an ant don't judge it by size alone. At a glance, the minor carpenter worker ant looks just like some non-carpenter ants. Follow the ant or catch it for a better identification. Knowing what to look for is the first, and most important step, for keeping your house free of carpenter ants.