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Biting back: experts use creative weapons to battle a countrywide surge in bedbugs.

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Jack sniffs his way through a client's bedroom. The Jack Russell terrier-mix paws a spot on the bed to alert his handler he has detected the target. Sure enough, hidden in a mattress seam rests a tiny, flattened brown insect--a bedbug.

Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) were common in the United States until pesticides nearly wiped them 50 years ago. Now the insects are back in full force, infesting houses, apartments, dorms, and hotels across the country. The bugs lie low during the day and come out at night to feed on the blood of sleeping humans.

Many victims develop itchy red welts, while others show no symptoms. Detection dogs like Jack are only one of the weapons experts are using to bite back at bedbugs.

UNDER THE RADAR

One reason for the bloodsucker's comeback is increased human travel to and from countries where bedbugs were never eradicated. "This is a bug that's an amazing hitchhiker," says Michael Potter, an entomologist who studies insects at the University of Kentucky. Once the bedbugs crawl onto suitcases, unsuspecting travelers carry them home or to other hotels. The insects also are on the rise because many older pesticides found to be harmful for humans and the environment have been replaced with ones not as effective against the bugs.

TRICKY INSECT

The good news: Bedbugs aren't known to spread disease. The bad news: They use tricks that make getting rid of them a challenge. For instance, they're good at retaining moisture, so they can live for more than a year without feeding. This means you can't starve them out by temporarily vacating a room or apartment. "They'll just wait you out. Or they'll move to an adjoining unit," says Potter.

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Exterminators can target bedbugs, but first they have to find them. The parasites (organisms that depend on another organism to exist) can spread from a bed to other furniture, behind edges of carpet, or even inside computers. "Just about anywhere you can imagine, a bedbug can crawl into," says Potter.

People must take apart furniture and pull up carpeting to locate the bugs. But bedbug detection dogs have a trick of their own: their super-sensitive noses. "While it would take two people a good hour to dismantle the room and look, it takes the dog two minutes to move through the room and let you know if there are any bugs there," says Gretta MacIntyre, Jack's handler and the owner of Sleep Tight Canine Bed Bug Detection Service. Jack can sweep through roughly a hundred hotel rooms a day.

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ON THE OFFENSIVE

Once bedbugs are detected, the most common weapon exterminators use is an effective pesticide--although some bedbugs are becoming resistant (immune) to today's chemicals. Another strategy is heating affected rooms to temperatures greater than 49[degrees]Celsius (120[degrees]Fahrenheit) or freezing the bugs with carbon dioxide spray. "An insect is cold-blooded; it can't regulate its internal body temperature like we can," says Potter. Extreme heat or cold kills the parasites. Potter points -out that there's no need to go but it's good to be aware of the current bedbug invasion. In hotels or at camp, examine mattress seams for these insects or the droppings they leave behind, which look like small black spots. If you suspect bedbugs, ask for another room. This will help keep the bedbugs from biting--so you can sleep tight.

web extra

For links to an online video of Jack the dog in action, visit: www.scholastic.com/scienceworld

PRE-READING PROMPTS:

* What is a parasite? What human parasites can you think of?

* What are bedbugs? Do you think that they are a problem in the United States?

* What factors might be allowing bedbugs to spread?

DID YOU KNOW?

* While you may think that bedbugs are attracted to blood, it's actually your body's warmth and the carbon dioxide you exhale while sleeping that lures these mainly nocturnal creatures from their daytime hiding places.

* Bedbugs prefer human hosts, but they have been known to also feed on rodents, dogs, cats, bats, and even birds.

* Unlike head lice, which live on human scalps and hair, bedbugs usually do not live on people. Rather, these pests hide near where people sleep. They seek out places such as cracks and crevices in furniture and baseboards, seams of mattresses and carpeting, and behind loose wallpaper.

CRITICAL THINKING:

* Bedbugs are notorious hitchhikers, and scientists believe that their recent resurgence is due to an increase in people traveling internationally. What are some other pests, invasive species, and diseases that have (or could) come to the U.S. with an unaware globetrotter? What sort of precautions do you think can be taken to avoid the importing of each of these types of undesirables?

CROSS-CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS:

LANGUAGE ARTS: Have your students create an informational brochure about bedbugs that could be placed in travel agent offices and airports. Using some of the Web sites in the Resources section below, students can find information about the life cycle of bedbugs, how to look for evidence of bedbug infestations, and how dogs can help hotels, hospitals, and homeowners stay bedbug-free.

RESOURCES

You can access these Web links at www.scholastic.com/scienceworld.

* The Harvard School of Public Health's Web site answers your frequently asked questions about bedbugs: www.hsph.harvard.edu/bedbugs

* Check out a slide show about bedbugs at WebMD: www.webmd.com/skin.problems.and.treatments /slideshow-bedbugs.

* The University of California's Integrated Pest Management Web site has information about the life cycle and management of bedbugs: www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES

CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING

DIRECTIONS: Fill in the blanks to complete the summary paragraph below.

Bedbugs (Cimex --) are small, flat, and -- in color. Most bedbugs lie low during the day, and come out at -- to feed on the -- of sleeping humans. Luckily, bedbugs are not known to spread --; however, their bites can cause itchy, red --. They can be very hard to get rid of because they can live for more than -- -- without feeding. Three ways exterminators try to kill these pests are: spraying them with an effective --, heating the rooms to temperatures greater than -- [degrees]C (-- [degrees]F), or freezing the bugs with -- -- spray. Some people have businesses that use -- to sniff out bedbug infestations.

ANSWERS

lectulanus, brown; night, blood; disease, welts; one year; pesticide; 49, 120, carbon dioxide; dogs

CHART-READING SKILLS

In "Biting Back" (p. 8), you read that bedbugs are making a comeback in cities across the United States. The chart below shows the number of complaints about bedbugs made to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development over a period of five years. Look at the chart and follow the directions below.
Bedbug Complaints in New York City's Five Boroughs *

* A borough is a subsection of the city.

   Borough      2004    2005     2006     2007     2008

  Brooklyn       52      665    1,642    2,382    3,401

  Manhattan      35      427    1,107    1,729    2,107

   Queens        80      562    1,278    1,602    1,927

    Bronx        25      193     570     1,117    1,682

Staten Island     0       8       41       59       96

New York City    192
    Total

SOURCE: NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development


Graph It

Calculate the total number of bedbug complaints made in New York City each year by tallying the data for the five boroughs. (We did the first one for you.) Then, create a line graph showing the total number of bedbug complaints made in New York City from 2004 to 2008. Be sure to give your graph a descriptive title and to label the x- and y-axes.

Analyze It

1. Between which two years was the increase in the total number of bedbug complaints greatest?

2. Which borough had the most bedbug complaints in 2008? The fewest?

3. What was the total percent increase in the number of bedbug complaints made in New York City from 2004 to 2008? (Hint: First, find the increase in complaints from 2004 to 2008. Then, divide that total by the number of complaints in 2004 and multiply by 100. Round your answer to the nearest whole percent.)

4. Between which two years was the percent increase in the number of bedbug complaints in Queens greatest? What was the percent increase in that period?

ANSWERS
Borough     2004    2005     2006    2007   2008

Brooklyn      52     665     1,642   2,382   3,401

Manhattan     35     427     1,107   1,729   2,107

Queens        80     562     1,278   1,602   1,927

Bronx         25     193       570   1,117   1,682

Staten
Island         0       8        41      59      96

New York
City Total   192    1,55     4,638   6,889   9,213


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1. The total number of bedbug complaints made in New York City increased the most from 2005 to 2006.

2. In 2008, Brooklyn had the most bedbug complaints and Staten Island had the fewest.

3. The total percent increase of bedbugs in New York City from 2004 to 2008 was 4,698 percent.

4. With a 603 percent increase, Queens had the greatest percent increase in bedbug complaints between 2004 and 2005.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:LIFE: PARASITES
Author:Adams, Jacqueline
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 7, 2009
Words:1508
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