BY NICK BUGLIONE
First there were the Asian Beetles, then the mosquitoes and now experts have claimed that even the local population of bedbugs is growing.
With creepy crawling creatures making headlines and instilling fear into the hearts of residents of what seems to be becoming to be the Big Apple’s “buggiest” borough, the Tribune offers an in-depth look at some of the insects bugging Queens.
THINGS THAT GO BITE IN THE NIGHT
Goodnight, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite—a statement most Queens residents have probably heard a thousand times from parents upon settling down to sleep. Yet after waking morning upon morning with no signs of having been bitten by one of these mysterious insects, most may not even believe they exist at all.
But they do, and in fact, they’re becoming a significant problem in the borough, according to entomologist and exterminator Gil Bloom.
Bloom, who has been in the extermination business for over 20 years and claimed to be interested in entomology, the study of insects, his whole life, said that there has been a marked increase in the number of Queens bed bugs cases in recent years.
Whereas in the earlier part of the 1990s his company, the Astoria-based Standard Extermination, would maybe get only a five or six bed bugs calls a year, Bloom said that in the past few years customer complaints have come in monthly.
“We’re now averaging five or six bed bugs calls a month,” Bloom added. “There’s definitely a rise in bed bugs.”
The apparent fluctuation of the insect interested Bloom, who is the vice president of the New York State Pest Control Association and an adjunct professor at Queensborough Community College, and lead him to embark on a study along with the help of the Cornell University Agricultural Extension.
The two-tiered study, which officially began in July, involved sending out surveys throughout New York City to pest control officials and entomologists, as well as interviewing people suffering from bed bug infestations.
“We’re expecting everything to be done near the end of October,” said Bloom, who added that once the study is complete, the results will be presented at the New York State Pest Control Association’s meeting in the Catskills.
Upon its completion, officials will be able to determine possible factors that have contributed to the increase in bed bugs, which Bloom speculates could be caused by construction or the presence of new immigrant groups.
THEY HAVE COME TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD
The diminutive bed bug, usually only one quarter to three eighths of an inch in size, is a blood-sucking pest that feeds upon humans, domestic animals, wild birds and other wildlife.
Bed bugs are oval in shape, flattened, wingless and have a reddish-brown color. Like the mosquito, the insect is nocturnal and feeds primarily at night by attaching on to its host, piercing the skin with a long beak that pumps blood into the bug’s stomach. It usually takes a bed bug between three and 15 minutes to complete feeding.
Bites from the insects, which are small, hard and white, can lead to swelling and considerable irritation, caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva that is introduced early during feedings.
While the pest gets its nickname from its penchant for infesting the seams and folds of mattresses and bed covers, bed bugs can also be found in loose wallpaper, pictures, floor cracks, couches, chairs and even clothing.
Females can lay about 200 eggs, usually at the rate of three or four a day, which take about 10 days to hatch depending on the temperature (the insects are very sensitive to high temperatures, for them 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal). Bed bugs reach maturity usually in five to eight weeks, with their life span lasting anywhere between six months to a year and a half.
And while it’s most commonly found in old hotels, homes and boarding houses, the pest can pop up in offices, theaters, restaurants and even vehicles. When food supplies get cut off, the insects have been known to migrate house to house through pipelines, and they’re also easily transported through suitcases and laundry.
Bed bug infested areas tend to have a musty odor, and are often accompanied with other telltale signs. Blood on sheets and mattresses, black spots on surfaces where the insect has been and the presence of molted skins are all indicators of the insect’s presence.
KEEP YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER
As with many insects, keeping a house clean is a good preventive measure against the infestation of bed bugs.
“Prevention and early detection is a big part of it,” said Bloom. Yet in an unsanitary environment detection can be extremely difficult.
“By the time you notice it, you may already have a significant problem,” he said. Bloom also recommends that people be wary of the mattresses and clothes they buy, and make sure that they’ve never been used.
“Overall, insects are positive. Only a small percentage, less than 10 percent, are harmful,” said Bloom. “They’re also important to protect, we need insects.”
FIGHTING THE DEADLIEST BITE
Arguably, the best-known critters bugging the borough are mosquitoes, especially the ones carrying the dreaded West Nile virus.
Queens, like the rest of the City, has had to endure another summer with the deadly disease, although this year’s outbreak has been significantly smaller. Health officials credit intensive surveillance efforts and the current pesticide spraying campaign as reasons for the decrease in human infections.
The most recent pesticide spraying in Queens took place on Sept. 6, as the city conducted ground spraying in several cemeteries throughout Woodlawn that were not treated last weekend as originally scheduled.
During the Labor Day weekend, New York City Health Commissioner Neal Cohen announced that evidence of the West Nile virus was confirmed by the New York State Department of Health in two birds, both crows, collected from Queens. The discovery of the infected birds prompted city health officials to spray a two-mile area of Cambria Heights on Sept. 3.
Cohen also reminded residents to continue eliminating areas of standing water around their homes throughout the mosquito season.
For more information on the West Nile virus, spraying activities, spraying precautions, or to report dead birds and areas of standing water where mosquitoes breed, Queens residents can call the Health Department’s West Nile virus information line, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-877-WNV-4NYC. Extensive information is also included on the city’s web site at www.nyc.gov/health.
DON’T LET THEM BUG YOU
As fall approaches Queens residents look forward to the end of mosquito season but should be aware of other creepy crawlers.
Roaches, ants, earwigs, centipedes, wasps and yellow jackets are the primary insects residents should be aware of, said Hal Byer, owner of Magic Exterminators. Byer warns that there are preventative measures people can take to avoid bringing bugs in and to reduce the need of a professional exterminating service.
According to Byer; roaches, waterbugs and ants enter homes through wall cracks, slabs in the basement floor, broken windows, improperly fitted windows, doors with spaces underneath, unkempt garages and bad grading.
Proper grading is determined by measuring the slope of the earth a house sits on. This effects how water flows from the house. If water drains against the wall instead of away, the water will find a crack in the surface and pressure its way in, forming a crack.
Earwigs (which don’t really crawl in your ear), millipedes and centipedes are insects which require a high moisture content to survive and will often be found in rooms including the bathroom and kitchen.
They also enter through basement slabs but are mainly found in woodchips, heavy foliage surrounding the home, old tree stumps, under stones, garbage, unventilated crawl spaces and attics and in dirty gutters.
The pollinators, including wasps, bees and yellow jackets are not easily deterred. “They are natural and needed in the environment,” said Byer. “It’s a shame to kill them [ but they can pose] danger if a person is allergic.” In the event of infestation, it’s strongly recommended that you call an exterminator to remove the nest.
WHAT MAKES THESE INSECTS TICK
A growing concern to residents that increases the further east you travel are ticks, found primarily in tall grass and deer areas.
The Department of Health (DOH) works to continually educate the public on this disease-carrying insect, most active during the summer and fall. The deer tick— that can be the size of a sesame seed — mainly carries lyme disease. Symptoms that can develop within a couple of days to a couple of months, include rash, fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck and pain in muscles and joints. If left undiagnosed or untreated, the disease can progress into meningitis, arthritis and heart problems. Although a vaccine is available, it is only 70 percent effective.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever carries symptoms similar to Lyme disease.
As the DOH continues to collect information to identify areas where people may be at risk for tick borne diseases they recommend taking the following precautions when outdoors in tick infested areas:
- Walk on cleared trails
- Check every few hours, and when you return indoors, for ticks attached to clothing or skin
- Check children and pets carefully
- Use insect repellents containing DEET following directions and washing off when returning indoors. (DEET should not be used on infants or pregnant women.)
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants with the legs tucked into the socks, and closed-toe shoes in grassy or wooded areas of parks, beaches, and other vegetated areas
- Ticks are easier to see on light colored clothing.
WINNING THE BEETLE BATTLE
Following the conclusion of their survey for additional Asian long-horned beetles in Flushing Meadows—Corona Park, Parks Department officials have recently confirmed that no more of the insects have been found infesting other trees.
“We have not found any additionally infected trees other than the first ones found,” said Parks spokeswoman Amy Chiu.
Prompted by the discovery of the tree-destroying beetle in three maple trees within the park in late July, Parks officials conducted an extensive search for any signs that might verify a continued presence of the insect.
With the initially infected trees already removed and disposed of, coupled with the fact that no additional beetles have been found, Parks’ representatives have concluded that the insect is no longer present.
— Richard Fasanella contributed to this story