• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Buzz

Air Date: Week of October 29, 2004

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Josie Glausiusz, author of "Buzz, the Intimate Bond between Humans and Insects," tells all you need to know about one of our most intimate insect partners – bedbugs.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Insects are everywhere – they can drive us crazy, make us sick, feed us, feed on us and help us in ways we’re often unaware of. This week, we’re kicking off what will be an occasional series about these tiny creatures by author Josie Glausiusz. Today, she chronicles the intimate connection between humans and bedbugs.

GLAUSIUSZ: The bed bug is a strange and persistent bedfellow. Its been sleeping with us since we first started dwelling in caves.

At least twelve species of these blood suckers are parasites of bats, and many others feed on cave-nesting birds. Their descendents, probably realizing that humans are edible, too, followed us to our homes, hiding by day in the walls of houses, or inside bedding, and emerging by night.

According to a 14th century dictionary of the life of animals, the creature was said to have "its origin in warm blood, and an extravagant fondness for humans." This book of beastly lore may have been mistaken about the bug's origin, but it was accurate about its love for blood. It needs this nourishment to molt from nymph to adult. Though it doesn't transmit disease, it is extremely annoying, as its saliva triggers large, itchy bumps on the skin; and excessive biting can cause anemia in infants.

Top: The common bed bug. Bottom: A seven-spotted ladybug larva eats an aphid. (Photos: Volker Steger © “Buzz: The Intimate Bond Between Humans and Insects”)

Male bedbugs have been called "the sex maniacs of the insect world," since there seems to be no limit to their lust. They'll mate with females repeatedly, both of their own and other species; and with other males as well. The bed bug's sex act, called traumatic insemination, is also unusual: the male takes his copulatory organ, and stabs the female in the abdomen; from there, the sperm must travel to her oviducts. Strange sex acts in bed may be the least that humans have to fear, though. Once driven away by DDT, bedbugs and their biting ways are making a comeback. Hiding out in people's suitcases and old flea market furniture, they travel from place to place, and pesticide resistance makes them hard to eradicate.

The bed bug was once used as a remedy for snakebites. The ancients said, "Seven bed bugs mingled with water were a dose for a man, while four were sufficient for children, and the smell of them will relieve 'hysterical suffocation.'"

CURWOOD: Josie Glausiusz is author of “Buzz: the Intimate Bond Between Humans and Insects.” To see electron microscope photographs of the bedbug and other arthropods, go to our web site, Living on Earth dot org. That's Living on Earth dot o-r-g.

[MUSIC: Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers “Hey There Little Insect” JONATHAN RICHMAN & THE MODERN LOVERS (Castle – 2004)]

 

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.