For many years, the bed bug trap has proved elusive.  Since bed bugs are so very tiny – often measuring no more than one quarter of an inch in total length – constructing a trap that could let them in but not let them out was quite a challenge.  This left those with a bed bug infestation in somewhat of a bind.  Using mattress covers and other physical means to encapsulate bed bugs – with the objective of starving them to death – was a slow process since the bugs can enter periods of dormancy that last for weeks or even months.

The problem with chemicals

The only truly viable methods to kill them were chemical, but many people prefer to avoid using harsh chemicals in the home, particularly in and around their beds since sleeping in the presence of such chemicals would mean prolonged exposure.  Besides, new breeds of these insects are beginning to demonstrate increased levels of resistance to insecticides.  This leads to what we might call the worst of both worlds: The chemicals you use to try to kill bed bugs may well not do them much harm – but they just might make you sick.

A solution at last

The year 2012, however, brings great news to people living in cities – New York comes to mind – where bed bugs have become an increasing burden over the course of the last two decades.  Scientists working at the School of Hygiene in London have done some interesting research on bed bugs and discovered that the bugs are actually attracted to the odor that emanates from their own fecal matter.

Before you scrunch up your nose, say a long “Ewwww,”  and hit the back button on your browser, think about the situation from an evolutionary point of view.  Natural selections favors those creatures that have some kind of advantage.  Bed bugs that are able to find their way back to their nesting and hiding places have such an advantage over bugs that get lost and remain out during the day where they can be more easily spotted and squashed.

It stands to reason, therefore, that some bed bugs developed a habit of defecating liberally in their nesting places.  This very scent then draws them back later on.  In the meantime, they have crept out to feed on the blood of humans or pets in the vicinity – typically, humans or pets who are asleep at night and less likely to slap or paw at them during this feeding process.

A “crap trap”

No less reputed a magazine than The Economist – sort of like a British version of Time only much thicker and with harder words – has reported on the research of these scientists, whose great accomplishment is not that they discovered bed bugs defecate in their hiding places, but whose breakthrough is a discovery of the precise chemical in their fecal matter that draws them back like a bee to honey.

Using this chemical, these scientists have developed the bed bug equivalent of flypaper – a sticky trap impregnated with the chemical in order to attract the bugs, but sticky enough to hold them once they arrive, drawn mercilessly by the scent.

As of now, no trap leveraging this development is yet available on the market, but bed bug sufferers in the UK and elsewhere are looking forward to seeing this idea marketed.

In the meantime, try a “passive interception device”

A trap that draws bed bugs to it could rightly be called an “active interception device” because it would function in a proactive rather than a reactive way.  This would be a great improvement over the types of traps that are now commercially available.  These do a fine job of actually trapping bed bugs, but are less impressive in terms of luring the bugs to it in the first place.  Mainly, they rely on circumstance to do that.

Known as “passive interception devices,” these bed bug traps are called the Climbup Insect Interceptor and are produced by Susan McKnight.  Experts on bed bug extermination expect that McKnight will soon have a host of competitors since the devices are actually rather simple.  Based on the idea of a “pitfall,”  the Interceptor consists of a specialized plastic ring that is lodged beneath the legs of a bed, a table, or any other piece of furniture thought to be infested by bed bugs.

The device is constructed to use texture cleverly such that bugs are able to climb up them on the outside and fall in.  The texture on the interior walls of the rings, however, is far smoother and is designed to frustrate the bugs’ attempts to crawl up and out again.  The goal is to capture bugs as they are migrating between their hiding places and their feeding zones.

Advantages of the “passive interception” bed bug traps

These types of traps offer several strong benefits to consumers:

  • They are available commercially already, unlike the London School of Hygiene approach which has yet to come to market.
  • They are free from any kind of chemical.  This makes them appropriate for a wide variety of people:
    • those who are sensitive to insecticides
    • those who dislike the smell
    • those who are simply uncomfortable with the idea of spraying toxic chemicals inside the home
    • They use no electricity or batteries, operating free of charge once they are purchased and installed.
    • They work on a continual basis once they are put in place, trapping bugs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with very little further effort required on the part of the home owner.

Disadvantages of passive bed bug traps

Alas, no device is perfection itself.  In the case of passive interception bed bug traps, users will have to deal with several drawbacks:

  • The traps are unsightly.
    The design means that the traps must be open on top to the air so that bugs can climb over the wall and be trapped.  Unfortunately, this means that the trapped bugs will be on display for all to see.  Some people may not like to look at dead (and still living) bed bugs in the traps each night when they climb over them into bed.
  • Bedding must be kept up off the floor.
    If you are the type that likes the bedspread to elegantly drape so that it reaches to the floor on three sides of the bed, these traps are probably not your style.  Letting bedding hang near them will sooner or later mean that an expanse of fabric strays into the trap.  This will get dead bugs on you bedding – a problem, to be sure.  It will also mean that living bugs could climb out using your bedding as a sort of ladder.  This is quite likely to infest your bed worse than before.  Sheets, blankets, and bedspreads, therefore, must be kept well clear of all the traps.
  • The traps will need to be emptied.  This is not a huge issue for some people, but for others it might be a deal killer.  These people include:
    • those who find it physically difficult to repeatedly lift furniture up to slide the traps free
    • those who are afraid of insects and prefer not to venture near them
    • those who simply find the task a gross one.
    • The traps do need a minimal amount of maintenance.
      In addition to emptying them, the traps must be “re-slicked”  from time to time.  All this requires is dabbing a cotton swab in baby powder or talcum powder so that the sides can be swabbed down, keeping them slippery enough that the bugs can’t climb out.

Research results with passive interception devices

Even though there is no fancy chemical to lure the bugs into these devices, research with them suggests that the best lure of all is already in use.  That would be me or you – the human being sleeping in the bed whose legs have been secured with interception devices.

According to some field studies, these devices were more effective at identifying bed bug infestations than were some techniques that use carbon dioxide to lure the bugs in.  Unfortunately, however, the devices are better at monitoring than they are at extermination.  You can use an interception device to conclusively demonstrate the presence of bed bugs in your home.  They are not, however, likely to wipe those bugs out completely.  Those who have suffered the annoyance of nightly attacks, though, may well point out that every little bit helps.  They would be right, too.

It is also possible to build your own interception device.  This will save you the hassle of finding a store that sells one, though in its place you will have the hassle of a minor construction project which uses some rather exotic components such as dry ice, which produces carbon dioxide to lure the bugs to the trap.  Instructions for these kinds of do it yourself projects are widely available online.  For many people, however, the best solution is going to be a simple phone call to a bed bug exterminator who can come and take care of everything for you.