National News

You Won’t Like This News About Bedbugs, Ticks and the ‘Bomb Cyclone’

Posted January 11, 2018 6:27 p.m. EST

Some creepy facts: A cockroach can live about a month with its head cut off. In its 300 million or so years on this planet, its relatives have survived an asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs, an ice age and an atom bomb.

These vile pests the color of excrement reproduce all year and know where to find warm places to hide. So that “bomb cyclone” of a cold spell that froze much of the United States? It’s like nothing for the roaches — or most other creepy-crawly pests.

Yes, it’s been cold, really cold — but you survived. Don’t think your worst nightmares didn’t.

— Bedbugs

“I don’t expect this cold spell to affect bedbug populations in the coming months,” said Jeff White, an entomologist at BedBug Central, a company that provides training and information on bedbugs and pest control. “Although it’s cold outside, it’s not cold inside.”

According to White, you’d have to leave a book in your freezer for up to two weeks to make sure the cold fully penetrated it to kill bedbugs. But the cold we just experienced didn’t last that long and many things bedbugs might use as shelter are bigger than books.

“Cold is widely thought of as a fairly ineffective way to deal with bedbugs,” said White.

Even a prolonged polar-vortex-bomb-cyclone death trap probably wouldn’t be enough. White said he once received an email from someone who tried to freeze bedbugs out of a sofa on a snowbank in a super cold Canadian city. Three months later, they were still alive.

— Stink bugs and other home invaders

If the cold snap persisted, you might be surprised to learn that you’ll see more of certain home invaders in the spring, said Richard Cooper, another entomologist at BedBug Central. That’s the case for crickets, ants, wasps, ladybugs or stink bugs that generally live outside and creep in only on occasion.

That’s because many adult insects sleep off winter in dormancy. A warm winter or a winter with a lot of ups and downs can break that dormancy and trick these pests into coming out too soon, much like flowers that bloom too early during a winter warm spell. Those insects then have a greater chance of dying before ever seeing spring.

— Ticks

Can’t we at least tell you that the “bomb cyclone” killed off some ticks?

Probably not, said Thomas Mather, “The Tick Guy,” an entomologist at the University of Rhode Island who directs their TickEncounter Resource Center.

Put a deer tick — the kind that carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease — in a freezer overnight, and that sucker will die. But give it a night outside in well below freezing temperatures under some snow, and in the morning its writhing, living body will greet you. Mather demonstrated this during the recent cold snap.

In the Northeast, adult deer tick populations start peaking after the first frost: “Right away they’re sort of showing, ‘I’m not afraid of the cold,'” said Mather. That’s because they have survival tricks.

A tick dies moving from a warm room to a freezer because water in its cells freezes, crystallizes and breaks its cell walls. But ticks acclimate outside where temperature changes more gradually. With time, they move water out of their cells before it ruptures them. Other outdoor critters can produce antifreeze proteins. Ticks also escape cold temperatures by insulating themselves beneath a blanket of leaf litter and snow.

Polar vortex, bomb cyclone, cold snap — whatever you call it — it hasn’t affected spring tick populations before, and it probably won’t now, according to Mather.

“These bugs have been around longer than people, and they probably have gone through cold temperatures before,” Mather said. If they hadn’t survived, “we would have called them extinct.”