Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Biology, Books for the News


Brooke Borel’s Infested: How the Bed Bug Infiltrated Our Bedrooms and Took Over the World, a history, is the kind of book that can make you squirm—and not in a way that reassures you about the general asepsis of your mattress, hostel accommodations, luggage, vintage sweater, sexual partner, electrical heating system, duvet cover, trousseau, or recycling bin.

Consider this excerpt from the book, recently posted at Gizmodo, about the plucky bed bug’s resistance to DDT (read more at the link to learn about how it—yes, the insect—was almost drafted in the Vietnam War):

Four years after the Americans and the Brits added DDT to their wartime supply lists, scientists found bed bugs resistant to the insecticide in Pearl Harbor barracks. More resistant bed bugs soon showed up in Japan, Korea, Iran, Israel, French Guiana, and Columbus, Ohio. In 1958 James Busvine of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed DDT resistance in bed bugs as well as cross- resistance to several similar pesticides, including a tenfold increase in resistance to a common organic one called pyrethrin. In 1964 scientists tested bed bugs that had proven resistant five years prior but had not been exposed to any insecticides since. The bugs still defied the DDT.

Soon there was a long list of other insect and arachnid with an increasing immunity to DDT: lice, mosquitoes, house flies, fruit flies, cockroaches, ticks, and the tropical bed bug. In 1969 one entomology professor would write of the trend: “The events of the past 25 years have taught us that virtually any chemical control method we have devised for insects is eventually destined to become obsolete, and that insect control can never be static but must be in a dynamic state of constant evolution.” In other words, in the race between chemical and insect, the insects always pull ahead.

If that doesn’t, er, scratch your itch, check out the video above (produced by the Frank Collective, a rad tribe of Brooklyn-based digital media collaborators), which features Borel teasing “7 Crazy Bed Bug Facts,” and explore the book’s website, a safe space where the “bed bug queen” makes her nest.

To read more about Infested, click here.