Richmond’s amenable climate allows wildlife to make themselves at home in your yard. Most of us love seeing the occasional deer or bunny romping through our yard. But we draw the line at the creepy crawlies that make it indoors.

Two, in particular, are enough to make your skin crawl: “Bedbugs and German cockroaches,” are the ones Virginia tech Urban Pest Management Specialist Dr. Dini Miller talks passionately about.

Termites and ants are also common in the Richmond area, but “bedbugs and roaches have the most impact on people,” she said.

Dr. Miller frequently goes into public housing, where she sees firsthand the impact of these insect infestations. The problem affects all socioeconomic levels. “I was in an upper-middle-class home where the people had become disabled. You could tell that once they had been doing great, but when the lady followed me outside, I literally pinched bedbugs off her sweater,” she said.

“The cockroaches are the most prolific, but the bedbugs are more challenging,” she said.

Bedbugs

Bedbugs in a family Bible
A shocking discovery found in the Book of Revelations: Bedbugs infested a Richmond family Bible. Photo courtesy Dr. Dini Miller.

The biggest victims of these blood-sucking insects? The elderly. “The elderly are particularly plagued with bedbugs because our immune system doesn’t respond as well as we get older. Often, they’re unaware of them because they don’t see them,” she said.

Bedbugs do not transmit diseases to people, but they do bite, are a nuisance, and the stigma of having them causes psychological stress. And it’s one of the hardest bugs to get rid of. “You’ve got to find and kill each one of them,” Dr. Miller said. “Most people don’t know a thing about bedbugs. The things they read off the internet are not biologically correct.”

She advises calling in professional help – but even that advice comes with a warning. She says some exterminators “go in believing they have a spray that works for three months. But the bugs have become so resistant to insecticides that their populations have grown and spread all over the planet. These are not your grandma’s bedbugs. They are thick-skinned mutants that have adapted to insecticides,” Dr. Miller said. You need an exterminator who’s experienced in getting rid of these bedbugs.

DIY Bedbug Advice

If you’re set on going the DIY route, the EPA has some advice.

  • Identify the bug. Bedbugs can be mistaken for other insects. Your county extension agent will make the identification for free.
  • Remove bed covers and rid the mattresses of bugs. Seal the mattress in bedbug-proof liners you can find in stores or online
  • Treat bed clothing, clothes, and small items in a dryer set on high for at least 30 minutes.
  • Clean the area thoroughly, including curtains, furniture, baseboards, and behind electrical outlets.
  • Vacuum repeatedly and place sealed vacuum bags in an outdoor trash receptacle.
  • Check the area every few days and repeat the process if necessary.

Dr. Miller said wheelchairs for the disabled and elderly are another common carrier of bedbugs and their eggs, as are automobiles. “Also check the chair or couch with the best view of the TV. That’s a good place for them.”

Bedbugs removed from a Richmond hoe
Bedbugs taken from a Richmond home. Photo courtesy Dr. Dini Miller.

Cockroaches

The German cockroach (pictured at top of page) is the only roach that lives entirely in homes.

“This insect has evolved with humans over thousands of years,” Miller said. Unlike bedbugs, roaches can spread illness to people. The pest is responsible for the spread of asthma and allergies, with low-income children being the hardest hit. And Dr. Miller sees plenty of homes loaded with cockroaches in the Richmond area.

“In one home we caught 1,300 of them in a single night,” she said. “They shed skins multiple times. They leave their dead bodies, they leave their poop, all of which contain pathogens.”

Gel baits

To get rid of coaches, Dr. Miller recommends gel baits, which attract the insects and poisons them. But she advises supplementing gel traps with insecticide sprays. “You want them to like the gel,” she said. “If you’re going to feed them, you can’t spray them. They’ll run off, and you probably won’t kill them.”

Dr. Dini Miller
Dr. Dini Miller

It’s important to vacuum up dead roaches because live ones feed on the bodies and body parts of the carcasses. Miller recommends immediately emptying the vacuum into an outdoor trash container to avoid attracting more bugs.

A major obstacle homeowners face is the resistance that roaches, bedbugs, and other pests have developed to available insecticides. Manufacturers are reluctant to develop effective new household products because of EPA regulations. “It takes about 10 years of data and $350 million investment. They never make their money back,” Miller said. “We need something new.” Dini M. Miller is a Professor at Virginia Tech and the Urban Pest Management Specialist for the state of Virginia.

Dr. Miller is an internationally recognized expert in the area of urban pest management, particularly German cockroach and bed bug biology, behavior and control. Dr.Miller received her undergraduate degree from UCLA in Geography/Ecosystems. She completed her master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Florida where she studied Urban Entomology.

Main image credit: German cockroach, Sarah Camp, CC by ND 2.0.

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