Dog's Bed Bug Detection Questioned
Saturday, February 18, 2012
LINCOLN, NE - The large number of bedbug reports at the
University of Nebraska-Lincoln - 94 rooms treated for the pests so
far - has led one national expert to wonder whether UNL is getting
"false positives" from the dogs it's been using to detect the
"Something doesn't seem right," said Jeffrey White, an
entomologist who serves as technical director for Bedbug Central,
an online bedbug information center. He has been a featured
entomologist on "Infested," an Animal Planet program about insect
It's possible that the university's aggressive attack has
resulted in false positives, said UNL spokeswoman Kelly
Only a handful of the bedbug reports have come from students who
actually saw the bugs or were bitten.
The rest were detected through the housing department's efforts
to ferret out the bugs, though in some rooms they could be seen
climbing and crawling. UNL has estimated that the cost to detect
and eradicate the bugs could exceed $100,000.
The university has used five bedbug-sniffing dogs from three
different handlers in a room-to-room dragnet.
So far, about 1,300 of the 3,256 dormitory rooms have been
checked, with bedbugs confirmed in about 7 percent of the
rooms. The handlers do attempt to corroborate one dog's "alert" by
bringing in a second dog but don't always take the time to hunt for
visual evidence of the bugs.
Despite the possibility of false positives, "the responsible
thing to do is to treat the room anyway," Bartling said. "What's
the alternative? Nobody wants anybody to get bedbug bites. The
strategy is to get ahead of them and identify them before they
Although campuses across the country are dealing with bedbug
problems, White said, he's checked with other major universities
and none has ever dealt with an infestation that extended beyond
Bedbugs have become more common in the United States in recent
years because they have developed resistance to commonly used
pesticides. White said college campuses are especially vulnerable
"College and university dorms are really long-term-stay hotels,"
he said. "The trick is limiting the spread in a dorm building. You
have a lot of socialization among students in a dorm. If you don't
catch things quick enough, you have a sort of spiderweb
He said the most common times for college bedbug reports are
right after summer break, right after semester break and right
after spring break.
Usually, the situation is that students have brought the bugs
back with them from their travels, and only a few bugs - fewer than
20 - are involved.
High-level infestations, of 100 bugs or more, take longer to
develop but are tougher to eradicate.
White said it can be tough to catch bedbugs early. Some studies
have shown that 30 percent of people don't react to bedbug bites.
The bugs are nocturnal and hide in crevices, cracks and dark places
like the inside of a bed's box springs.
White himself has been a bedbug victim. He woke one morning with
bites on the nape of his neck. He dismissed them as mosquito bites.
A week later, he found a cluster of three bites on the back of his
"I knew only one thing does that."
He checked his box spring and found just one bug, which he
"It was a simple solution, but it brought some reality to the
situation," he said. "You can't really understand what it's like
until you have them. I had a hard time sleeping for a couple
The first residence hall report at UNL came the first week after
classes resumed in January. Housing officials said they found a
mass of bugs hiding behind a built-in pegboard in a dormitory
White said the bugs could have been there for weeks - and were
hungry when the students returned from semester break. Bedbugs can
live for three to six months without feeding.
The bugs don't build nests, but they tend to congregate in one
area, he said. Their deposits - which look like black spots - give
off a pheromone that attracts more bugs. Their eggs are usually
found in that area.
Adults reach about a quarter-inch in size, and they are round
and flat like a tick. Eggs and hatchlings are quite small, the size
of the letters on a penny. The eggs are translucent.
The first UNL inspections were done by Spots, a rat terrier
handled by James Pelowski of Lincoln. Pelowski said he always works
with a secondary inspector who helps him look for visual evidence
of bugs after Spots signals the alert.
"With my dog, we always show physical evidence," he said.
"There's absolutely no false positives on my end."
After the dog alerts - and Spots can detect as few as one or two
bugs - Pelowski and his secondary inspector put on their gloves and
pull out high-intensity flashlights and magnifying glasses. "We
usually find some within 2 to 3 feet," he said.
However, Pelowski and his dog have not been involved during the
past week because of a death in Pelowski's family. He said UNL is
responding aggressively to an "epidemic" of bedbugs that's
occurring in Nebraska.
"Out of all the colleges I've worked with, UNL is definitely
doing the best job," he said. "It's definitely the most aggressive
in seeking to get this critter taken care of."
Pelowski said he is not affiliated with a pest control company,
to avoid creating the appearance that he has an incentive to find
Mark Lillis, a canine handler and bedbug division manager for a
pest control company based in Topeka, Kan., said one bedbug is as
bad as 100. An adult bedbug produces five to seven eggs per
"I don't fault what the university is doing by any means," he
said. "The reason for using canines is to get ahead of the bedbugs
and to eradicate them."