By Cindy Atoji Keene
When Boston’s Housing Authority has a bed bug problem, one of the first people they call is Jonathan Boyar, the self-proclaimed “bed bug authority.” Bed bugs are a nasty nuisance, but not impossible to get rid of, said Boyar, proprietor of Ecologic Entomology, a pest control management and consulting company. “There’s no single solution – chemicals, heat, steam are all weapons – as well as getting rid of infested mattresses and bedding,” said Boyar, who added that bed bugs are back with a vengeance, probably because of warmer temperatures. “For us, don’t let the ‘bed bugs bite’ is just a childhood rhyme, but our grandparents certainly knew what they were.” Boyar also helps homeowners and commercial properties eradicate ants, cockroaches, fleas, mice, termites and other unwanted vermin.
Q: Is there any way to avoid catching bed bugs from hotels?
A: If you do a fair amount of traveling, then chances are you’ve stayed in a hotel that either has – or has had – bed bugs. There are directories online that say which hotels have bed bugs, but infestation status can quickly change. The question is, how is the hotel or motel dealing with them? Hopefully there is a protocol for it.
Q: There’s often an emotional component with bugs – why are people so afraid of finding insects in their home?
A: It’s the classic fear of the unknown. We are basically raised to be afraid of crawling and biting things. The vast majority of insects we must co-habitat with are beneficial. Sometimes the bugs aren’t even really a problem – people just don’t want to see them. I got a phone call from someone who wanted their entire property sprayed but it turned out they were worried about cicadas, a species which only makes its presence known every seven or 20 years, depending on the species. We shouldn’t just be killing them willy-nilly.
Q: Why are pests so challenging to get rid of?
A: Because they have a high reproductive threshold – they can create many generations in a short time and multiply quickly. The egg capsule of a cockroach, for example, contains approximately 40 eggs inside of it. You can do the math. And, even if the temperature isn’t ideal for them, they can retreat and lay low until it gets warmer then pick up where they left off – that’s one frustrating ability that bed bugs have.
Q: Why are pesticides not the answer most of the time?
A: There’s a science to urban entomology, and it’s not as simple as spraying. The mentality used to be that an insect problem could be solved only with chemicals, but that’s a one-dimensional way of thinking, and today’s pesticides are not as effective. The burning question is: Why are the pests there? And the answer is usually because food is available. This situation needs to be addressed first. Even provisions that we don’t consider problematic – like a bag of grass seed in the basement – is food for a lot of mice.
Q: You offer a no-cost insect identification service – what sort of bugs have you gotten?
A: Although we make it clear to folks that our area is urban entomology, people mail us stuff from all over the country, usually insects from the garden or woods. Frequently, someone sends us carpet beetles, which are commonly mistaken for bed bugs because they’re often found in fabric. Occasionally, I will be sent something I can’t identify; the majority of the time, it’s not even an inset. I’ve seen some pretty nasty specimens, like mucus, scabs, and things plucked off of someone’s head. One person even sent her child’s excrement because she thought there was some sort of worm in it. I told her, you need a doctor, not an entomologist.