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Bed Bugs Survive Freezing Temperatures: Cold Doesn't Necessarily Kill Insects

First Posted: Dec 09, 2013 11:30 AM EST

Just because it'd cold doesn't mean that your pest problem is over until the spring. Scientists have found that bed bugs in particular are resilient when it comes to freezing temperatures. They've discovered that while exposing bed bug-infested clothing or other small items to the cold may have been advised in the past, these insects are far less susceptible to freezing than previously reported.

Bed bugs, like many other insects, use a "freeze-intolerant" strategy against the cold. This means that they attempt to protect themselves from freeze injury by lowering the freezing point of their body fluids. In order to examine what effect the cold has on bed begs, though, the researchers took a closer look at these pests.

The scientists evaluated the supercooling point (SCP) and the lower lethal temperature (LLT) for all life stages of bed bugs. In addition, they examined their potential to feed after exposure to sublethal temperatures. This allowed them to assess how resilient the bed bugs were to the cold.

So what did they find? It turns that in order to achieve 100 percent mortality among the bed bugs, there needs to be a minimum exposure time of 80 hours at minus 16 degrees Celsius for all life stages. In addition, the scientists discovered that temperatures below minus 15 degrees Celsius are sufficient to control all life stages of bed bugs after 3.5 days. If temperatures plummet even further to below minus 20 degrees, only 48 hours are needed to control the insects.

That's not to say that all life stages are equal, though. Bed bug eggs in particular were hardy to extreme temperatures. These eggs could survive in short-term exposures to temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius.

So how do you kill bed bugs? That's a good question. The scientists say that homeowners can place bug-infested items in a freezer to destroy the insects. However, it's best if these items are placed in plastic bags and then remain in the freezer for two to four days, depending on the freezer's temperature.

The findings are published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

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