Bed bugs have been feeding on our blood since ancient times, ever since their early ancestors left the caves along with primitive humans. But bed bugs have only been a daily threat in North America for the last 10 years or so. To make matters worse, these new strains of bed bugs are resistant to previous treatment methods.
This resurgence has triggered a race to find new methods of controlling bed bugs. While there are now several effective contact and residual insecticides, there hasn’t been a successful non-chemical solution yet. The researchers looking into Beauveria bassiana are hoping to change that.
Beauveria bassiana is a fungus that infects certain insect pests. It’s normally used to treat agricultural crop pests but is showing promise as a nontoxic bed bug killer. The question is: if approved for indoor use, can this spray-on fungus be an effective bed bug treatment solution?
History of Natural Bed Bug Treatments
Bed bugs have been described in writing for thousands of years, and the science surrounding them has been bizarre for most of that time. Some of the earliest written references of bed bugs included medicinal properties for treating snake bites, ear infections, and hysteria.
One of the earliest ways people attempted to treat bed bugs in their home was to lay bean leaves under their beds. These leaves have tiny barbs that pierced the bug’s shell. It worked fairly well, considering the lack of other options available at the time. Other remedies included bowls of oil, fumigation by burning decayed leaves, and plant ash applied much like diatomaceous earth powder is today.
While their presence in human society has been constant over the ages, bed bugs grew especially common in Western homes with the advent of electricity. With year-round heating available, bed bugs were suddenly able to survive even the harshest winters indoors. This caused their numbers to multiply drastically, prompting scientists to take drastic measures.
Shortly after World War II, DDT became the insecticide of choice to get rid of bed bugs. Thanks to its powerful organophosphate properties, DDT nearly wiped out the bed bug population in Western nations for the rest of the 20th century. However, it wasn’t 100% effective, and bed bugs that were exposed to it and survived sometimes mutated to develop resistances over generations.
Today’s bed bugs are resistant to DDT and many pyrethroids that were developed after DDT was banned in Western countries. To combat this, insecticide manufacturers have developed newer pyrethroid compounds and fast-acting synthetic killers. On the natural side of the industry, developments like pyrethrin, diatomaceous earth, and even alcohol-based solutions have shown promise, but nothing is 100% effective for an entire infestation.
How Beauveria Bassiana is Different
In 2012, some researchers turned their attention to a biopesticide called Beauveria bassiana. This is an entomopathogenic fungus, which is a fancy way of describing a fungal parasite that can kill insects. Beauveria bassiana is capable of infecting a broad range of insect hosts, and as such has seen success as an agricultural biopesticide. But until a few years ago, there had been no published research on how Beauveria bassiana could be used against bed bugs.
Beauveria bassiana acts on contact: when the fungal spores land on the cuticle (the skin-like shell) of a bed bug, they geminate and grow inside their new host. Once rooted inside, the fungus spreads and produces toxins while draining the host of nutrients until it dies. Once the host is dead, the fungus makes its way back out to the cuticle and covers the host’s body with white mold that releases millions of new spores. Those new spores will then travel through the atmosphere until they reach other bed bugs, repeating the process.
Preliminary research has shown that Beauveria bassiana is 100% effective in a contained laboratory setting. Within just 10 days of exposure, bed bugs of all life stages had succumbed to the parasite. This naturally occurring fungus has typically been researched for control of soil-borne pests like aphids and beetles, but is safe for exposure to humans and most other non-insect animals.
Beauveria Bassiana in a Bed Bug Treatment
Because it hasn’t been approved for residential use, it’s too soon to say if (and how) Beauveria bassiana can be integrated into a home bed bug treatment. While it’s widely labeled for agricultural use, use on bed bugs has mostly been limited to the previously discussed lab testing.
Should it be approved and offered for use by homeowners and rental property managers, Beauveria bassiana could be a promising improvement in natural bed bug treatments. Where other non-chemical treatment methods fall short, especially in residual efficacy, Beauveria bassiana shows to be a reliable residual solution that can kill any bed bug that becomes exposed to it.
However, Beauveria bassiana will never be a “silver bullet” in bed bug treatments. While it may someday prove to be more effective than a residual spray or powder that’s applied in the same spaces, no single product is likely to replace a complete, holistic treatment solution.
To reliably get rid of bed bugs, it will always be critical to combine chemical and non-chemical solutions, both for contact killing and residual control. You’ll also still need products like SafeRest encasements and ClimbUp Interceptors to ensure that bed bugs can’t reach you in your bed to feed and reproduce. To learn how to use the best modern products in a combined treatment, check out our proven 4-step solution.