In "The Botany of Desire," author Michael Pollan submits that the apple tree, destined to immobility, figures out that by bearing sweet apples it can entice wandering fauna to spread its seeds and ensure its endurance as a species. Bedbugs seem to be employing a similar strategy. Wingless and with legs as tiny as Tinker Bell's eyelashes, they can't travel far. But by hitching onto the accoutrements of human daily life, they get a quick ride from place to place, hopping off and establishing new colonies where once there were none. World domination doesn't seem far behind.
At first we were warned to be wary of transporting freeloading bedbugs in our suitcases when traveling. Then vintage shopping at flea markets and thrift stores became cause for concern. Heaven forbid you should cart something home from a "free pile." Some bedbugs loiter in movie theaters and hitch rides in the seams of slacks or the hem of a handbag.
And now they seem to have hatched an even more sinister plan: relocation via library books. According to a report in the New York Times, it appears that resourceful bedbugs are now clutching the spines of hardcover books, making a hospitable vehicle for the ride home. And with nearly 122,000 libraries nationwide, the opportunities are ample.
As Michael Potter, a professor of entomology at University of Kentucky in Lexington, told the Times, "There's no question in the past few years there are more and more reports of bedbugs showing up in libraries."
Realizing that this could add a hard-to-reverse stigma upon the institution of book lending, libraries are taking preventive measures to quell the trend before library-goers are scared away forever.
Library staff members are being trained to spot carcasses and live insects. Vigorous vacuum-cleaning routines are being employed. Fabric upholstery is being replaced with leather or vinyl. And suspect books are being treated, as well. The University of Washington Libraries in Seattle subjected bedbug-infested books to a week of 18 degrees Fahrenheit in a freezer in the natural history museum. Other libraries use zip-top bags and pesticides. Heat-treat boxes like the ThermalStrike or the PackTite are being used to bake the bugs right in the books.
Steadfast borrowers are taking precautions, too. Some have their own personal PackTites, which were originally designed to heat-treat luggage. And many have learned to spot the telltale signs of the creepy crawlers (www.mnn.com/your-home/at-home/stories/how-to-kill-bed-bugs). Some are switching to e-readers.
For others, the best approach may just be a return to borrowing droll history books and catching up on the lugubrious classics. Philip Koehler, a professor of entomology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, says bestsellers are more likely to harbor bedbugs than others, given that they have such a quick turnover and see many more bedbug-ridden homes than less popular books do.