A New York City entrepreneur has a high-tech plan to trick bed bugs into crawling onto their death beds.
Kevin McAllister, president of Connecticut-based Fibertrap, collaborated with researchers from State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook. The team created traps made of minuscule fibers intended to trip up the pesky insects when they wander onto a tray covered with a tangled net that looks like a puff of cotton candy.
“The fiber's not sticky, because they don't like sticky stuff,” McAllister told Healthline. “Instead, you need gaps in the fiber. With enough gaps, once they get one leg caught, they can't get out.” As the insects struggle to free themselves, others come to their aid and find themselves mired as well.
The fiber can be added to a carpet or bed sheet, or placed around tiny areas such as electrical outlets, which bed bugs use to travel from room to room or apartment to apartment. Miriam Rafailovich, a professor of materials science and engineering, led the SUNY Stony Brook group that applied the technology to live bed bugs in a laboratory.
Shan “Harry” He, a research assistant at the university, helped Rafailovich test the non-toxic microfibers. He said they created Fibertrap through a process known as electrospinning, which uses an electric field to spin a polymer and generate very thin fibers—50 times thinner than a human hair.
“The second a bed bug walks onto the fiber, it will get trapped, sort of like a person's leg getting caught in a fishnet,” He said. “Without the ability to move, they stay there, they struggle, they lose their energy, they can't reproduce, and they die.”
He says that Fibertrap also works well for controlling ant and termite infestations. When the fiber becomes full of bugs, it can be discarded, He said, because the material is biodegradable, does not contain chemicals, and won't harm the environment.
A Bed Bug Epidemic?
Problems with bed bugs have been on the rise for several years, according to a joint statement released in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Experts believe this is due in part to insects developing a resistance to traditional chemicals used to control them.
Stephen Kells, a professor and entomologist at the University of Minnesota, studies the behavior of bed bugs and collaborates with the pest control industry on new ways of destroying the minuscule species, which are reddish-brown and as small as 1 millimeter in length.
Kells said he will not endorse a particular product, but added that he is researching non-chemical pest control methods such as heat and freezing. He said he was not familiar with Fibertrap, but added, “It might have some applications.”
Bed bugs are not believed to carry disease, according to the CDC, but they can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and insomnia.
McAllister said he currently is looking for a manufacturing partner to help bring Fibertrap onto the market, hopefully in as little as six months. He declined to speculate about how much the product might cost, but said it should be much more effective and less expensive than traditional chemicals.
A spokesman for Memphis, Tenn.-based Terminix, the nation's largest pest control company, declined comment, saying only that the company's entomologists have not seen data on the effectiveness of Fibertrap.
McAllister said he came up with the idea for Fibertrap when a business partner and real estate developer on Long Island began to bemoan the havoc the pests have wreaked on his industry.
Ever since, McAllister said, he has been getting inquiries about Fibertrap from around the world, including a call Monday from someone in South Korea. “I know everyone has been looking for a solution," he said, "and this is a tremendous step in the right direction.”