BRUNSWICK — Rich Stevenson was brought up with bugs.
He’s an entomologist and is the third generation in his family to go into the bug-busting business. He grew up fighting termites, mice, and cockroaches alongside his two brothers. Now they are co-owners of Modern Pest Services, a company their grandfather started.
While Stevenson’s expertise may be well known locally, or even regionally, he was recently acknowledged as a national expert on bedbugs and invited to join the Blue Ribbon Bedbug Task Force, a group whose goal is “the development of an industry-wide comprehensive response to the bedbug pandemic sweeping the globe,” according to the National Pest Management Association.
Stevenson, who is the only member of the task force from New England, will travel to Washington, D.C., this month to enact the group’s official policy recommendations.
Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of the National Pest Management Association, said Stevenson was selected because he and his company “have a reputation for being well-informed and providing a high quality of service.”
While Modern Pest Services addresses a range of pest problems, from chipmunks to carpenter ants, Stevenson is particularly well-informed about how to battle bedbugs. He did his first bedbug extermination in the early 1980s, well before the pests had expanded to worldwide pandemic status.
The client was a truck driver who had picked up the bugs somewhere on the road and brought them home to Maine. Stevenson said he was lucky to have this early experience treating bedbugs, because when the pests began to show up more frequently 10 years ago, “we knew exactly what to do.”
Stevenson said many other pest management companies did not know how to deal with bedbugs, because until recently the pests were relatively rare. Previously, exterminators had used wide-spectrum insecticides that killed a variety of pests – roaches, ants, and bedbugs, if there were any.
But the conventional wisdom on using such chemicals changed, and companies began to target individual infestations and species instead of applying toxins throughout the home or commercial space. While this shift limited humans’ exposure to toxic chemicals, it also gave the bedbugs their big break because there were no residual chemicals keeping them at bay.
An increase in international travel also expanded bedbugs’ range.
“Bed bugs are hitchhikers, that’s how they spread,” Stevenson explained. Now they’re popping up everywhere, and Stevenson said the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down.
“There isn’t really any reason that bedbugs will slow down at this point, there hasn’t been a silver bullet as far as controlling them,” he said.
As the pests build up resistance, the same insecticides that exterminators have always used to kill the bugs aren’t as effective as they used to be. So Modern Pest Services and other pest management companies are starting to experiment with other ways to fight the bugs.
One new technique is to cook the bugs by heating the interior of an infested house to at least 113 degrees. Neither the adult bugs nor their eggs can survive above this temperature. The company has also enlisted the help of a savvy, and adorable, beagle named Sherlock to help sniff out bedbugs that a human might not be able to detect.
Stevenson said early detection is key to keeping an infestation from getting out of control. Other than itchy bites on the skin, things to look for include the bugs’ feces, which look like little black dots on bed sheets, and the bugs themselves, which are reddish brown and similar in appearance to a small tick.
“When they go unchecked, the bedbug populations can grow quite rapidly. And so once the infestation happens, it’s very difficult for folks to get rid of them,” Stevenson said.
Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rich Stevenson of Brunswick, a nationally recognized expert on bedbugs, with a poster of a German cockroach, one of the many pests his company specializes in exterminating.
Bedbugs and their feces (the little black dots) on a mattress.
Amanda Moeser has been training Sherlock to sniff out infestations of bedbugs. Modern Pest Services will soon begin offering “canine inspections” to customers.