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Those Weren't Bed Bugs at North Mianus School

Exterminators working to rid school of chimney swift bugs.

It turns out those critters found at North Mianus School earlier this month weren't bed bugs.

Rather, they were chimney swift bugs — apparently left behind by birds nesting in the school's exhaust and chimney. And while students and staff are away for winter break this week, an exterminator has been cleaning the vent and chimney of the elementary school at 309 Palmer Hill Rd. in Riverside.

In a statement, school officials said that according to "Dr. Gail Ridge of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Department of Entomology, the particular type of bug that has been found at North Mianus School is a Chimney Swift bug (Cimexopsis nyctalis). It is in the bed bug family, but is not a “bed bug”. It does not feed on humans; it feeds on birds. These bugs are very small and have very similar characteristics and are often confused with bed bugs."

Bugs found nearly 2 weeks ago in the school attic and chimney were sent to Ridge for analysis. The attic and chimney areas were cleaned, steam treated and vacuumed and active bed bug monitors were placed on the second floor in the staff bathroom and second-floor corridor. The monitors did not give any indication of the presence of bed bugs, according to school officials.

Officials said that during this week's break, an exterminator was going to clean the vent and chimney and install a mesh barrier on both to prevent further nesting of birds. "Ongoing monitoring of the attic will continue until there is no further evidence of chimney wwift bugs. There is no longer a need to treat the entire building," officials said in a message to school parents.

The news of possible bed bugs in North Mianus came on the heels of a bed bug  awareness workshop for parents in late January. The workshop was held Jan. 25 after the discovery of bed bugs at the Hamilton Avenue elementary school last fall.

Richard Pollack February 17, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Presumed bed bugs are, indeed, often some other kind of creature. Some are the related bird bugs, some are bat bugs, and many are creatures of no concern whatsoever. It is critical that folks have the creatures positively identified before taking action, because the means to combat one kind of insect can be considerably different than what is appropriate for the next. Hence, the creatures should be sampled and they (or good digital images) should be submitted to a qualified entomologist. State extension services are useful. More insight on identification resources can be found at IdentifyUS LLC online.
Cynthia Ehlinger February 17, 2012 at 02:55 PM
According to an artle in the News Times last year(http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/State-population-of-chimney-swifts-mysteriously-385129.php#ixzz1meLn6j2U) chimney swift numbers are dropping in Connecticut by about 4 percent annually with the possibility they could all but disappear from the state in a few decades unless the trend is reversed. I have often observed scores of chimney swifts using this site in the summer, presmably for nesting and amd very concerned about the loss. Freestanding chimney swift structures have been designed that provide nesting sites for these birds. Perhaps this would be an appropriate place to construct one.
John Linsenmeyer February 17, 2012 at 03:45 PM
I wonder how they tested? Did somebody lie down for the night next to them and see if they were bitten?
Richard Pollack February 17, 2012 at 04:49 PM
John, An entomologist with the proper expertise and a microscope can tell the difference. I do this all the time for physical samples as well as digital images of pests, and folks can often get an answer in just minutes. See: https://identify.us.com
John Linsenmeyer February 17, 2012 at 05:25 PM
I'm so happy that matters have progressed beyond Sherlock Holmes sampling Radix pedis diaboli ("The Adventure of the Devil's Foot") or in a more scientific vein the great Victorian physician and toxicologist Sir Robert Christison (who by the by taught a Edinburgh during Conan Doyle's first two years of med school there) and self-experiemented with a dangerous vegetable alkaloid and then wrote up the results.
Tom Baptist February 18, 2012 at 08:23 PM
No one wants bed bugs or dirty attics. Swifts are, however, voracious consumers of flying insects including mosquitos and are therefore useful in our neighborhoods. Swift bugs don't bite people, and eliminating the swifts from the area of the school seems to be an over-reaction. In doing so, school officials actually may have increased the risk of children's exposure to mosquito-born illness (e.g. West Nile Virus).
Richard Pollack February 18, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Tom, A few clarifications. Many relatives of bed bugs (including those that mainly feed upon birds) do occasionally bite people when their preferred hosts are absent. Next, birds and their nests often come complete with diverse mites, some that bite and take blood meals. This is a fairly common nuisance problem in homes, businesses and schools. So, excluding (humanely) the birds from the school building, and cleaning and treating the nesting/roosting area does make sense. Finally, your suggestion [that by eliminating the birds will somehow enhance risk for West Nile virus] requires more discussion. It is likely that far more mosquitoes feed on each bird than the other way around. Currently, it is not possible to measure the contribution that birds make to reduce - or support - mosquito populations (or viral risk).
Tom Baptist February 19, 2012 at 06:21 AM
Richard: Your comment that blood-sucking mites from birds and their nests are a "fairly common problem nuisance in homes, businesses and schools" is interesting. Please share your data, since health departments and pesticide companies are sure to be interested. Considering the exquisite evolution of swifts as highly successful insectivores, I'd similarly welcome being informed how swifts ingest fewer mosquitoes than they feed. Based on my many hours of observations of mosquitoes and swifts, the chance of a mosquito catching up to a swift, as opposed to a swift catching up to a mosquito, is remote. Yes, swifts nest in protected cavities that are sometimes also shared with certain mosquito species (those, btw, that are least implicated in the spread of West Nile Virus), and may be bitten as a result. I'll not forget, however, watching a swift snap its beak to effortlessly capture a slow-moving mosquito that ventured next to its chimney-side nest. We agree that cleaning up of attic space in a school is a worthy objective. But the consequence of routing swifts from the area includes a downside that should be of concern. Eliminating one of nature's most effective consumers of flying insects can only result in an increase of flying insects, including mosquitoes that might carry disease. My preference: let nature work for humanity.
By River Parks February 19, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Tom B. makes the common sense point that is missing in much of Greenwich land use policy and approach to nature - let it work. The Town's budgetary process has confused prudent maintenance with the capital planning process. Roofs and chimneys require routine cleaning or maintenance. When that fails - it becomes a capital project. See First Selectman's Capital Budget priorities of 2011 - E.Gr. Civic Center Roof, MISA remediation, tree pruning, flood studies and other items became capital investments. Likewise for a host of silt trapping or even catch basin cleaning functions that would improve stormwater quality delivered to the receiving water bodies. Why do we treat these like long-term capital investments, when then are routine annual expenses.
Richard Pollack February 19, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Tom, Health departments and pest management folks should be aware of biting mites. You'd be hard pressed to find bird nests that lack ornithonyssid or dermanissid, as well as other kinds of mites. These can become impressively abundant on the birds and in the nests. Some will develop a wanderlust of sorts and invade the living or working areas of people nearby. I receive samples of such mites frequently (sometimes several times per week), and in most cases, the residents or workers of these dwellings have complained of bites. Excluding the birds is one part of a program to abate the problem, but this must also be accompanied by elimination of the nesting material (if possible), cleaning the site, and then application of appropriate pesticides to kill the mites. Swifts are, indeed, amazing to watch as they swoop down and eat many insects. While at rest, however, the birds are attractive to many kinds of blood-feeding creatures, including mosquitoes. Whereas an alert swift may deftly nail a mosquito flying nearby, some mosquitoes are stealthy. They may land close by and wander slowly on their own six legs to reach the bird, then extend the proboscis through the feathers to strike gold. I admit, I've not had the pleasure of observing this with swifts, but I've hours of tape depicting such scenes with other kinds of birds. No one suggested trying to eradicate swifts. The issue is whether the birds should be excluded from the school building.

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