Insect Book Looks Under Your Covers: Abarbanel and Swimmer's 'Field Guide' Says Lice Prefers Whites

Categories: Environment


In perhaps the most cringe-worthy writing since “Lolita,” a new book from U.C. Berkeley alums exposes the horrible little beasties that share our homes with us.

By Joe Eskenazi

In San Francisco you can forget about ever earning enough money to live on your own.

And, no, this isn’t an article about real-estate or gentrification or the city’s lack of job growth. It’s about the hordes of vile little insects and arachnids that live in our mattresses, pillows, cereal boxes and God knows where else.

A Field Guide to Household Bugs” by U.C. Berkeley grads Joshua Abarbanel and Jeff Swimmer is the most disturbing book I’ve read since “A Fan’s Notes.”

In documenting the legions of creepy crawlies who prey upon us within the sanctity of our own domiciles, Abarbanel and Swimmer’s prose often grows more irritating than a Drosophila Melanogaster. And yet it matters not. After just 30 pages of reading about the ubiquity of bedbugs, dust mites, earwigs and other such vermin, my head and shoulders began to tingle. Then they started to itch.

Thankfully, my pain was just psychosomatic (so far as I can tell). But for all too many San Franciscans...

giving blood doesn’t just come at the doctor’s office. In 2006, more than 300 bedbug infestations were reported to the San Francisco Board of Health, a 100 percent jump since 2004 (even our good buddy, C.W. Nevius, points out that city homeless shelters now use metal beds instead of wooden ones because of nesting bedbugs). The authors chalk up the nationwide spike to increased population density in cities, cheap global travel, increased immigration and the phasing out of harsh pesticides such as DDT.

Twenty-five years ago, bedbugs were virtually unknown in the first world. Now, even if you place each of the legs of your bed in a bucket of water, they’ve been known to scale the walls, climb across the ceiling and fall on top of sleeping victims (just like the dead baby during the heroin detox nightmare sequence in “Trainspotting").


Other gems gleaned from this book:

• Lice really do seem to engage in racial profiling, as they prefer Caucasians (perhaps because of white folks’ thinner hair).

• A full 10 percent of the weight of a two-year-old pillow may be due to dead dust mites and their droppings. Between 100,000 and 10 million dust mites patrol every mattress in your home.

• The kings and queens of a termite colony can live for up to 25 years – nearly as long as Jimi Hendrix.

• Silverfish can go for up to a month without eating.

• The sudden presence of flies in your home may indicate a gas leak.

Mercifully, I’ll stop now. So, good night and…well, you know.

Top Photo | A bedbug, magnified very many times, courtesy of Louis De Vos, Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Bottom Photo | Brazilian Cockroaches in the Vancouver Aquarium, Canada, courtesy of Tim Knight.

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