Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bald Eagles vs. Bed Bugs

Can we have one but not the other? Or must we choose between having both or neither?

The recent resurgence of Bed Bugs has caused several prominent talk radio hosts in the past year or two to call for the legalization of DDT. The false belief that the return of DDT will end America's bed bug epidemic has even been used to argue for the abolishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Certainly, over the years specific environmental causes have been hijacked, and no doubt EPA officials have occasionally been bribed. But the recovery of the Bald Eagle in the Lower 48, if we hazard to believe that scores of scientists haven't themselves been bribed, is in large part thanks to the EPA's ban of DDT.


I mention this issue because yesterday -- Memorial Day -- I was stunned by the sight of a bald eagle soaring over exurban Butler County. It was the first time I had seen one outside of a zoo or NFL pre-game pageantry, and didn't know that any even lived in Ohio. Perhaps if I had made the sighting in a national park I would not have been compelled to write about it, because seeing our spectacular national bird for the first time gliding above banal strip malls and subdivisions was a little tough to accept.

How many bed bug infested homes will that bald eagle roost upon in its lifetime?

DDT was particularly effective in eradicating bed bugs because it, unlike current chemical treatments, had a residual effect that outlived the bugs themselves. The central problem with bed bugs is that they can live for a year without feeding, meaning if an exterminator misses a spot, they can hang out for a week or two until the mild effects of today's chemicals dissipate. In DDT's glory days, any bugs who survived the initial spray treatment in an unseen crack succumbed to its effects when, months later, hunger compelled them to venture out.

Talk radio hosts seem to be the last to know about this, because it's been widely reported that 21st century bed bugs are resistant to DDT. This means their calls to legalize the chemical are purely political -- somebody or something else wants DDT made legal once again. I also speculate with much confidence that few of those calling for the return of DDT have had a similar chance encounter with a bald eagle, because to see one is truly stirring.

A website that logs bald eagle sightings in Ohio is located here.


  1. There were two nesting pair at Pymatuning State park back when I lived in Youngstown. Never did get to see one though.

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