Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Bedbugs, Bean Leaves and Biomimicry

Health + Wellness

David Suzuki

Scientists often come up with new discoveries, technologies or theories. But sometimes they rediscover what our ancestors already knew. A couple of recent findings show we have a lot to learn from our forebears—and nature—about bugs.
 
Modern methods of controlling pests have consisted mainly of poisoning them with chemicals. But that’s led to problems. Pesticides kill far more than the bugs they target, and pollute air, water and soil. As we learned with the widespread use of DDT to control agricultural pests and mosquitoes, chemicals can bioaccumulate, meaning molecules may concentrate hundreds of thousands of times up the food web—eventually reaching people.
 
As Rachel Carson wrote in her 1962 book, Silent Spring, using DDT widely without knowing the full consequences was folly. She showed it was polluting water and killing wildlife, especially birds, and that it could cause cancer in humans. Her book launched the environmental movement but did little to change our overall strategy for dealing with bugs. Although DDT was banned worldwide for agricultural purposes in 2001, the chemical is still used to control insects that spread disease.


 
Recent research shows that widespread use of pesticides like DDT may have caused us to ignore or forget benign methods of pest control. Because the chemicals were so effective, infestations were reduced and there was little interest in non-toxic methods. But bugs evolve quickly and can become immune to pesticides. That’s true of bedbugs, the now ubiquitous critters that are showing up around the world in homes, hotels, schools, movie theaters—even libraries.
 
But a method used long ago provides an effective and non-toxic weapon against the pests, according to a U.S. study in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The authors looked into the once-common Eastern European practice of spreading bean leaves around a bed to control bedbugs. What they found was fascinating.

The scientists, from the University of California, Irvine, and University of Kentucky, wrote:

During the night, bedbugs walking on the floor would accumulate on these bean leaves, which were collected and burned the following morning to exterminate the bedbugs. The entrapment of bedbugs by the bean leaves was attributed to the action of microscopic plant hairs (trichomes) on the leaf surfaces that would entangle the legs of the bedbugs.

They discovered that after bugs get caught up in the hooked plant hairs, they struggle to escape, and in the process vulnerable parts of their feet are pierced by the hooks, permanently trapping them. The research focuses on a way to replicate this.

“This physical entrapment is a source of inspiration in the development of new and sustainable methods to control the burgeoning numbers of bedbugs,” the researchers wrote, adding that the method “would avoid the problem of pesticide resistance that has been documented extensively for this insect.”
 
Other research has literally dug up pest control methods that go back millennia. An international team of archeologists recently found evidence that people living in South Africa almost 80,000 years ago made bedding out of insect-repelling plants.
 
According to the journal Science, the research team found 15 different layers containing bedding made from compacted stems and leaves of sedges and rushes, dating between 77,000 and 38,000 years ago. One layer of leaves was identified as River Wild-quince, which contains “chemicals that are insecticidal, and would be suitable for repelling mosquitoes.” The archeologists also found evidence that people often burned the bedding after use, possibly to remove pests.
 
These are just two examples of what we can learn from our ancestors and from nature. Because natural systems tend toward balance, the fascinating field of biomimicry has developed to explore what nature can teach us. It’s aimed at finding “sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies,” according to the Biomimicry Guild website. “The goal is to create products, processes and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.”
 
Maybe the truest sign of human intelligence is not to learn how we can shoehorn nature into our own agenda, but to see how we can better find our own place in nature.
 
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Moroccan patients who recovered from the novel coronavirus disease celebrate with medical staff as they leave the hospital in Sale, Morocco, on April 3, 2020. AFP / Getty Images

By Tom Duszynski

The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.

In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.

Read More Show Less
Reef scene with crinoid and fish in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Reinhard Dirscherl / ullstein bild / Getty Images

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A daughter touches her father's head while saying goodbye as medics prepare to transport him to Stamford Hospital on April 02, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. He had multiple COVID-19 symptoms. John Moore / Getty Images

Across the country, the novel coronavirus is severely affecting black people at much higher rates than whites, according to data released by several states, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Four rolls of sourdough bread are arranged on a surface. Photo by Laura Chase de Formigny and food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post / Getty Images

By Zulfikar Abbany

Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A coral reef in Egypt's Red Sea. Tropical ocean ecosystems could see sudden biodiversity losses this decade if emissions are not reduced. Georgette Douwma / Stone / Getty Images

The biodiversity loss caused by the climate crisis will be sudden and swift, and could begin before 2030.

Read More Show Less