Intriguing Insects Continue To Interest the Public

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February 12, 2018
Jodi Dorsch

There’s no denying the pest management industry is a fun topic to discuss at dinner parties. When someone asks, “What do you do?” and you open up about your career in pest control, are people intrigued? Grossed out? Afraid on your behalf? In my experience, almost everyone has a pest control (or insect or rodent) story they’d share if given the opportunity. This month’s cover story package — Fantastic Beasts — came out of discussions our staff had about how pests are continuing to pique the interest of consumers.

I recently struck up a conversation with a cab driver who asked why I was visiting his city. I told him I worked for a magazine that is distributed to the owners of pest control companies and I started to explain why our industry is “mission critical.” I began talking about mosquitoes that transmit disease, cockroaches in kitchens, rodents in attics…I was on a roll. But then he jumped in with his own pest experiences. Upon moving to the United States he lived in a house with many roommates. The home became infested with bed bugs, they threw everything out and then he moved. Another time, he was bitten by a mysterious insect (“It looked like a tick but it wasn’t a tick,” he told me) and was put on medication for 10 days. See what I mean?

Pests are everywhere. From internet sensation “pizza rat” in 2015 to British Airways having to apologize after passengers were bitten by bed bugs mid-flight last October, you don’t have to dig deep to find lots of examples of pests in the news. But it’s not just the news. We’ve reported in PCT about reality TV shows focused on the industry many times, including our June 2012 cover story “Reality Check.” “Whether pest control is the topic of a TV series — as is the case with ‘Billy the Exterminator’; ‘Verminators’; and ‘Ratbusters’ — or an important component to a program (e.g., ‘Hoarding: Buried Alive’ or ‘Infested’) there is no denying that the public enjoys watching pest control on television,” wrote PCT’s Brad Harbison. It’s as relevant today as it was six years ago.

“Ticks” was the theme for this year’s 35th Annual Insect Fear Film Festival, hosted by the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earlier this month. These eight-legged arthropods (which are not insects, despite what some screenwriters seem to think) are convenient film antagonists that inspire fear and loathing because they feed on human blood and spread disease.

There aren’t enough pages in this magazine to review all of the pests that create interest and angst. (This is the Annual Termite Control Issue after all!) Although on the following pages we review why insect biology is so intriguing, cockroach myths (could they really survive a nuclear blast?) and scary fun facts about spiders, we don’t touch on other common public health pests. Of course we all know ticks cause diseases that are difficult to diagnose; stinging insects can kill you if you’re allergic; bed bugs attack while you’re most vulnerable; and mosquitoes run the gamut from being annoying to causing Zika virus.

Given this interest/fear/fascination, it’s no surprise the Insect Fear Film Festival continues to thrive. In explaining the event’s success, professor May Berenbaum wrote, “Why the fuss? Have there been that many slow news days in the past ten years? Maybe it’s because insects remain the one familiar and conspicuous group which is politically correct to hate. Probably for this reason, Hollywood has shown no inclination to stop producing bad insect science fiction films either; while the effects certainly are getting better, the biology is not. As long as they keep disseminating disinformation about the most misunderstood taxon on the planet, we have an obligation to counter with the truth about insects. So it’s my fervent hope that the festival will continue — and if we manage to have fun in spreading the gospel, as it were, so much the better!”

Here at PCT we agree. We cover lots of serious topics in these pages but it’s nice to have fun from time to time too. I think this month’s cover story does both. We hope you agree!

The author is editor of PCT.