What Can An Eccentric Billionaire, An Invasive Ant from Argentina, And a Plan To Live on Mars Teach Us about Keeping Insects at Bay?

In our guide for shelters and nonprofits, we talk about reducing bed bug infestations by 50 to 80%. However, we also guarantee that our heat chambers are effective against 100% of bed bugs in all life stages, including eggs. Understandably, this is confusing to some customers.

“What if we run the heaters longer than an hour, or what if we heat the chamber to 135℉ instead of 120℉?”

You can certainly do that. However, it will not change the fact that some insects will manage to find their way into even the best-controlled environments. Many of the pests that plague humans were either already well-suited to our environments, or have had ample time to adapt to them. These insects also tend to reproduce quickly, so only a small percentage need to make their way through to establish a self-sustaining population. In fact, because ZappBug heat chambers are a pesticide-free way to control pests, many of our customers operate buildings and institutions that are the last place you would expect to harbor bed bugs or other insects.

The unfortunate reality is that even if your clients and staff are 100% compliant with our recommendations, some pests will eventually find their way into your facility without encountering one of our heat chambers. Sometimes it’s possible to trace the source of a pest introduction. However, many times it remains a mystery, even in tightly controlled environments such as hospitals or laboratories pests still find their way in on occasion.

Some of the best examples of the inevitability of pest introduction involve scientific experiments, both because of the extent to which scientists may go to prevent contamination, and the sometimes dramatic consequences when they fail to do so. Of these, the Biosphere 2 case from the early 1990’s is especially interesting.

Biosphere 2 was lampooned and lauded throughout its construction. Privately financed by an eccentric billionaire, it was criticized as being both an expensive boondoggle as well as a new-age pseudoscience publicity stunt. However, the credentials of the scientists involved in the project were impressive, and with a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars, there was no shortage of resources.

The creators of biosphere 2 sought to construct “the largest self-sustaining ecosystem ever built”. The hope was that the project would demonstrate the viability of closed ecosystems. Ideally, these could be utilized on Mars, or perhaps on earth in the wake of a natural disaster or nuclear war. To illustrate this, eight “biospherians” sealed themselves within the closed structure for a two-year study.

While the project generated hundreds of papers, inspired an awful Pauly Shore movie and drew national media attention; the closed nature of the environment created practical problems. Initially, the study participants struggled to generate enough food within the structure to support their caloric needs. At another point, oxygen had to be pumped in from the outside to supplement the structures’ internal atmosphere.

Interestingly, while the plant, animal, and insect species chosen to inhabit biosphere 2 were chosen carefully, and stringent measures were put in place to ensure the “closed” nature of the environment, some species arrived and thrived unexpectedly. Namely, cockroaches and invasive “crazy ants”.

The invasive ants were first discovered inside the facility in 1993. However, within just a few years they managed to displace virtually all other ant species and many other insect species within the multi-acre habitat. Crazy ants were such a threat to the ecosystem, mentions of cockroaches are generally brief. However, one article described them exploding to “crop-threatening numbers”.

Invasive ants and German cockroaches weren’t intended inhabitants of Biosphere 2, in retrospect, their introduction seems almost inevitable. Ants and roaches have invaded human environments for thousands of years in spite of our efforts to exclude them. The fact that they penetrated the biosphere’s closed environment so quickly and completely illustrates that there is no way to prevent all introductions.