Smaller than an apple seed, resilient as a cockroach, bloodthirsty as a vampire. Bed bugs: the cringe-inducing skin-drillers are back, nationwide, with a vengeance.
They're in Fort Worth, Texas, where earlier this month, 200 people were permanently forced from an apartment building after a year-long bed bug battle. The city housing authority spent a half-million dollars trying to rid the building of the pests. It didn't work.
They're in Seattle, where bed bug calls to exterminators are up some 70 percent in the last two years.
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"They want your blood, and that's just that," one Seattle victim said. "They want to eat."
And they're in New York City, where there were nearly 11,000 bed bug complaints last year alone. Where blogs track and map the latest infestations.
"About 10 years ago you would probably have one call maybe a year, and now we get on average about 10 calls a day," said Ken Unger, owner of Suburban Pest Control in Yonkers, N.Y.
There are so many of the pests in New York City that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has established a bedbug advisory committee.
Meanwhile, a third species has been recruited to join the battle between humans and bugs -- dogs.
Among these dogs are Cruiser, a highly trained "puggle," and his cohort, a beagle named Freedom.
They're working dogs, trained to pick up a scent from bed bugs. Jeremy Ecker of thebedbuginspectors.com is their owner and trainer. The rule for the dogs, he said, is simple: "Find a bug and get fed."
"The dogs only eat when they find bugs, so they always work, every day they're working, whether or not we have work, they're working," said Ecker. "They're not pets, so they have to work to eat."
Ecker is part of a growing number of owners of bed bug-sniffing dogs. He gets $350 a pop for every apartment and house his canines check for infestation.
What makes a good bed bug-sniffing dog?
"High energy, good demeanor and ready to work," Ecker said. "You know, a dog that's just interested in running around and finding its bugs."
And dogs are very good at finding bugs. Researchers say a well-trained dog is more than 95 percent accurate at discovering even one small bed bug in a home.
Last week, Cruiser, the puggle, came to an apartment in Yonkers, N.Y., where resident Nina Rinaldi had tiny red bite marks covering her body. She marked off on a calendar the nights she'd been bitten, just to keep track.
Cruiser went to work, and sure enough, Rinaldi's bedroom was infested.
"The alert is the scratch," Ecker said. "You have to constantly be moving when you have the dogs with you. ... They'll pace back and forth and pick up on a scent where they want to start hitting. And then they'll actually start scratching away."
For Rinaldi and the millions of other bed bug victims nationwide, the question is, "Why now?" The insects were all but eradicated a half-century ago, with the help of the pesticide DDT. But DDT has since been banned in the United States over health, environmental and other fears.
Entomologist Louis Sorkin knows all about the insects. New York's foremost authority on bed bugs, he keeps 3,000 of them jarred up in his office for research.