Ento-musings from the University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bugs on Hoarders

by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist

My favorite new TV show seems to be everyone else's, too. According to realitytv.suite101.com, Hoarders on A&E is the "number one non-fiction series among adults ages 25-54" (and as far as demographic numbers go, those aren't all that obscure).

Hoarders focuses on compulsive hoarding behavior, a condition that afflicts (according to the show) about 3 million Americans (that's about 1% of the population). The homes of compulsive hoarders tend to have lots of clutter, such as boxes, piles of clothing, unused furniture, and even garbage. These conditions can provide an excellent environment for insect pests. There's harborage, food, climate-control... everything an insect needs. Insects played a part in at least 2 recent episodes of Hoarders.

On Season 2, Episode 8 (Judi and Gail), one of the participants was hospitalized due to infections on her feet. I thought it was interesting that the patient's daughter assumed that the infections were caused by insect bites. She said that police who were involved with the case believed the same thing. But: no one mentioned that any insects were actually found. I think it's important for people to know that infections and sores can result from many possible cuases, and that it shouldn't be assumed that insects or spiders are the cause unless there is evidence (such as dead insects or an eye-witness report of a biting incident) to support the case. HealthBlurb.com lists the common causes of skin infections. Take a look at the list: insect and spider bites are just one possible cause out of a list of over 40! Other causes can include: acne, allergies, warts, athlete’s foot... the list goes on and on. Why is it that people always want to blame insects and spiders?

On Season 2, Episode 10 (Bob and Richard), a family has resorted to living in a tent in their own yard because their home has become infested with bed bugs. The home is so cluttered that the local pest control company refuses to treat the home. Unlike the episode listed above, bed bugs were actually shown in this episode (crawling on mattresses), and they were the real thing. From this episode, a casual viewer might get the idea that clutter and unsanitary conditions are the cause of bed bugs. This is generally not believed to be true by entomologists. Although clutter can make it very difficult to find and treat bed bugs, the insects can infest in almost any conditions. In fact, bed bugs are often found in hotels, which are kept very clean and clutter-free compared to many homes. I was also a little disturbed when the pest control guy showed up toward the end of the episode. Even though the house was still very cluttered, he was confident that he would be able to eliminate the bed bugs. Every pest control guy that I've talked to has said that it is very difficult to control bed bugs, and that it often takes lots of treatments to get rid of them, and that treatment typically involves a THOROUGH inspection of EVERYTHING (and this house had plenty of everything). Read more about Bed Bugs in our factsheet, EF-636: Bed Bugs.

UPDATE: More bugs on Hoarders! In last night's episode(Season 2, Episode 12), Jim was a beekeeper from Indiana. It seemed that he made his living by making honey and delivering it to local grocery stores. Also, his cupboard was infested with some type of a pest that he referred to as "moths." I couldn't see the insects, but they were probably something like the Angoumois grain moth or the Indian meal moth, both of which are very common in homes and are discussed in our factsheet, "Stored Product Pests in the Pantry." I was also pretty sure that I saw the eggcases of American house spiders in his cupboard. I have them in my house too, and you probably do also if you live in the U.S.! American house spiders are very common and totally harmless. My cats eat them.


  1. What types of bugs can be passed from a hoarders home to another home? My daughters Mother in law has a relative staying with her because this relative was evicted due to her living conditions. She had several dogs and many birds in the home. What type of bugs can be potentially brought from her home to the home of my Daughters Mother in law?

  2. That's a good questions. Fleas could be brought into a home, and also bed bugs. Bed bugs can come in on furniture or suitcases. It might be a good idea to keep an eye out for bed bugs around beds and couches. If you catch them early, they are easier to eradicate. Be sure to read our factsheet on bed bugs:http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef636.asp

    Fleas are less likely as long as the pets themselves don't come with the person, and they will eventually die off without a pet to feed on.