Proving Grounds

|  May 1, 2006

Insect Control Research celebrates 60 years of breeding bugs to test and register insecticides, repellents

“I’ll never forget that day,” says King, wincing as she retells the story two decades later. “That day, I saw more than 20 3- to 4-inch millipedes crawling all over our home. The last straw was when one jumped right out at me when I was opening a kitchen cupboard. To this day, sometimes I’m a little hesitant to open a cupboard.”Barbra King had had enough. Every day, she was finding more and more millipedes. One day, she ran away from her home with her two children.

King says she and her children fled to her parents’ home for a week while a pest management professional (PMP) went to work on her millipede-infested home.

 Barbra King, who has lived across the street from Insect Control Research (ICR) for a total of 36 years, appreciates the lab being located in her neighborhood.
Barbra King, who has lived across the street from Insect Control Research (ICR) for a total of 36 years, appreciates the lab being located in her neighborhood.

“I know it’s ironic: We fled from a home with a few dozen visible millipedes to my parents’ home, which is across the street from a lab that breeds tens of thousands of bugs, but I actually have always felt safer with Insect Control Research (ICR) as a neighbor.”

GOOD NEIGHBOR

Sarah Hoover didn’t know she lived directly across the street from ICR in Catonsville, Md. (a suburb of Baltimore), but her husband Randall did — and now she does, too, thanks to Pest Control asking the Hoovers how they feel about living so close to a lab that’s home to more than 70,000 bugs.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” a surprised Sarah Hoover asks her husband as she shakes her head.

“Honey, if you look closely through the glass front door you can see the word ‘Insect’ on their sign inside,” Randall Hoover replies.

ICR entomologist John Sharpe showcases members of the lab's increasingly popular bed bug colony.
ICR entomologist John Sharpe showcases members of the lab’s increasingly popular bed bug colony.

“I pay attention to my surroundings, but not that much,” Sarah Hoover responds. “It looks just like any other business, like any other red-brick building from where I’m standing. I guess it’s all right having them as a neighbor — especially now knowing that they’re testing products that kill bugs or keep them away. As long as the bugs they’re testing the products on continue to stay over there, we won’t have a problem.

“I’m not a bug person,” adds Sarah Hoover, noting she still can’t believe that when her husband sees spiders in their home, he catches them with care and gently lets them go outside.

“It’s against my religion to kill spiders,” says Randall Hoover, a Muslim. “The story says the prophet, Muhammad, and another hid from enemies in a cave and a spider wove a web over the entrance to help hide them. The enemies later came upon the cave but were deceived, believing that no one could have entered the cave in a long time with a web as large as that woven over the entrance.”

King, who re-occupied her childhood home across the street from ICR after she got divorced in 1990, now has lived there for a total of 36 years. She remembers with fondness how people at the lab always took the time to look at insects neighborhood kids constantly caught and brought over to ICR for identification. One day, after asking ICR for a spare plastic Petri dish for her daughter’s science project, King received a personal tour of the lab from ICR Director Robin G. Todd.

ICR Director Robin Todd (left) and John Sharpe, a staff entomologist, proudly showcase the lab's impressive collection of cockroach species.
ICR Director Robin Todd (left) and John Sharpe, a staff entomologist, proudly showcase the lab’s impressive collection of cockroach species.

“The insect lab is a fascinating, well-kept secret,” King says. “Robin and the others couldn’t be nicer. We couldn’t have better neighbors. Once a month they spend an afternoon cleaning our street, walking from top to bottom with trash bags.”

LAB TOUR

Todd, who has been with ICR since 1979 and is one of the lab’s eight entomologists, says there are half a dozen independent insect-breeding/product testing labs around the country, but ICR has a special place in its community. He attributes the coexistence of the insect lab and the homes to the fact that ICR predates many of the residences.

In 1946, when ICR was founded, farmland occupied most of the area. Today, there are many homes, a school and a mosque nearby.

ICR is home to an impressive collection of more than 30 insect colonies for testing candidate products for use by pest management professionals (PMPs) or consumers.

ICR also occasionally sells and buys insects for testing or research. It has purchased ticks, cat fleas, wasps, black widow spiders, brown recluse spiders and other insects. ICR recently sold more than a pound of frozen mosquitoes for several thousand dollars to a company that collects allergenic material for product development. The lab has even made money unloading cockroach droppings.

ICR is conducting more and more field trips in which volunteers brave the great outdoors and help test the effectiveness of current and candidate insect repellents.
ICR is conducting more and more field trips in which volunteers brave the great outdoors and help test the effectiveness of current and candidate insect repellents.

ICR’s insectary is full of twists and turns after several expansions. There’s a large, fully enclosed “white room” with a door and an observation room, where roach “bombs” often are tested against buckets of various species of cockroaches. Another room houses a 6-by-6-foot Peet Grady stainless chamber for testing aerosol products on flying insects.

In room after room, insects of all sorts, in all stages of development, crawl or swim around in bins, jars and containers — each labeled with tape detailing the insects’ hatch date, last feed date and a number from 1 to 10 designating their age sequence in the insect colony. Next door to the office/insectary, there’s a 6,000-cubic-foot stand-alone facility (Todd is pictured entering it on the cover) — an old green house recommitted to testing more-volatile insecticides that could potentially contaminate the insectary.

Watching mosquitoes hatch before one’s eyes is an unforgettable experience. Seeing how ICR carefully creates an environment for eggs to be laid and then later separates the female from the male mosquitoes upon hatching (because only the females bite and so only they are of use for testing repellents) — is also something no text book or trade magazine can do justice compared to the hands-on experience of an ICR lab tour.

ICR Director Robin Todd demonstrates a system that helps the lab separate female mosquitoes from male mosquitoes — because only the female mosquitoes bite and are of use for testing repellents.
ICR Director Robin Todd demonstrates a system that helps the lab separate female mosquitoes from male mosquitoes — because only the female mosquitoes bite and are of use for testing repellents.

ICR’s roach room smells like a college dorm. The memory of Todd holding a small, square gauze strip with large, adult body lice on it is enough to keep one itching the entire flight home.

Many of the myriad bugs Pest Control writes about are developing, feeding and breeding up close and personal at ICR as you read this — unknowingly waiting in the wings to surrender their little lives for a greater cause: the development of next generation pest management solutions.

ICR’S INSECTARY

  • Stable fly (Stomoxys calcitrans)
  • House fly (Musca domestica)
  • Fruit flies (Drosophila melongaster)
  • Yellowfever mosquito (Aedes aegypti)
  • Southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus)
  • Body louse (Pediculus humanus humanus)
  • American house dust mite (Dermatophagoides farinae)
  • Pharaoh ant (Monomorium pharaonis)
  • Confused flour beetle (Tribolium confusum)
  • Red flour beetle (Tribolium castanium)
  • Sawtooth grain beetle (Oryzaephilus surinamensis)
  • Maize weevil (Sitophilus zeamais)
  • Rice weevil (Sitophilus oryzae)
  • Granary weevil (Sitophilus granarius)
  • Drugstore beetle (Stegobium paniceum)
  • Clothes moth (Tineola bisselliella)
  • Greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella)
  • Indianmeal moth (Plodia interpunctella)
  • Yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor)
  • Black carpet beetle (Attagenus unicolor)
  • Lesser mealworm (Alphitobius diaperinus)
  • Lesser grain borer (Rhyzopertha dominica)
  • German cockroach (Blatella germanica)
  • American cockroach (Periplaneta americana)
  • Brown-banded cockroach (Supella longipalpa)
  • Oriental cockroach (Blatella orientalis)
  • Several exotic species of cockroaches including Madacascar hissing cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa)
  • Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius)
  • Firebrat (Thermobia domestica)

HOME FRONT HELP

Not everyone partied in the ’60s. Hundreds of thousands of American kids were in Vietnam, fighting for their country and their lives. Meanwhile, at home, dozens of women living near Insect Control Research (ICR) in Catonsville, Md., did their part to support U.S. troops overseas.

Much like during World War II, when a “Rosie the Riveter” campaign called on women to help out in our country’s factories and shipyards, the Vietnam War called on ICR and neighboring women to do their part in helping to combat malaria, which paralyzed U.S. troops in Vietnam.

1960s-era photograph of Insect Control Research (ICR), with founder Eugene J. Gerberg (foreground). The lab employed dozens of local women for antimalarial testing in the mid-60s.
1960s-era photograph of Insect Control Research (ICR), with founder Eugene J. Gerberg (foreground). The lab employed dozens of local women for antimalarial testing in the mid-60s.

LAB TOUR

Todd, who has been with ICR since 1979 and is one of the lab’s eight entomologists, says there are half a dozen independent insect-breeding/product testing labs around the country, but ICR has a special place in its community. He attributes the coexistence of the insect lab and the homes to the fact that ICR predates many of the residences.

In 1946, when ICR was founded, farmland occupied most of the area. Today, there are many homes, a school and a mosque nearby.

ICR is home to an impressive collection of more than 30 insect colonies for testing candidate products for use by pest management professionals (PMPs) or consumers.

ICR also occasionally sells and buys insects for testing or research. It has purchased ticks, cat fleas, wasps, black widow spiders, brown recluse spiders and other insects. ICR recently sold more than a pound of frozen mosquitoes for several thousand dollars to a company that collects allergenic material for product development. The lab has even made money unloading cockroach droppings.

ICR is conducting more and more field trips in which volunteers brave the great outdoors and help test the effectiveness of current and candidate insect repellents.
ICR is conducting more and more field trips in which volunteers brave the great outdoors and help test the effectiveness of current and candidate insect repellents.

ICR’s insectary is full of twists and turns after several expansions. There’s a large, fully enclosed “white room” with a door and an observation room, where roach “bombs” often are tested against buckets of various species of cockroaches. Another room houses a 6-by-6-foot Peet Grady stainless chamber for testing aerosol products on flying insects.

In room after room, insects of all sorts, in all stages of development, crawl or swim around in bins, jars and containers — each labeled with tape detailing the insects’ hatch date, last feed date and a number from 1 to 10 designating their age sequence in the insect colony. Next door to the office/insectary, there’s a 6,000-cubic-foot stand-alone facility (Todd is pictured entering it on the cover) — an old green house recommitted to testing more-volatile insecticides that could potentially contaminate the insectary.

Watching mosquitoes hatch before one’s eyes is an unforgettable experience. Seeing how ICR carefully creates an environment for eggs to be laid and then later separates the female from the male mosquitoes upon hatching (because only the females bite and so only they are of use for testing repellents) — is also something no text book or trade magazine can do justice compared to the hands-on experience of an ICR lab tour.

ICR Director Robin Todd demonstrates a system that helps the lab separate female mosquitoes from male mosquitoes — because only the female mosquitoes bite and are of use for testing repellents.
ICR Director Robin Todd demonstrates a system that helps the lab separate female mosquitoes from male mosquitoes — because only the female mosquitoes bite and are of use for testing repellents.

ICR’s roach room smells like a college dorm. The memory of Todd holding a small, square gauze strip with large, adult body lice on it is enough to keep one itching the entire flight home.

Many of the myriad bugs Pest Control writes about are developing, feeding and breeding up close and personal at ICR as you read this — unknowingly waiting in the wings to surrender their little lives for a greater cause: the development of next generation pest management solutions.

LAB TOUR

Todd, who has been with ICR since 1979 and is one of the lab’s eight entomologists, says there are half a dozen independent insect-breeding/product testing labs around the country, but ICR has a special place in its community. He attributes the coexistence of the insect lab and the homes to the fact that ICR predates many of the residences.

In 1946, when ICR was founded, farmland occupied most of the area. Today, there are many homes, a school and a mosque nearby.

ICR is home to an impressive collection of more than 30 insect colonies for testing candidate products for use by pest management professionals (PMPs) or consumers.

ICR also occasionally sells and buys insects for testing or research. It has purchased ticks, cat fleas, wasps, black widow spiders, brown recluse spiders and other insects. ICR recently sold more than a pound of frozen mosquitoes for several thousand dollars to a company that collects allergenic material for product development. The lab has even made money unloading cockroach droppings.

ICR is conducting more and more field trips in which volunteers brave the great outdoors and help test the effectiveness of current and candidate insect repellents.
ICR is conducting more and more field trips in which volunteers brave the great outdoors and help test the effectiveness of current and candidate insect repellents.

ICR’s insectary is full of twists and turns after several expansions. There’s a large, fully enclosed “white room” with a door and an observation room, where roach “bombs” often are tested against buckets of various species of cockroaches. Another room houses a 6-by-6-foot Peet Grady stainless chamber for testing aerosol products on flying insects.

In room after room, insects of all sorts, in all stages of development, crawl or swim around in bins, jars and containers — each labeled with tape detailing the insects’ hatch date, last feed date and a number from 1 to 10 designating their age sequence in the insect colony. Next door to the office/insectary, there’s a 6,000-cubic-foot stand-alone facility (Todd is pictured entering it on the cover) — an old green house recommitted to testing more-volatile insecticides that could potentially contaminate the insectary.

Watching mosquitoes hatch before one’s eyes is an unforgettable experience. Seeing how ICR carefully creates an environment for eggs to be laid and then later separates the female from the male mosquitoes upon hatching (because only the females bite and so only they are of use for testing repellents) — is also something no text book or trade magazine can do justice compared to the hands-on experience of an ICR lab tour.

ICR Director Robin Todd demonstrates a system that helps the lab separate female mosquitoes from male mosquitoes — because only the female mosquitoes bite and are of use for testing repellents.
ICR Director Robin Todd demonstrates a system that helps the lab separate female mosquitoes from male mosquitoes — because only the female mosquitoes bite and are of use for testing repellents.

ICR’s roach room smells like a college dorm. The memory of Todd holding a small, square gauze strip with large, adult body lice on it is enough to keep one itching the entire flight home.

Many of the myriad bugs Pest Control writes about are developing, feeding and breeding up close and personal at ICR as you read this — unknowingly waiting in the wings to surrender their little lives for a greater cause: the development of next generation pest management solutions.

“ICR was at its peak, employment-wise, back then,” Gerberg recalls. “We had about 50 employees, many who were local women working part-time. These women would send their kids to school, come across the street and spend half-days dissecting mosquitoes under microscopes.

“We tested thousands and thousands of candidate antimalarials and eventually helped discover mefloquine,” Gerberg proudly adds. “We never knew what the formulations were,• the government kept that to itself and just assigned each formulation a number for tracking purposes.”

In Vietnam, Anopheles mosquitoes carried Plasmodium falciparumPlasmodium vivax and Plasmodium malariaeparasitic protozoans, with humans as the hosts. In ICR’s surrogate testing of antimalarial formulations, Gerberg and company used Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying Plasmodium gallinaceum parasitic protozoans to host chickens. In other antimalarial tests, Anopheles mosquitoes carried Plasmodium cynomologi parasitic protozoans to host lab monkeys.

“We injected the chickens and monkeys with the parasites, exposed the mosquitoes to the infected hosts and then transferred the parasites to the mosquitoes,” Gerberg says. “We then fed the candidate antimalarials to the mosquitoes by mixing the formulations with sugar water.

“After that, the lab technicians dissected the mosquitoes under microscopes,” Gerberg continues. “If they found bumps on the mosquitoes’ stomachs (oocysts) and in their salivary glands (sprozoites), then we knew the antimalarials didn’t work.”

During the end of the project, ICR received from the government vials of malaria-infected human blood to be used for screening candidate antimalarials. In those cases, the infected human blood was introduced to mosquitoes’ abdomens through artificial membranes.

“We never knew exactly where the infected human blood came from, which made our jobs — and sleeping at night — a lot easier,” Gerberg adds. “I think some of it came from volunteers at Fort Mead in Maryland.”

The U.S. Army established its malaria drug research program when U.S. troops first encountered drug-resistant malaria during the war. Antimalarials were big business in the ’60s, says Gerberg, noting the federal government was spending about $6 million a year (big money back then) on such projects.

Soldiers struck with malaria in Vietnam suffered from backaches, chills, high fevers, and in advanced cases, anemia, kidney disease, brain damage and even death. Malaria felled more combatants during the war than bullets did. The disease reduced the combat strength of some units by half.

“Some of the chickens died pretty quickly after being injected with the malaria, but sometimes they lived long enough to lay eggs. So, once in a while, I got fresh eggs for breakfast,” Gerberg adds.

When asked whether he feared eating the offspring of chickens ICR injected with malaria parasites, Gerberg quickly dismisses the notion.

“They looked, cooked and tasted the same as store-bought eggs,” Gerberg says. “I’m still around at the age of 86, so they couldn’t have been too bad for me, right?”

BED BUG WAR STORIES

In 1943, the U.S. Army sent then-Lieutenant Eugene J. Gerberg, an entomologist, to Camp Lee in Petersburg, Va. Soldiers had written home, telling their already-worried folks they were being kept up all night by little bugs that were biting them while they tried to catch a little shut-eye in their “racks.” Mothers took up arms and wrote their representatives in Congress. It wasn’t long before there were congressional hearings on the matter, and the U.S. Army was charged with waging a second war — this time at home, against bed bugs that were feasting on soldiers.

It was 1943. The world was at war, and ICR's soon-to-be founder, Eugene J. Gerberg, was battling bed bugs for the U.S. Army
It was 1943. The world was at war, and ICR’s soon-to-be founder, Eugene J. Gerberg, was battling bed bugs for the U.S. Army

“Before I got to Camp Lee, they were using World War I sterilization equipment on the bedding to kill bed bugs, but the critters just rode out the treatments on the webbing of our soldiers’ equipment — on canteens, belts and backpacks,” recalls Gerberg, now a retired Army Colonel, who founded Insect Control Research (ICR) in Catonsville, Md., in 1946.

“My team went in there with Zyklon B gas, a hydrocyanic acid — the same stuff Hitler used in those gas chambers — and, of course, we got 100-percent kill with the bed bugs,” Gerberg says. “We got more than 1,000 of them in one sergeant’s room. Their carcasses literally carpeted the room.”

Equipped with gas masks, Gerberg’s team fumigated more than 700 barracks. In each barracks, Gerberg’s team popped the lids on two canisters of Zyklon B. Inside the canisters, which were about 18 inches tall and six inches in diameter, were about 20 thin coasters of the cyanide gas that they tossed into the barracks. The team then quickly exited the structures, which were sealed with help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In 1943, three years before founding Insect Control Research, entomologist Eugene J. Gerberg   was charged with helping the U.S. Army battle bed bugs on the home front.
In 1943, three years before founding Insect Control Research, entomologist Eugene J. Gerberg was charged with helping the U.S. Army battle bed bugs on the home front.

“Of course, you couldn’t just use Zyklon B in homes and hotels, so bed bugs presented a growing problem elsewhere in the country for a number of years,” Gerberg adds. “Now, 60 years later, ICR is still around … and so are bed bugs. They really came back with a vengeance, didn’t they?”

 

This article is tagged with and posted in Rice Weevil, Stored Product Pests

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