Bed bugs have infested an attack submarine. Here’s what the Navy is doing about it

The only good bug is a dead bug.

Sailors aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut are in a pitched battle against an army of bloodsucking bastards known as bed bugs.

Geoff Ziezulewicz of Navy Times first revealed that the boat’s crew has been tormented by the voracious vermin for a year. The six-legged terrorists have been reportedly running amok since the Connecticut took part in an Arctic naval exercise in March 2020, causing crew members to avoid their racks in an attempt to avoid getting bitten.

The Seawolf-class submarine has reportedly been moored at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton in Washington since December. So far, the Navy’s efforts to exterminate the interloping insects with extreme prejudice have failed. Crew members have told Navy Times that they feel their command has not responded quickly enough to the boat’s new insect overlords.

Sailors reportedly tried to sleep in chairs and on the floor of the crew’s mess because they were getting eaten alive in their racks, one petty officer told Navy Times. Having sleep-deprived sailors aboard the submarine when it was deployed created dangerous working conditions, another crew member said.

While the Navy received its first reports of the bed bug infestation back in December, it wasn’t until around Feb. 19 that inspectors actually found hard evidence that the critters had invaded the USS Connecticut, said Cmdr. Cindy Fields, a spokeswoman for Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The Navy responded by inspecting sleeping areas, removing mattresses, laundering all linens and clothes, and cleaning all floors and surfaces aboard the boat, she said.

“Two Navy entomologists arrived March 4, to direct hands-on efforts,” Fields said.  “After two applications of pesticide and an initial application of diatomaceous dust, the entomologists directed sealing efforts to deny likely harborage to insects invulnerable to pesticide application, and oversaw additional application of diatomaceous dust and efforts to draw insects out of hiding and into contact with deadly countermeasures.” 

The entomologists have recommended having the Connecticut’s crew members return to their sleeping areas, but one sailor told Navy Times that the crew is being used as live bait to see if any bed bugs have survived the cleansing.

Fields said the entomologists have certified that the Navy has done all that humans can to eradicate the bug menace, including two applications of Navy-approved pesticide.

“All appropriate countermeasures have been taken with plans firmly in place to address further breakouts underway if they occur,” Fields said.

Normally, Task & Purpose would recommend using nuclear weapons against the bed bugs, but as the Navy only has three Seawolf class submarines because they are so expensive — the USS Connecticut cost $6 billion alone – other methods must be sought.

Because some scientists don’t always have the ‘ground truth’ perspective of professional bug slayers, Task & Purpose reached out to a grunt in the Bug Wars.

 “Usually, the preferred method for bed bug elimination is heat,” said Jesse Jardim, owner of Superior Bed Bug Solutions in Alexandria, Virginia. 

“So, you elevate the temperature to about 135 degrees and maintain that for about three hours – 125 and above will kill them in seconds but you’ve got to make sure it permeates everywhere.”

However, Jardim added that he did not know how sensitive the instruments on submarines are to heat.

Bed bugs are tough to kill, said Jardim, who has a client in Baltimore who found the insects in an office building that had been vacant during the past year.

“So the bed bugs have survived there for a year with no one there,” Jardim said. “That just goes to show how tough they are.”

Officially known as Cimex lectularius, Cimex hemipterus and Leptocimex boueti, bed bugs may not look like much but they are actually evolving constantly. 

A scientific study on bed bugs found that their “genome sequence shows genes that encode enzymes and other proteins that the bedbug can use to fight insecticides, whether by degrading them or by preventing them from penetrating its body.”

In other words: Their survival is genetically coded into them, and they seem capable of adapting to pesticides the way human beings adapt to the weather, by shrugging it off and carrying on with their day-to-day. It also helps the species’ survival that they reproduce at a rate that would make most rabbits blush.

Bed bugs can be found anywhere people sleep or spend time, including homes, movie theaters, and, yes, even submarines, said Brittany Campbell, staff entomologist at the National Pest Management Association.

It can be hard to verify some infestations because bites alone are not considered proof of a bed bug presence, Campbell said.

“Bed bugs are notoriously difficult pests to control and eliminate, usually requiring multiple treatments and a variety of tactics,” Campbell said. “They are cryptic creatures that typically stay well hidden behind walls or inside bed frames, and can be found inside almost any item that provides a dark shelter.

“Aside from being small and well hidden, they have also developed resistance to many products that are used for control, hence why it is important to use a variety of control tactics for elimination,” she said.

Submarines also provide nearly limitless spaces where bed bugs can avoid detection, said Phillipe Maxwell, a former submariner who used to work for Jardim as a bed bug inspector.

“There are probably billions of tiny nooks and crannies that a pest could get into – like, billions,” said Maxwell, who left the Navy as a petty officer second class.

By design, submarines include piping and spaces that humans can’t reach, all of which are ideal hiding spaces for insect invaders, said Maxwell, who thankfully did not have to deal with bed bugs when he served aboard a submarine.

“I think if it’s not caught early, then it’s probably going to be years before that submarine would be declared clear, just because of all the places vermin could go within the submarine,” Maxwell said.

Perhaps nuking the Connecticut from orbit is not a bad idea after all. It’s the only way to be sure.

Feature image: Task & Purpose photo composite showing bed bugs, left, and the USS Connecticut attack submarine, right. (Photos via Michael Potter/U.S. Navy)

Jeff Schogol
Jeff Schogol

is the senior Pentagon reporter for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years. You can email him at schogol@taskandpurpose.com, direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter, or reach him on WhatsApp and Signal at 703-909-6488. Contact the author here.

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