Philly’s Bedbug Problem

Thanks New York: Your Great Bedbug Plague has come south and invaded our lives (along with the stinkbugs and squirrels). Now only a few good men — and their dogs — stand between Philadelphia and a hostile takeover.

There’s always the hope that what homeowners fear are bedbugs are actually another arthropod. “Things get misidentified, so we do free insect identification,” says Michelle Niedermeier, environmental health coordinator for the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program at Penn State’s Philly outreach center. “I’ll come in on Monday and there are jars on my desk, and people will say, ‘I have bedbugs,’ and it will be a cockroach on my desk.”

“I’VE NEVER HAD A BAD DAY in my life!” says Jim Daly, Ardmore exterminator and part-time magician, jumping out of his van, which is discreetly parked behind the kitchen of a renowned suburban golf club. It’s hard to miss Daly’s truck, actually, which is painted with jaunty-looking ants and the slogan, “Have a pest-free day!” While bedbug experts use unmarked vans to protect clients, Daly’s all about promotion. Daly himself has quite a distinctive appearance: His abundant mustache is waxed and twirled into a six-inch handlebar on each side, making comedian Rip Taylor’s look positively puny in comparison and giving Daly a certain verve. (It also transfixes children at the birthday parties he performs at on weekends.)

Daly’s sunny mood is even more impressive given that he’s spent the morning setting a trap in a South Philly attic infested by squirrels. After sawing a hole in the home’s bathroom ceiling for attic access and baiting the trap with peanut butter and peanuts, he’s now waiting for a call from the homeowners when they start to hear the panicked skittering in the trap. It’s pretty awful, and it only gets worse once he has to remove the trapped animals …

“Hey, man!” says the club’s chef, giving Daly a man-hug. Daly high-fives a few other staffers as waitresses heft trays of crab-and-avocado salad toward the dining room, then takes his canister of Demand CS, a nuclear-strength ant-and-roach killer, and starts squirting underneath the dishwasher. Despite the toxic chemicals, Daly’s far happier than he was in his former life as an IT guy for Philadelphia Suburban Water, where he worked for 24 years. In 2001, he decided he’d like to be his own boss, and after researching growth industries, he took courses and apprenticed at a Horsham pest-control firm. Today, Daly keeps dozens of places pest-free. “Stinkbugs have helped our business a lot,” he notes as he makes a quick run to the club’s basement. The prehistoric-looking stinkbugs are harmless (except to farmers, since they eat crops) but a huge annoyance in the Philly suburbs right now, having been brought to the U.S. from Asia in a shipment of plant material that landed in Allentown around 2000.

“Something’s burning!” says Daly jovially to a sous-chef, noting a smoking frying pan as he heads to the club’s pastry kitchen, a potential mouse paradise.