What is a bed bug?

Image shows adult bed bug
Image shows adult bed bug.

The bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has been a parasite of humans for as long as the world has even had a history to tell. It has become so close to humans that its feeding is not even noticed until well after the bed bug leaves its victim, if it is noticed at all. Many people are allergic to the anti coagulant they inject into us, they just don't have a reaction to it right away. Attracted by the heat from our bodies and the carbon dioxide we exhale, emerge anytime there is an opportunity to feed, (not just at night time), from hiding places, seeking human blood or even animals blood if they are not feeding sufficiently on humans regularly. While pathogens have been found in bed bugs and in their feces, the bed bug apparently does not transmit diseases to humans itself. This is the current view from scientists, although you should always take precautions when dealing with any infestation just to be safe.

Prior to the widespread use of pyrithroid insecticides, this small, mahogany blood colored bug was perhaps becoming the worst pest in America. The insidious bed bug was loathed even more than the cockroach. Although the bug's impact was greatly reduced by insecticides during the 1940s and 1950s, it remained an occasional invader of homes, hotels and shelters. Pest professionals now agree that bed bugs have become the most difficult pest to control.

Bed bugs (Cimex spp.) feed on the blood of animals including people and pets. Some species, known as bat bugs, feed on bats, and others on birds such as chickens, pigeons, swallows and swifts. Bed bugs are thought to have come from bat bugs in it's evolution throughout time. The idea is that since we supposedly used caves with bats rousting in them as shelter the bat bugs came down from the bats to humans and the rest is bed bug history. Is this true? Scientists can only speculate. Both bugs will wander in search of a new host if their primary host leaves or abandons its roost or nest. In structures, bat bugs typically appear in and around attics and chimneys. Though they will bite humans, they do not survive without their preferred hosts.

Adult bed bug pictured.
Adult bed bug pictured.

Bed bugs can survive more than a year without feeding, but most adults and nymphs probably do not live more than six months without a meal. This ability lets them wait for transient hosts that periodically inhabit camp cabins, apartments and temporary housing. It also helps them survive transportation. Today, bed bugs "hitchhike" more easily than ever, via public transportation and luggage, and in secondhand furniture, mattresses, bedding and clothing, purses, etc.. In multi-unit buildings, bed bug infestations that are not adequately attended to often spread between units with or without human help, making eradication much more difficult and costly.

Most people have never seen a bed bug. Adults are wingless, about one-fourth of an inch long, and flat to fit in cracks and crevices where they hide while not feeding, mating or somewhat socializing. As adults bed bugs somewhat resemble a tick. Females typically lay three to five adhesive eggs per day in crevices and depressions. At 68 degrees a female bed bug will lay anywhere from 1-5 eggs a day and at 86 degrees a female bed bug can lay anywhere from 5-10 eggs in one day. Bed bug females can mate only one time and still lay eggs for the remainder of her life. Eggs and newly hatched nymphs are somewhat translucent light brownish in color and only about one-sixteenth of an inch long. About the size of the end of a ball point pen. After feeding, instars () become bright red. Overtime they become more and more mahogany brownish red with each shed skin and feeding. Instars must feed in order to shed their skins and grow into adults that can mate. No meal no growing.

Image shows newborn
Image shows newborn "instar" or rather baby bed bug that has yet to feed on blood.

Picture of a newborn unfed instar (baby bed bug).

When not hiding, bed bugs seek warm hosts, leaving their hiding places in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, nightstands, curtains, couches and wall voids, baseboards, carpet edges, door and window frames, picture frames, smoke detectors, electrical switches and outlets, peeling paint and wallpaper. Basically bed bugs can be anywhere although they frequent many of the same places together in small groups.

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