Bed bug

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Bed bug
Cimex lectularius
Scientific classification
Latreille, 1802
Subfamilies, Genera & Species
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Bed bug
Cimex lectularius
Scientific classification
Latreille, 1802
Subfamilies, Genera & Species

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on blood.[2] The term is used loosely to refer to any species of the genus Cimex, and even more loosely to refer to any member of the family Cimicidae (cimicids).[3] The common bedbug, Cimex lectularius, is the most infamous species of the family and prefers to feed on human blood.[3][4] The name of the "bed bug" is derived from the insect's preferred habitat of houses and especially beds or other areas where people sleep. Bed bugs are mainly active at night, but are not exclusively nocturnal and are capable of feeding on their hosts without being noticed.

A number of adverse health effects may occur due to bed bug bites, including skin rashes, psychological effects, and allergic symptoms. Diagnosis involves both finding bed bugs and the occurrence of compatible symptoms.

Bed bugs have been known as human parasites for thousands of years.[5] At a point in the early 1940s, they were mostly eradicated in the developed world, but have recently increased in prevalence since 1995.[6][7] Because infestation of human habitats has been on the increase, bed bug bites and related conditions have been on the rise, as well.[5][8]



Adult bed bugs are light brown to reddish-brown, flattened, oval-shaped and have no hind wings, but front wings are vestigial and reduced to pad-like structures. They have segmented abdomens with microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. Adults grow to 4–5 mm in length and 1.5–3 mm wide. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in colour and become browner as they moult and reach maturity. Bed bugs may be mistaken for other insects, such as booklice, small cockroaches, or carpet beetles, however when warm and active, their movements are more ant-like, and like most other true bugs, they emit a characteristic disagreeable odor when crushed.

Bed bugs use pheromones and kairomones to communicate regarding nesting locations, feeding and reproduction.

The life span of bed bugs varies by species and is also dependent on feeding.

Bed bugs can survive a wide range of temperatures and atmospheric compositions. Below 16.1 °C (61.0 °F), adults enter semihibernation and can survive longer; they can survive for at least five days at −10 °C (14 °F), but will die after 15 minutes of exposure to −32 °C (−26 °F).[9] They show high desiccation tolerance, surviving low humidity and a 35–40 °C range even with loss of one-third of body weight; earlier life stages are more susceptible to drying out than later ones.[10] The thermal death point for C. lectularius is high: 45 °C (113 °F), and all stages of life are killed by 7 min of exposure to 46 °C (115 °F).[9] Bed bugs apparently cannot survive high concentrations of carbon dioxide for very long; exposure to nearly pure nitrogen atmospheres, however, appears to have relatively little effect even after 72 hours.[11]

Feeding habits

Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of Cimex lectularius, digitally colorized with the insect’s skin-piercing mouthparts highlighted in purple and red

Bed bugs are obligatory hematophagous (bloodsucking) insects. Most species feed on humans only when other prey are unavailable.[12][13][14] Bed bugs are attracted to their hosts primarily by carbon dioxide, secondarily by warmth, and also by certain chemicals.[15]

A bed bug pierces the skin of its host with what is called a stylet fascicle. This is a unit composed of the maxillae and mandibles which have been modified into elongated shapes from a basic, ancestral style. The right and left maxillary stylets are connected at their midline and a section at the centerline forms a large food canal and a smaller salivary canal. The entire maxillary and mandibular bundle penetrates the skin. The tips of the right and left maxillary stylets are not the same; the right is hook-like and curved, and the left is straight. The right and left mandibular stylets extend along the outer sides of their respective maxillary stylets and do not reach anywhere near the tip of the fused maxillary stylets. The stylets are retained in a groove in the labium, and during feeding, they are freed from the groove as the jointed labium is bent or folded out of the way; its tip never enters the wound. The mandibular stylet tips have small teeth and through alternately moving these stylets back and forth, the insect cuts a path through tissue for the maxillary bundle to reach an appropriately sized blood vessel. Feeding by sucking for about three to five minutes or more, the bug then withdraws the stylet bundle from the feeding position and retracts it back into the labial groove, folds the entire unit back under the head, and returns to its hiding place.[4] It takes between five to ten minutes for a bed bug to become completely engorged with blood."[16]

Although bed bugs can live for a year without feeding,[17] they normally try to feed every five to ten days. In cold weather, bed bugs can live for about a year; at temperatures more conducive to activity and feeding, about five months.[18]

At the 57th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America in 2009, newer generations of pesticide-resistant bed bugs in Virginia were reported to survive only two months without feeding.[19]

DNA from human blood meals from bed bugs can be recovered for up to 90 days, which may allow them to be used for forensic purposes for identifying on whom the bed bugs have been feeding.[20][21]


A bed bug (Cimex lectularius) traumatically inseminates another

All bed bugs mate by traumatic insemination.[3][22] Female bed bugs possess a reproductive tract that functions during oviposition, but the male does not use this tract for sperm insemination.[3] Instead, the male pierces the female's abdomen with his hypodermic genitalia and ejaculates into the body cavity. In all bed bug species except Primicimex cavernis, sperm are injected into the mesospermalege,[3] a component of the spermalege,[3] a secondary genital structure that reduces the wounding and immunological costs of traumatic insemination.[23][24][25] Injected sperm travel via the haemolymph (blood) to sperm storage structures called seminal conceptacles, with fertilisation eventually taking place at the ovaries.[24]

Male bed bugs sometimes attempt to mate with other males and pierce the latter in the abdomen.[26] This behaviour occurs because sexual attraction in bed bugs is based primarily on size, and males will mount any freshly fed partner regardless of sex.[27] The "bed bug alarm pheromone" consists of (E)-2-octenal and (E)-2-hexenal. It is released when a bed bug is disturbed, as during an attack by a predator. A 2009 study demonstrated the alarm pheromone is also released by male bed bugs to repel other males who attempt to mate with them.[25]

C. lectularius and C. hemipterus will mate with each other given the opportunity, but the eggs then produced are usually sterile. In a 1988 study, one of 479 eggs was fertile and resulted in a hybrid, C. hemipterus × lectularius.[28][29]

Life stages

Bed bugs have six life stages (five immature and an adult stage).[30] They will shed their skins through a molting process (ecdysis) throughout multiple stages of their lives. The discarded outer shells look like clear, empty exoskeletons of the bugs themselves. Bed bugs must molt six times before becoming fertile adults.


A side of a face showing red blotchy marks covering much of it

Bed bugs can cause a number of health effects, including skin rashes, psychological effects, and allergic symptoms.[31] They are able to be infected by at least 28 human pathogens, but no study has clearly found the insect is able to transmit the pathogen to a human being.[32] Bed bug bites or cimicosis may lead to a range of skin manifestations from no visible effects to prominent blisters.[33] Diagnosis involves both finding bed bugs and the occurrence of compatible symptoms.[31] Treatment involves the elimination of the insect but is otherwise symptomatic.[31] They have been found with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus MRSA[34] and with vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), but the significance of this is still unknown.[35]


Dwellings can become infested with bed bugs in a variety of ways, such as:


An engorged female bed bug (C. lectularius) with eggs, discovered in the screw hole of a wooden bed frame

Bed bugs are elusive and usually nocturnal, which can make them hard to spot. They often lodge unnoticed in dark crevices, and eggs can be nestled in fabric seams. Aside from bite symptoms, signs include fecal spots, blood smears on sheets, and molts.

Bed bugs can be found singly, but often congregate once established. They usually remain close to hosts, commonly in or near beds or couches. Harborage areas can vary greatly, however, including luggage, vehicles, furniture and bedside clutter. Bed bugs may also nest near animals that have nested within a dwelling, such as bats, birds,[38] or rodents. The eggs of bed bugs are found in similar places where the bed bugs themselves are found, and are attached to surfaces by a sticky substance. Attractant devices for detection use heat and/or carbon dioxide.[19][better source needed]

Bed bug detection dog in New York

Bed bugs can be detected by their characteristic smell of rotting raspberries.[39] Bed bug detection dogs are trained to pinpoint infestations, with a possible accuracy rate of 97.5%, based upon tests conducted under controlled conditions by researchers.[9][40] The success rates in these tests may not reflect real-world success rates of pest companies’ dogs, operating with many more variables in the field.[41] Dog detection can often occur in minutes where a pest control practitioner might need an hour. In the United States, about 100 dogs are used to find bed bugs as of mid-2009.[42] A few companies are experimenting with high speed gas chromatography to detect bed bugs and other insect vermin.


Eradication of bed bugs frequently requires a combination of pesticide and nonpesticide approaches.[5][8] Pesticides that have historically been found to be effective include: pyrethroids, dichlorvos and malathion.[8] Resistance to pesticides has increased significantly over time and negative health effects from their use are of concern.[5] Mechanical approaches, such as vacuuming up the insects and heat treating or wrapping mattresses, have been recommended.[5]

The carbamate insecticide propoxur is highly toxic to bed bugs, but in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been reluctant to approve such an indoor use because of its potential toxicity to children after chronic exposure.[43]


Natural enemies of bed bugs include the masked hunter (also known as "masked bed bug hunter"),[44] cockroaches,[45] ants, spiders (particularly Thanatus flavidus), mites and centipedes. The Pharaoh ant's (Monomorium pharaonis) venom is lethal to bed bugs. Biological pest control is not very practical for eliminating bed bugs from human dwellings.[9]


Bed bugs occur around the world.[46] Rates of infestations in developed countries, while decreasing from the 1930s to the 1980s, have increased dramatically since the 1980s.[5][8][46] Previously, they were common in the developing world, but rare in the developed world.[8] The increase in the developed world may have been caused by increased international travel, resistance to insecticides, and the use of new pest-control methods that do not affect bed bugs.[47][48] The fall in bed bug populations after the 1930s in the developed world is believed to be partly due to the use of DDT to kill cockroaches.[49] The invention of the vacuum cleaner and simplification of furniture design may have also played a role.[49] Others believe it might simply be the cyclical nature of the organism.[50] The exact causes of this resurgence remain unclear; it is variously ascribed to greater foreign travel, more frequent exchange of second-hand furnishings among homes, a greater focus on control of other pests, resulting in neglect of bed bug countermeasures, and increasing resistance to pesticides.[8][47]

The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) is the species best adapted to human environments. It is found in temperate climates throughout the world. Other species include Cimex hemipterus, found in tropical regions, which also infests poultry and bats, and Leptocimex boueti, found in the tropics of West Africa and South America, which infests bats and humans. Cimex pilosellus and Cimex pipistrella primarily infest bats, while Haematosiphon inodora, a species of North America, primarily infests poultry.[51]


An 1860 engraving of parts of a bed bug. A. Intestines. – B. Antenna of the Male. – C Eye. – D. Haustellum, or Sucker, closed. – E. Side view of Sucker. – F. Under Part of Head. – G. Under Lip. – GG. Hair of the Tube, and outside Cases. – H. Egg-Bag. – I. Worm emerging from the Eggs

C. lectularius may have originated in the Middle East in caves inhabited by bats and humans.[13]

Bed bugs were mentioned in ancient Greece as early as 400 BC, and were later mentioned by Aristotle. Pliny's Natural History, first published circa 77 AD in Rome, claimed bed bugs had medicinal value in treating ailments such as snake bites and ear infections. (Belief in the medicinal use of bed bugs persisted until at least the 18th century, when Guettard recommended their use in the treatment of hysteria.[52]) Bed bugs were first mentioned in Germany in the 11th century, in France in the 13th century and in England in 1583,[13] though they remained rare in England until 1670. Some in the 18th century believed bed bugs had been brought to London with supplies of wood to rebuild the city after the Great Fire of London (1666). Giovanni Antonio Scopoli noted their presence in Carniola (roughly equivalent to present-day Slovenia) in the 18th century.[53][54]

Traditional methods of repelling and/or killing bed bugs include the use of plants, fungi, and insects (or their extracts), such as black pepper;[55] black cohosh (Actaea racemosa); Pseudarthria hookeri; Laggera alata (Chinese yángmáo cǎo | 羊毛草);[9] Eucalyptus saligna oil;[56][57] henna (Lawsonia inermis or camphire);[58] "infused oil of Melolontha vulgaris" (presumably cockchafer); fly agaric (Amanita muscaria); Actaea spp. (e.g. black cohosh); tobacco; "heated oil of Terebinthina" (i.e. true turpentine); wild mint (Mentha arvensis); narrow-leaved pepperwort (Lepidium ruderale); Myrica spp. (e.g. bayberry); Robert geranium (Geranium robertianum); bugbane (Cimicifuga spp.); "herb and seeds of Cannabis"; "opulus" berries (possibly maple or European cranberrybush); masked hunter bugs (Reduvius personatus), "and many others".[59]

In the mid-19th century, smoke from peat fires was recommended.[60]

Dusts have been used to ward off insects from grain storage for centuries, including "plant ash, lime, dolomite, certain types of soil, and diatomaceous earth or Kieselguhr".[61] Of these, diatomaceous earth in particular has seen a revival as a nontoxic (when in amorphous form) residual pesticide for bed bug abatement. Insects exposed to diatomaceous earth may take several days to die.[61]

Basket-work panels were put around beds and shaken out in the morning in the UK and in France in the 19th century. Scattering leaves of plants with microscopic hooked hairs around a bed at night, then sweeping them up in the morning and burning them, was a technique reportedly used in southern Rhodesia and in the Balkans.[18]

Prior to the mid-20th century, bed bugs were very common. According to a report by the UK Ministry of Health, in 1933, all the houses in many areas had some degree of bed bug infestation.[62] The increase in bed bug populations in the early 20th century has been blamed on the advent of electric heating, which allowed bed bugs to thrive year-round instead of only in warm weather.[63]

Bed bugs were a serious problem during World War II. General MacArthur commented that bed bugs are the "greatest nuisance insect problem ... at bases in the U.S".[64]

The decline of bed bug populations in the 20th century is often credited to potent pesticides that had not previously been widely available..[65] Other contributing factors that are less frequently mentioned in news reports are increased public awareness and slum clearance programs that combined pesticide use with steam disinfection, relocation of slum dwellers to new housing, and in some cases also follow-up inspections for several months after relocated tenants moved into their new housing.[63]

Bed bug infestations have resurged in recent years for reasons which are not clear, but contributing factors may be complacency, increased resistance, bans on pesticides and increased international travel.[65] The current wave of bed bug infestations across America has spawned an industry for bed bug prevention, eradication and the reporting of infestations.[citation needed]

Society and culture

The saying "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite." is common for parents to say to young children before they go to sleep.[66]


The term bed bug may also be spelled bedbug or bed-bug. They have been known by a variety of other names, including wall louse, mahogany flat, crimson rambler, heavy dragoon, chinche bug, and redcoat.[67][68]

See also


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Further reading

External links