Bed Bug Biology

On this page you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about the biology of the common bed bug. The Bed Bug is an insect of the family Cimicidae. The Cimicidae family of insects feed exclusively on blood which they require in order to develop and reproduce.1 There are a number of closely related species in this family that feed on birds, bats and other animals. However, the species most adapted to living with humans is the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, which is found world wide.1 Bed Bug Life Cycle A bed bug goes through five developmental stages in it’s life, from the newly hatched nymph to full grown maturity. To reach each of the five nymphal stages bed bugs must have at least one blood meal.1 As the immature bed bugs develop they continue to become larger and darker until reaching adulthood. The bed bug development cycle (from egg to adult) is typically completed in one to two months. However, cool temperatures or limited access to a blood meal may extend the development time. Adults will typically live from six months to a year. Under favorable conditions, the common bed bug is capable of producing three or more generations per year.2   clip_image004 clip_image006 A bed bug nymph squeezesout of one of the eggs Photo Credit7 An adult bed bug during a blood meal Photo Credit2 Photo shows eggs, nymphs, and adults beneath carpet edge. Photo Credit2 Bed Bug Appearance Adult bed bugs are about 3/16-1/5 inch (6-7 mm) long, broadly oval, flat, brown to reddish-brown true bugs, with a 3-segmented beak, 4-segmented antennae, and vestigial wings. They have very thin, vertically flattened bodies covered with short, golden-colored hairs. They give off a distinctive musty, sweetish odor, due to certain chemicals that are produced by glands in their ventral thorax. The tips of their abdomens are usually pointed in males but rounded in females.3 In size, they are often compared to lentils or apple seeds. The immatures (nymphs) resemble the adults, but are smaller and lighter in color. Newly hatched nymphs are straw-colored and no bigger than a pinhead.1 Bed Bug Habits Bed bugs do not fly, but can move rapidly over floors, walls, ceilings and other surfaces. Bed bugs are nocturnal insects and lead a very cryptic lifestyle. As a result, bed bugs are often present for weeks or even months before a single bug is ever seen by the occupants of an infested structure. They live in cracks and crevices associated with bed frames, head boards, mattresses and box springs. However they also will disperse away from the bed and can live between or beneath floorboards, carpeting, under decorative moldings, in or under furniture, behind picture frames, inside wall voids, etc. There is virtually no crack too small for this insect to occupy. It is from these secluded cracks and crevices that the bugs emerge during the nighttime hours to feed on their sleeping host. The bites are typically painless and go undetected.3 Bed Bug Reproduction Female bed bugs lay their eggs in secluded areas, depositing 1, 2 or more eggs per day and hundreds during a lifetime. The eggs are tiny, whitish, and hard to see on most surfaces without magnification (individual eggs are about the size of a dust speck). When first laid, the eggs are sticky, causing them to adhere to surfaces.2 All bedbugs mate via a process termed traumatic insemination. Instead of inserting their genitalia into the female’s reproductive tract as is typical in copulation, males instead pierce females with hypodermic genitalia and ejaculate into the body cavity.4 Bed Bug Bites If you searched for this page there is a good chance you recently discovered that you have been getting bitten by bugs when sleeping. So let me put your mind at ease by saying bed bug bites carry no risk of transmitting disease. Besides the mild irritation and unsightly marks all over your body, you’re in no real danger. Now that you have some peace of mind, here is everything you could possibly want to know about bed bug bites. The first thing you should probably know about bed bugs bites is that they are not really bites at all. Bed bugs suck blood from humans by piercing pierce the skin of its host with two hollow tubes. One tube injects saliva which contains anesthetics, so that the host feels nothing, and anticoagulants, so that the blood flows out freely. The other tube sucks then blood in.v Bed bugs are most active at night and bite any exposed areas of skin while an individual is sleeping. The face, neck, hands, and arms are common sites for bed bug bites.4 It may take 3-12 minutes for one bug to feed to repletion. About 20% of the time, adult bed bugs and large nymphs will void remains of earlier blood meals while feeding. This produces the typical rusty or tarry spots seen on bed sheets or in bug hiding places (in crevices or protected areas around the bed or anywhere in the room).3 Symptoms of Bed Bug bites The bite itself is painless and is not noticed or mistaken for flea or mosquito bites or other types of rash or skin conditions. The bed bug bite itself is usually almost undetectable, but their saliva contains biologically and enzymatically active proteins that may cause a progressive, visibly detectable allergenic skin reaction to repeated bites. Small, flat, or raised bumps on the skin are the most common sign; redness, swelling, and itching commonly occur. If scratched, the bite areas can become infected.1 Not everyone reacts to bed bites in the same fashion, some people have reactions that are delayed for several days or more while others do not react at all. Reactions to bites can also vary significantly between individuals from a mild itchy welt to a more severe rash like symptom. However, the most common reactions appear as a raised reddened welt similar to a mosquito bite.1 clip_image008 Bed bug bites on the upper arm of a young woman Photo Credit7 Bed bug bites have varying effects on the person bitten Photo Credit6 Bed Bug Bites and the Transmission of Disease As mentioned above bed bugs have not been conclusively proven to carry infectious microbes; however, researchers have implicated bed bugs as possible vectors of American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), and studies are ongoing to determine whether bed bugs may serve as disease carriers.6Currently, over 28 disease pathogens have been found in bed bugs, transmission of these pathogens to humans has never been documented and is considered highly unlikely. For this reason, they are not considered a serious disease threat.1 Treatment of Bed Bug Bites Typically, no treatment is required for bed bug bites. If itching is severe, steroid creams or oral antihistamines may be used for symptom relief. Secondary bacterial infections that develop over heavily scratched areas may require the use of antibiotics.6 If you are concerned about your bites, you should seek the care of a medical professional. Humans who are frequently bitten by bed bugs may develop a sensitivity “syndrome” that can include nervousness, almost constant agitation (“jumpiness”), and sleeplessness. In such cases, either removing the bed bugs (physically or chemically) or relocating the person can cause the syndrome to disappear over time.3 Individuals still suffering long after bed bug removal may be suffering from some form of Parasitosis and may require professional psychological treatment. Call today at 1-800-986-1006 for help with a bed bug infestation. You’re also welcome to complete the form below and a caring Hearts Pest Management representative will contact you shortly.
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1 Richard A. Cooper, Harold Harlan. “Chapter 8: Ectoparasites, Part Three: Bed bugs and Kissing Bugs” Handbook of Pest Control: The Behavior, Life History, and Control of Household Pest, Ninth Edition. Ed. Stoy A. Hedges, GIE Media, Inc., 2004. 496-503. 2 Michael F. Potter, University of Kentucky Entymology – Bed Bugs 3 Roberto Pereira, Phil Koehler, Ellen Thoms,Integrated Pest Management Forida ‘Bed Bugts” Containerized Fumigation and Heat Treatment 4 Carayon, J. 1966 Traumatic insemination and the paragenital system. In Monograph of the Cimicidae (Hemiptera – Heteroptera) (ed. R. L. Usinger), pp. 81-166. College Park, MD: Entomological Society of America. 5 Robert A Schwartz MD, MPH EMedicine – Bed Bug Bites www.emedicine.com/derm/topic600.htm 6 Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD MedicineNet – Bed bugs

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