How Bed Bug Created

Scientists feed bed bugs (on purpose)

Some researchers go to extraordinary lengths to keep bed bugs happy and well fed

Harold Harlan captured this bed bug as it was starting to dine. (Photo has been cropped slightly.)

H. Harlan/ AFPMB / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Share this:

May 15, 2015 at 6:15 am

When bed bugs suddenly made a comeback in recent years, biologists were just as surprised as everyone else. Few had studied the bugs because there seemed no need to do so. But as bed bugs became ever harder to kill, scientists began probing hard to find their weaknesses.

To do that, they invited some of the bugs to stay in the lab. There, researchers could observe them closely. But to be good hosts, the scientists had to keep their bugs healthy and well-fed. And that has required learning how to deliver these critters the blood on which they thrive.

Sign Up For the Latest fromScience News for Students

Weekly updates for inquiring minds of every age, delivered to your inbox

In the beginning, scientists didn’t know. But they figured a good first step was to recreate key features of the human body. For instance, they worked to warm the blood to the right temperature. And they had to enclose it in a skin-like membrane for the bugs to pierce with their needle-like mouths.

Scientists at the Ohio State University in Columbus took a short-cut. They turned to ready-made feeders that had originally been designed to nourish other bloodthirsty insects in the lab: mosquitoes.

Still other scientists took a more old-school approach. They fed the bugs from their own arms and legs.

Harold Harlan became especially famous for this. A former entomologist with the U.S. Army, he had found bed bugs at an army base in New Jersey. This was during the early 1970s. Back then it was very rare to find any live bed bugs. So he brought some to his lab to study in his spare time. He raised them on his own blood. And he still does so today — more than 40 years later!

Harlan has kept his bed bugs away from insecticides this entire time. As a result, these insects are more sensitive to the chemical insect killers than are the bed bugs infesting our homes. And that makes his critters quite valuable to scientists. Many ask to use some of his bed bugs in experiments to probe how they differ from the poison-defying “super bed bugs.”

Harlan’s bugs also were the first to be used in two major projects aimed at mapping the bed-bug genome.These studies are attempting to identify all of the different genes in this insect. Such information could help scientists one day find ways to better control the pests.

The Bed Bug Genome Consortium is conducting one of the studies. Some two dozen researchers from all over the world are collaborating on it. Scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College, the American Museum of Natural History and Fordham University are taking part in a related investigation. (All three of those institutions are in New York City.)

This research can be difficult. It also will likely take a long time to complete.

Power Words

(for more about Power Words, click here)

bed bugA parasitic insect that feeds exclusively on blood. The common bed bug,Cimex lectularius, sucks human blood and is mainly active at night. The insect’s bite can cause skin rashes and welts that sometimes look like a mosquito bite, but different people react in different ways.

consortiumA group or association of independent organizations.

entomologyThe scientific study of insects. One who does this is anentomologist

gene(adj. genetic)A segment of DNA that codes, or holds instructions, for producing a protein. Offspring inherit genes from their parents. Genes influence how an organism looks and behaves

genomeThe complete set of genes or genetic material in a cell or an organism. The study of this genetic inheritance housed within cells is known asgenomics.

infestTo create a parasitic community, such as when wasps infest the porch of an abandoned house. Such a community of pests is known as an infestation.

What Good Is a Bed Bug Mattress Cover?

Eve Mattress/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Bed bugs are a pervasive pest that can find their way into any home by unwitting hosts. They can do this simply by hitching a ride in suitcases if you visit a hotel with an infestation, transferring onto your clothes from a movie theater seat, or traveling on visitors who come into your home. These bugs are erroneously associated with pests that only live in filthy living conditions. In fact, they can live and breed anywhere, including inside clean, uncluttered homes.

To protect your mattress from an infestation or to curb a mattress infestation that may have occurred, you can purchase a bed bug mattress encasement to trap the bugs inside the encasement or discourage bugs from making a permanent home in your bed. While mattress covers can provide some protection, however, you need to do much more to guarantee a bed-bug-free environment.

What Is a Bed Bug?

The common parasitic bed bug, from the cimicid family, feeds on human blood usually during the nighttime hours when humans are sleeping. Bed bugs can be seen with the naked eye and are roughly the size of a lentil. They have round brown or red bodies and are easy to spot on white surfaces. They prefer to live close to their human food source and make their homes in beds. Between 85 and 90 percent of the bed bugs in an infested home are typically found on or within 15 feet of the bed.

Bed bugs do bite; they actually saw into their host’s body and feed off their blood. While bed bugs don’t carry disease, their bites can cause blisters and itching, particularly for people with allergies. Bed bugs are very hard to control. Once they’ve infested a home, getting rid of them can be a challenge.

The Benefits of Mattress Covers

Most people are familiar with mattress covers. They are usually designed like a bottom sheet and provide protection for the top of a mattress. Ordinary mattress covers do little or nothing to stop bed bugs. Mattress encasements, however, can help minimize an infestation.

A mattress encasement is a tightly-woven fabric case that surrounds your mattress and box spring. Once it is installed, bed bugs already in the mattress cannot escape or breed, and will eventually die inside the encasement. Any bed bugs left outside the encasement will be easy to spot and remove. They will find no creases or hiding places where they can breed.

Mattress encasements not only repel and stifle bed bugs, but they can also provide a variety of other benefits. For example:

  • A good mattress encasement can protect against dust mites and other pests as well as bed bugs.
  • Most mattress encasements are waterproof, meaning that they will protect your mattress and box spring from spills and leaks.
  • Mattress encasements can eliminate the risk of infestation if used with a new mattress and box spring.

Buying Mattress Encasements

Bed bug mattress encasements can be purchased for as little as $20, though you may wish to explore the more expensive options, as they are more likely to be reliable, sturdy, and bug-proof. It’s possible to purchase a pesticide-treated encasement, but the potential health hazards outweigh the slight increase in protection from insects.

Many pest control supply companies sell mattress encasements online. If you plan to purchase a bed bug mattress protector, make sure you choose one that is specifically designed for bed bugs. There are special features, such as bugproof zippers, different materials, and chemically-treated covers, that you can consider at the time of purchase. Do check the reviews to be sure you’re purchasing a product that is reliable and well-made. Another consideration is noise, as some encasements are made of fabric that crinkles as you move in bed. This could interfere with your sleep.

Even after you install your encasement, remember that adult bed bugs can live for well over a year without a blood meal. Leave the encasement on for at least that long or for the life of your mattress to be sure all resident bed bugs are dead and there are no new infestations of your mattress occur. Meanwhile, if your home is infested, you need to hire a pest management company to completely eradicate the bed bugs.

What Causes Bed Bugs, And How Do They Spread?

What causes bed bugs? How might they spread? Learn more about how you might be able to stop a bed bug infestation before it starts.

In recent years,bed bugs(Cimex lectularius) have gone from relative obscurity to center stage in America.

WHERE DO BED BUGS COME FROM?

As the name indicates, bed bugs are often found in close proximity to beds. They are attracted to and feed on warm-blooded animals to survive. This can be humans or animals, but little is known about what causes bed bugs to have a preference for humans.

BED BUGS IN THE BEDROOM

To feed on humans, bed bugs want close proximity to the host. Box springs, headboards and bed framing are favorite harborage sites for these pests. They may also settle into furniture and fixtures that are close to a bed.

Bedrooms are not the only place where bed bugs can be a concern though.

BED BUGS OUTSIDE THE BEDROOM

Bed bugs are looking for human hosts who are inactive long enough to provide a meal. The feeding doesn’t have to be at night. They will feed opportunistically, even in the daytime.

Where else might bed bugs find and feed on you?

Sitting for two hours in a movie theater while being distracted by adventure and popcorn? You could become an extra large drink for a bed bug.

Maybe the movie is enjoyed (or possibly slept through) in that favorite recliner in the living room. You could be a target.

Have a long cab ride into the office?

You get the idea. Any place that humans sit, rest or sleep can be a place that bed bugs are introduced or feed.

HOW DO BED BUGS SPREAD?

Bed bugs are consummate hitchhikers. In fact, they are primarily transported by humans and human belongings like suitcases.

If bed bugs or evidence of bed bugs are discovered, leave the area and call a qualified pest management professional to assist.

Bed bugs will move to other areas when they are disturbed. This may cause other areas to be infested that may be much more difficult to inspect or treat.

If you spot signs of bed bugs,click hereto schedule your inspection.

Do Earwigs Bite?

If you shudder a little when you think about earwigs, you’re probably not alone. They’ve developed quite a nasty reputation, thanks to urban legends (mostly false) that have been circulating for years. But are they harmful?

The Lifespans of Insects With Short Lives

Many insects, such as butterflies, have a lifespan that occurs in four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Other insects, such as grasshoppers, do not have a pupal stage and instead go through three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The length of each stage can vary based on many things, from the insect species to the temperature outside—but what some insects share in common is a very short adult stage. Keep reading to learn about five insects with some of the shortest adult stages in their lifespan.

The Return of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The change of seasons from summer to fall means many things: leaves changing colors, dropping temperatures, and—depending on where you live—stink bugs sneaking into your home. Stink bugs were named for their distinct ability to emit an unpleasant odor when they are threatened or disturbed by predators like lizards or birds. This also means that if stink bugs enter your home and feel threatened, you’ll be faced with dealing with their strong smell in your house. As we head into fall, you might find yourself with more active stink bugs than usual, so it’s important to know the basics about these smelly insects.

What are Earwigs?

Most people have probably heard of earwigs at some point or another. These creepy-looking insects are associated with some urban myths. Learn the truth about earwigs, including what attracts them and how to help get rid of them.

ARE TICKS DANGEROUS?

The majority of ticks will deliver painless bites without any noticeable symptoms. However, some ticks can carry a variety of bacteria and pathogens for disease. Although not all ticks are dangerous, you don’t want to risk coming into contact with these blood-sucking insects.

ARE TICKS DANGEROUS?

The majority of ticks will deliver painless bites without any noticeable symptoms. However, some ticks can carry a variety of bacteria and pathogens for disease. Although not all ticks are dangerous, you don’t want to risk coming into contact with these blood-sucking insects.

Are Bed Bugs Contagious?

Bed bugs are not too picky about where and when they catch a ride and don’t necessarily have a preferred mode of transportation, so it’s no surprise how many people wonder, are bed bugs contagious?

Related Articles

Do Earwigs Bite?

If you shudder a little when you think about earwigs, you’re probably not alone. They’ve developed quite a nasty reputation, thanks to urban legends (mostly false) that have been circulating for years. But are they harmful?

Cluster Flies In Your Home

If you’re like many homeowners, you’ve dealt with annoying flies ruining your summer barbecues and outdoor dinner parties. You may have even become accustomed to whipping out the flypaper and heavy-duty bug zappers the minute you hear the familiar buzz of a fly. These annoying pests are likely house flies, which can pose significant health risks to you and your family. But have you ever seen large, sluggish flies loitering inside your home in the autumn and winter? They may be cluster flies.

Tips to Get Rid of Stink Bugs in Your House

Now that it’s fall, it’s officially indoor stink bug season. Before it becomes winter, brown marmorated stink bugs are looking for comfortable overwintering sites to spend the cold months—and that can often mean that they may find a way to sneak into your house. While the odor that a stink bug releases is not dangerous, they are definitely a nuisance. Luckily, there are steps you can take to get rid of stink bugs in your house—without having to deal with the unpleasant smell.

What are Sand Fleas?

Many people love going to the beach to spend time in the sun, sand, and water. But they might not love some of the nuisances that live at the beach or in the ocean, such as gnats or jellyfish. But, what about the sand flea, a small critter that can be found in moist areas such as under rocks or debris. Keep reading to learn exactly what sand fleas are and if you need to worry about them.

The Lifespans of Insects With Short Lives

Many insects, such as butterflies, have a lifespan that occurs in four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Other insects, such as grasshoppers, do not have a pupal stage and instead go through three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The length of each stage can vary based on many things, from the insect species to the temperature outside—but what some insects share in common is a very short adult stage. Keep reading to learn about five insects with some of the shortest adult stages in their lifespan.

The Return of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The change of seasons from summer to fall means many things: leaves changing colors, dropping temperatures, and—depending on where you live—stink bugs sneaking into your home. Stink bugs were named for their distinct ability to emit an unpleasant odor when they are threatened or disturbed by predators like lizards or birds. This also means that if stink bugs enter your home and feel threatened, you’ll be faced with dealing with their strong smell in your house. As we head into fall, you might find yourself with more active stink bugs than usual, so it’s important to know the basics about these smelly insects.

Bed Bugs

Identification, images, and how to prevent infestation

Identification

  • Colour Reddish brown, with abdomen darker as blood is digested
  • Size Adults are approximately 4 to 5 mm long, size of an apple seed
  • Description Bed bugs are an oval shape, they have a flattened body, two antennae and six legs

Quick Links

  • How to identify bed bugs?
  • What are some key signs of bed bugs?
  • What to do if traces of bed bugs are found?
  • How can I prevent bed bug infestation?
  • Habitat, Diet, and Behaviour
  • Commonly Asked Questions

How to identify bed bugs?

Bed bugs are an oval shape and are up to 4-5 mm long when fully grown. Adult bed bugs have a flattened body and their skin colour is either rust brown or a deeper red brown.

Due to the flattened body of a bed bug they can easily hide in small places such as baseboards, cracks in floors, under carpets, behind loose wallpaper, bed frames, sofas, behind picture frames and many other places which makes them very difficult to detect. They tend to stay together and large infestations will give off a sweet but unpleasant smell.

What are some key signs of bed bugs?

If you suspect bed bugs, or want to be proactive, look for live or dead bugs or the skins they can leave behind when they are molting. After feeding, bed bugs will regularly leave behind small spots of reddish-black fecal matter on your bedding, mattress or box springs. They will lay their eggs (1/32″ to 1/8″ in size) in dark crevices near feeding areas.

Bed bug bites can also go unnoticed, and are even often misdiagnosed, making detection that much more difficult. Discover more answers to bed bug questions here.

Bed bugs spread

Once established, bed bugs tend to stay put but can spread due to any of the following;

  • Being disturbed (i.e. disassembling furniture or incorrect pesticide application)
  • A food shortage (i.e. no host) may cause them to migrate to neighbouring rooms
  • A shortage of harbourage spaces may cause them to migrate to neighbouring rooms
  • Infested furniture moved down a hall, or passed on to others
  • Vacuum cleaners used for multiple rooms
  • Commercial laundry machines

What to do if traces of bed bugs are found?

Do not

  • Disturb the room further. Leaving the “scene” untouched will help Orkin Canada diagnose the problem.
  • Take any items out of the room. Doing so will only help the bed bugs spread.

Do

  • Stop using the room and “quarantine” it
  • If the room is occupied, work with management to move guests to a new room
  • Contact a professional pest control company immediately in order to inspect the infested room and/or pre-treat rooms to which any guests might be moved. In British Columbia you can only pre-treat when evidence of an infestation is found.

How can I prevent bed bug infestation?

Look for live or dead bugs or their skins, Check beds for red spots of fecal matter, Clean and vacuum bedrooms regularly, Protect mattresses and boxsprings with certified bed bug encasements, Use light coloured sheets to spot stains, Check all furniture near sleeping areas, Look around seams, crevices, and folds, Seal cracks in walls, trim, and bed frames.

Since bed bugs are such good hitchhikers and often hide in hard to reach areas the best way to truly rid yourself of bed bugs is often professional pest control. Orkin Canada uses specially trained bed bug dogs, to detect anywhere live bed bugs and their eggs are hiding – and uses customized control strategies to make sure they’re gone for good.

Habitat, Diet, and Behaviour

What is the lifecycle of a bed bug?

Bed bugs undergo gradual metamorphosis (egg, nymph, adult). Nymphs are smaller versions of the adults and will go through several molts until fully grown.

Females lay 200 to 500 eggs in her lifetime, 10 to 50 at a time, on rough surfaces. Eggs then hatch within 6 to 17 days, with adult bedbugs having the ability to survive over 1 year without feeding.

Commonly Asked Questions

Why do I have bed bugs?

Bed bugs are seeing a resurgence in Canada and even the cleanest of homes can fall victim to these painful pests. At night, bed bugs feed on sleeping humans, but by day, they hide in dark undisturbed areas like inside furniture, baseboards, floorboards, carpets, and even wallpaper.

Bed bugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide and warmth that humans emit, which makes them particularly drawn to multi-unit buildings with lots of turnover like hotels or rental apartments, where they are often brought in on luggage or used furniture.

Bed bugs do not cling to people but they are notorious hitch hikers and can hide in our belongings (i.e. suitcase, purse, laptop bags). From there they can be introduced into a home, hotel, office, hospital, or any other building as well as modes of transportation. Sanitation is not a factor in whether or not you get bed bugs.

They are known to travel more than six metres from hiding in order to feed, but generally hide within two metres of their host, in large infestations that give off a sweet but unpleasant smell.

Why are bed bugs back?

Bed bugs never really left. They are common in many nations around the world. We are seeing a resurgence in North America for several reasons including a reduced use of pesticides, the use of second hand furniture and increased international travel as bed bugs are notorious hitch hikers.

The combination of re-introduction, increased international travel and the fact that pest control professionals no longer use older pesticides (such as DDT, Chlordane and Lindane) means that bed bugs have been able to stage a resurgence and become a very serious pest in the 21st century. They have a unique ability to hide and due to their ability to spread, new inspection and control methods must be far more thorough and extensive than with many other pests.

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that live near their hosts. Since they feed on humans (their hosts) their habitats include houses, hotels, or any property that we frequent. All they require is a protected area in close proximity to a feeding source. Bed bugs bite people when they are sleeping usually on exposed skin.

When looking for a meal bed bugs can move very quickly to feed and then back into hiding after their meal. Bed bugs have been known to travel over 20 feet from hiding in order to feed but will generally hide within 3-6 feet of their host. Unless you know specifically how to look for bed bugs these pests can be easily overlooked.

How worried should I be about bed bugs?

You may find red spots of fecal matter on your bed after being bitten by bed bugs, but it can be maddeningly difficult to detect where the bugs are actually hiding.

Bed bugs multiply quickly, with females laying up to 500 eggs in her lifetime. In just six months, a few of these pests can turn into a full-on infestation of more than 13,000 bed bugs. Adults can also survive for a year without feeding, so even if you leave, they might not.

Residential Services

Protect your home from unwanted pests with customized pest control treatment

100% Satisfaction or Money Back Guarantee

Resolving your pest problem is our #1 priority. If re-treatment is required, we’ll provide immediate services at no extra cost. If your expectations are not met, we guarantee a full refund of your service payment.

Remove pests from your home, and stop them from coming back

We work hard to listen, understand and assess your unique situation. Request a free, no-obligation estimate today for a customized pest program that fits your needs.

Department of Health

Bed Bugs – What They Are and How to Control Them

Bed bugs have been around for thousands of years. They feed on blood, but are not known to spread any diseases to humans. Some people can be allergic to their bites. Getting rid of a bed bug infestation is not easy, but there are steps you can take to control the problem. There are also steps you can take to avoid bringing bed bugs home.

What are bed bugs?

How can bed bugs get into my home?

  • They can come from other infested areas or from used furniture. They can hitch a ride in luggage, purses, backpacks, or other items placed on soft or upholstered surfaces.
  • They can travel between rooms in multi-unit buildings, such as apartment complexes and hotels.

How can I avoid bringing bed bugs into my home?

  • When staying in a hotel, place your bag on a suitcase stand rather than on the bed or floor. Keep the rack away from walls or furniture. When returning home, wash the clothes from your trip and put them in a hot dryer.
  • Inspect new and used furniture before bringing it inside. Look in seams, tufts and under cushions.

How do I know if I have a bed bug problem?

  • You can see the bed bugs themselves, their shed skins, or their droppings in mattress seams and other items in the bedroom.
  • There may also be blood stains on sheets.

How do I control a bed bug problem in my home?

It can be done, but it usually requires what is called an "integrated pest management" (IPM) approach. This combines techniques that pose the lowest risk to your health and the environment. Try these strategies:

  • Clean and get rid of clutter, especially in your bedroom.
  • Move your bed away from walls or furniture.
  • Vacuum molding, windows and floors every day. Vacuum sides and seams of mattresses, box springs and furniture. Empty the vacuum or the bag immediately and dispose of outside in a sealed container or bag.
  • Wash sheets, pillow cases, blankets and bed skirts and put them in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes. Consider using mattress and box spring covers –the kind used for dust mite control–and put duct tape over the zippers.
  • Seal cracks and crevices and any openings where pipes or wires come into the home.

Should I also try pesticides?

Pesticides may not be effective and can be dangerous if used improperly. If you decide to use pesticides, follow these rules:

  • Only use pesticides that are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (look for the U.S. EPA Registration Number on the label) and make sure they are labeled to control bed bugs.
  • Do not apply pesticides directly to your body (there are no repellents registered to control bed bugs that can be used on the human body).
  • Do not use outdoor pesticides indoors.
  • If you decide to hire a pest control company, make sure they have experience with bed bugs. They should follow the steps of IPM, along with any pesticide application. Use a company that is registered and employs licensed applicators. The Department of Environmental Conservation has a list of registered companies.

It takes time and persistence to get rid of bed bugs, and in some cases, the cooperation of landlords, neighbors and others. It can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It can also be expensive when pest control companies are called in. Just remember – bed bugs are more of a nuisance than a health concern and, with vigilance, you can avoid or deal with infestations.

See the following for more information on bed bug biology and control measures:

Photo courtesy of Dr. Harold Harlan, Armed Forces Pest Management Board Image Library

Add Comments: