AskDefine | Define bedbug

Dictionary Definition

bedbug n : bug of temperate regions that infests especially beds and feeds on human blood [syn: bed bug, chinch, Cimex lectularius]

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Alternative spellings


  1. Small nocturnal insects of the family Cimicidae that feed on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded hosts.


small nocturnal insects

Extensive Definition

A bedbug (or bed bug) is a small nocturnal insect of the family Cimicidae that lives by hematophagy, or by feeding on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded hosts.


The common bedbug (Cimex lectularius) is the best adapted to human environments. It is found in temperate climates throughout the world and has been known since ancient times. Other species include Cimex hemipterus, found in tropical regions (as well as Florida), 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.
Oeciacus, while not strictly a bedbug, is a closely related genus primarily affecting birds.
Adult bedbugs are a reddish brown, flattened, oval, and wingless, with microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. A common misconception is that they are not visible to the naked eye. Adults grow to 4 to 5 mm (one-eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch) in length and do not move quickly enough to escape the notice of an attentive observer. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in color and continue to become browner and moult as they reach maturity. When it comes to size, they are often compared to lentils or appleseeds.
A recent paper by Professor Brian J. Ford and Dr Debbie Stokes gives views of a bedbug under various microscopes.

Feeding habits

Bedbugs are generally active only at dawn, with a peak attack period about an hour before dawn, though given the opportunity, they may attempt to feed at other times. Attracted by warmth and the presence of carbon dioxide, the bug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host. After feeding for about five minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place. The bites cannot usually be felt until some minutes or hours later, as a dermatological reaction to the injected agents.
Although bedbugs can live for a year or as much as 18 months without feeding, they typically seek blood every five to ten days. Bedbugs that go dormant for lack of food often live longer than a year, well-fed specimens typically live six to nine months. Low infestations may be difficult to detect, and it is not unusual for the victim not to even realize they have bedbugs early on. Patterns of bites in a row or a cluster are typical as they may be disturbed while feeding. Bites may be found in a variety of places on the body.
Bedbugs may be erroneously associated with filth in the mistaken notion that this attracts them. However, severe infestations are often associated with poor housekeeping and clutter. Bedbugs are attracted by exhaled carbon dioxide and body heat, not by dirt, and they feed on blood, not waste. In short, the cleanliness of their environments has effect on the control of bedbugs but, unlike cockroaches, does not have a direct effect on bedbugs as they feed on their hosts and not on waste. Good housekeeping in association with proper preparation and mechanical removal by vacuuming will certainly assist in control.


There are several means by which dwellings can become infested with bedbugs. People can often acquire bedbugs at hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfasts, as a result of increased domestic and international tourism, and bring them back to their homes in their luggage. They also can pick them up by inadvertently bringing infested furniture or used clothing to their household. If someone is in a place that is severely infested, bedbugs may actually crawl onto and be carried by people's clothing, although this is atypical behavior — except in the case of severe infestations, bedbugs are not usually carried from place to place by people on clothing they are currently wearing. Finally, bedbugs may travel between units in multi-unit dwellings (such as condominiums and apartment buildings), after being originally brought into the building by one of the above routes. This spread between units is dependent in part on the degree of infestation, on the material used to partition units (concrete is a more effective barrier to the spread of the infestation), and whether infested items are dragged through common areas while being disposed of, resulting in the shedding of bedbugs and bedbug eggs while being dragged. In some exceptional cases, the detection of bedbug hiding places can be aided by the use of dogs that have been trained to signal finding the insects by their scent much as dogs are trained to find drugs or explosives. A trained team (dog and handler) can detect and pinpoint a bedbug infestation within minutes. This is a fairly costly service that is not used in the majority of cases, but can be very useful in difficult cases.
The numerical size of a bedbug infestation is to some degree variable, as it is a function of the elapsed time from the initial infestation. With regards to the elapsed time from the initial infestation, even a single female bedbug brought into a home has a potential for reproduction, with its resulting offspring then breeding, resulting in a geometric progression of population expansion if control is not undertaken. Sometimes people are not aware of the insects, and do not notice the bites. The visible bedbug infestation does not represent the infestation as a whole, as there may be infestations elsewhere in a home. However, the insects do have a tendency to stay close to their hosts (hence the name "bed" bugs).

Common location of infestations

Bedbugs travel easily and quickly along pipes and boards, and their bodies are very flat, which allows them to hide in tiny crevices. In the daytime, they tend to stay out of the light, preferring to remain hidden in such places as mattress seams, mattress interiors, bed frames, nearby furniture, carpeting, baseboards, inner walls, tiny wood holes, or bedroom clutter. Bedbugs can be found on their own, but more often congregate in groups. Bedbugs are capable of travelling as far as 100 feet to feed, but usually remain close to the host in bedrooms or on sofas where people may sleep.


Bedbugs are known for being elusive, transient, and nocturnal, making them difficult to detect. While individuals have the option of contacting a pest control professional to determine if a bedbug infestation exists, there are several do-it-yourself methods that may work equally well.
The presence of bedbugs may be confirmed through identification of the insects collected or by a pattern of bites. Though bites can occur singularly, they often follow a distinctive linear pattern marking the paths of blood vessels running close to the surface of the skin.
A technique for catching bedbugs in the act is to have a light source accessible from bed and to turn it on at about an hour before dawn, which is usually the time when bedbugs are most active. A flashlight is recommended instead of room lights, as the act of getting out of bed will cause any bedbugs present to scatter. If you awaken during the night, leave your lights off but use your flashlight to inspect your mattress. Bedbugs are fairly fast in their movements, about equal to the speed of ants. They may be slowed down if engorged.
Glue traps placed in strategic areas around the home, (sometimes used in conjunction with heating pads, or balloons filled with exhaled breath, thus offering the carbon dioxide that bedbugs look for) may be used to trap and thus detect bedbugs. This method has varied reports of success. There are also commercial traps like "flea" traps whose effectiveness is questionable except perhaps as a means of detection. Perhaps the easiest trapping method is to place double-sided carpet tape in long strips near or around the bed and check the strips after a day or more.

Controlling infestations

With the widespread use of DDT in the 1940s and '50s, bedbugs all but disappeared from North America in the mid-twentieth century. Infestations remained common in many other parts of the world, however, and in recent years have begun to rebound in North America. Reappearance of bedbugs in North America has presented new challenges for pest control without DDT and similarly banned agents.
Another reason for their increase is that pest control services more often nowadays use low toxicity gel-based pesticides for control of cockroaches, the most common pest in structures, instead of residual sprays. When residual sprays meant to kill other insects were commonly being used, they resulted in a collateral insecticidal effect on potential bedbug infestations; the gel-based insecticides primarily used nowadays do not have any effect on bedbugs, as they are incapable of feeding on these baits.
The National Pest Management Association, a US advocacy group for pest management professionals (PMPs) conducted a "proactive bed bug public relations campaign" in 2005 and 2006, resulting in increased media coverage of bedbug stories and an increase in business for PCOs, possibly distorting the scale of the increase in bedbug infestations.
If it is necessary to live with bedbugs in the short term, it is possible to create makeshift temporary barriers around a bed. Although bedbugs cannot fly or jump, they have been observed climbing a higher surface in order to then fall to a lower one, such as climbing a wall in order to fall onto a bed. That having been said, barrier strategies nevertheless often have beneficial effects: an elevated bed, for example, can be protected by applying double-sided sticky tape (carpet tape) around each leg, or by keeping each leg on a plastic furniture block in a tray of water. Bed frames can be effectively rid of adult bedbugs and eggs by use of steam or, used with caution, by spraying rubbing alcohol on any visible bugs (although this is not a permanent treatment). Small steam cleaners are available and are very effective for this local treatment. A suspect mattress can be protected by wrapping it in a painter's disposable plastic drop cloth, neatly sealing shut all the seams with packing tape, and putting it on a protected bed after a final visual inspection. Bedding can be sanitized by a 120 °F (49 °C) laundry dryer. Once sanitized, bedding should not be allowed to drape to the floor. An effective way to quarantine a protected bed is to store sanitized sleeping clothes in the bed during the day, and bathing before entering the bed.
Food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) can be sprinked under mattresses, along basebards and on the edges of bookshelves where bed bugs hide. Food-grade DE, although harmless to mammals, including common house pets and humans, is a virtual death sentence for bed bugs. DE is a drying agent and is actually used in many dry pet foods to keep the kibble dry and fresh.
The DE particles abrade the bed bug, essentially dehydrating it of water and lipids. DE can be purchased online, in some health food stores, and in most plant stores. Neem oil (mentioned below) can be added to the DE (1 cup DE to 20 drops neem oil) in a plastic bag before sprinking it around. Other essential oils that can be added are juniper oil, eucalyptus oil, jlang jlang oil, rosemary oil and tea tree oil. The bed bugs hate the smell of the oils, and for those who don't and pass through, they will eventually be killed by the DE itself. Use 20 drops of each essential oil mentioned for each cup of DE.
Alternative treatments that may actually work better and be more comfortable than wrapping bedding in plastic that would cause sweating would be to encase your mattress and box springs in impermeable bed bug bite proof encasements after a treatment for an infestation. There are many products on the market but only some products have been laboratory tested to be bed bug bite proof. Make sure to check to see that the product you are considering is more than an allergy encasement, but is bed bug bite proof.
Vermin and pets may complicate a barrier strategy. Bedbugs prefer human hosts, but will resort to other warm-blooded hosts if humans are not available, and some species can live up to eighteen months without feeding at all. A co-infestation of mice can provide an auxiliary food source to keep bedbugs established for longer. Likewise, a house cat or human guest might easily defeat a barrier by sitting on a protected bed. Such considerations should be part of any barrier strategy.
BBC1 aired a television program entitled "The One Show" about the growth of bed bug infestations in London. In the program a pest control officer claimed that the use of insecticides alone was no longer an effective method to control bed bugs as they had developed a resistance to most if not all insecticides that might be used legally in the UK. He stated that insecticide use in conjunction to freezing bed bugs was the only effective control. All items of clothing and upholstery (including curtains) in the affected household had to be deep-frozen for at least 3 days in giant freezers to ensure complete eradication. The exact temperature at which bed bugs must be frozen was not mentioned.
Another method that might be useful in controlling bed bugs is the use of neem oil. It can be sprayed on carpets, curtains and mattresses. Neem oil is made from the leaves and bark of the neem tree native to India. It has been used safely for thousands of years in India both as a natural, effective insect repellent and it is antibacterial. It has recently received US Food and Drug Administration approval for external use. It is also possible to incorporate neem oil into certain types of mattress. Such mattresses are currently being manufactured by a German company.

Current research

The Texas A&M Center for Urban and Structural Entomology and the University of Arkansas Department of Entomology have been collaborating to study bed bugs on a genetic level in the hopes to shed light on the their recent resurgence. By studying the genetic variation within bed bug populations, researchers can gain insight into insecticide resistance and insect dispersal. Researchers have two theories as to how bed bug resurgence has occurred in the United States. One theory is that the source of current bed bug populations is from other countries without bed bug pesticides that have made their way through air travel, and another theory is that the surviving bed bug populations were forced to switch hosts to birds, such as poultry, and bats. Since bed bugs have undergone a huge resurgence in poultry populations since the 1970s, theory two seems likely.
Theory two is also supported by the research done at Texas A&M and the University of Arkansas. In a recent study, researchers subjected 136 adult bed bugs from 22 sampled populations from nine U.S. states, Australia, and Canada to genetic analysis. Their finding concluded that the bed bug populations were never completely eradicated from the United States as there was no evidence of a genetic bottleneck in either the mitochondrial or nuclear DNA of the bed bugs. Researchers suspect that resistant populations of bed bugs have slowly been propagating in poultry facilities, and have made their way back to human hosts via the poultry workers.
Other research is being conducted at Texas A&M and Virginia Tech to be able to use bed bugs in forensic science. Researchers are working on, and have been successful at, isolating and characterizing human DNA taken from bed bug blood meals. One advantage that bed bugs have over other blood feeders being used in forensics is that they do not remain on the host, and instead remain in close proximity to the crime scene. Therefore bed bugs could potentially provide crucial evidence linking the suspect to the crime scene. Researchers are able to identify what hosts are being fed upon, and are taking further steps to be able to identify the individual by genotyping, and to predict the duration from the time of feeding to recovery of viable DNA.


Further reading

  • Larry Pinto, Richard Cooper, Sandy Kraft. Bed Bug Handbook: The Complete Guide to Bed Bugs and Their Control. Mechanicsville, Maryland: Pinto & Associates, December 2007. ISBN 978-0-9788878-1-0
  • Forsyth, Adrian. Die Sexualität in der Natur. Vom Egoismus der Gene und ihren unfeinen Strategien. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991. ISBN 3-423-11331-6.
  • Forsyth, Adrian. A Natural History of Sex: The Ecology and Evolution of Mating Behavior. Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2001. ISBN 1-55209-481-2.
  • Goddard, Jerome A. The Physician’s Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance (second edition). Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8493-5160-X.
  • MacQuitty, Miranda, and Lawrence Mound. Megabugs: The Natural History Museum Book of Insects. New York: Random House Children's Books, 1995. ISBN 1-898304-37-8, ISBN 1-85868-045-X.
  • Quammen, David. The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature. New York: Delacorte Press, 1988. ISBN 0-385-29592-8, ISBN 0-385-26327-9, ISBN 0-684-83626-2. Provides detail about Xylocaris maculipennis.
  • Smithereen Pest Control (Chicago, Illinois), employees of. Personal interviews. August 2005. (Used for semi-rewrite.)
  • Martin Leverkus, Ryan C. Jochim, Susanne Schad et al. Bullous allergic hypersensitivity to bed bug bites mediated by IgE against salivary nitrophorin. J. Invest. Dermatol. (2006) 126, 91-96.

External links

bedbug in Arabic: بق الفراش
bedbug in Bulgarian: Креватна дървеница
bedbug in Danish: Væggelus
bedbug in German: Bettwanze
bedbug in Esperanto: Cimo (insekto)
bedbug in Spanish: Chinche
bedbug in French: Punaise des lits
bedbug in Galician: Chinche
bedbug in Ido: Cimo
bedbug in Italian: Cimicidae
bedbug in Hebrew: פשפשאי מיטה
bedbug in Lithuanian: Patalinė blakė
bedbug in Dutch: Bedwants
bedbug in Japanese: トコジラミ
bedbug in Norwegian: Veggdyr
bedbug in Polish: Pluskwa domowa
bedbug in Russian: Постельный клоп
bedbug in Slovak: Ploštica posteľná
bedbug in Slovenian: Zajedavske stenice
bedbug in Sundanese: Tumbila
bedbug in Finnish: Lutikka
bedbug in Swedish: Vägglus
bedbug in Ukrainian: Клоп постільний
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