The Bedbug is a blood-sucking insect. The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) is one of the few insects that can adapt well to human habitats, and is visible to the human eye. Bedbugs were known to the earliest civilizations, such as Greece in 400 B.C.
Like most insects, bedbugs have a head, an abdomen, a thorax, and six legs. Though many people mistake them for ticks or cockroaches, they have microscopic hairs on their bodies to distinguish them from other insects. The adult Cimex lectularius is similar to the size of an apple seed, about 5mm in length, and can range in color from dark brown to a burnt orange. The bedbug can rapidly move over floors, walls, and even ceilings.
Unlike the adult bedbugs, the new hatchlings are smaller in size, specifically the size of a poppy seed, and are not sexually mature. Nymphs can be both yellow to white in color. Overall, bedbugs are reddish-brown, oval, flattened, wingless insects.
Bedbugs mate by a process called traumatic insemination. The male ejaculates into the female’s body cavity by piercing the female with his hypodermic genitalia. Females can lay up to 12 eggs each day and five hundred eggs in their lifetime. Eggs are grain-like in texture and milky white in color. Being no bigger than 1 millimeter, nearly the size of a pinhead, they are hard to see on most surfaces. Bedbugs lay their eggs in small clusters hidden within tight cracks or crevices. In nearly two weeks the eggs hatch and then immediately start to feed. Nymphs go through five molts or shedding of skin before reaching total maturity. To be successful with each molt, a blood meal is needed between each stage.
At room temperature, hatchings can become adults in only five weeks. The average lifespan of a bedbug is 4 to 6 months.
Bedbugs were common in the United States before the time of World War II, after which hygiene improved and the pests slowly disappeared. In recent years, bedbugs are making a rapid comeback in hotels, homes, and health care facilities. One cause for this is the rise in the number of people traveling, as bedbugs latch on to luggage, clothing, and used furniture.
Bedbugs are more active during the night then daytime. Because of their flattened bodies, they are able to fit between mattresses, headboards, night stands, and bed frames. Although they don't have nests like ants and bees, they do mark their area with eggs, egg-shells, brown molted skins of nymphs, and by dried excrement.
The Cimex lectularius feed on warm-blooded creatures, including cats, dogs, birds, rodents and especially humans. The bedbug will feed on any exposed skin, unlike fleas, which mostly bite around the ankles. Bedbugs feed by piercing the skin with their elongated beak, which has two tubes. One tube is for injecting saliva, containing anticoagulants and anesthetics. The second tube is simply for withdrawing blood from the host. Despite taking 3 to 10 minutes to finish the feeding, a person rarely knows they are being bitten. After the bedbug is done, it digests its meal elsewhere, up to several feet away from the host.
After getting bitten by a bedbug, a flat welt or a raised red bump may appear from the result of an allergic reaction against the insect’s saliva. The allergic reactions can result in nausea and illness. Some bites may also cause very intense itching; this can be treated by applying hot water for 1 to 10 minutes. When the bedbug is disturbed while feeding, it will go a half an inch along the skin to resume feeding, leaving three bites in a row. Both fleas and bedbugs share this characteristic. Reactions may very by skin type, environment, and the species of bug.
In spite of the common belief that bedbugs are invisible, they are, in fact, large enough to see with the human eye.
- Species Cimex lectularius - Common Bed Bug Iowa State University Entomology, 2003-2009.