Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius): a modern-day scourge?

By John Kaiser,
Island Pest Control

According to the book of Medical and Veterinary Entomology, Second Edition edited by Gary Mullen and Lance Durden, bed bugs may have developed in caves in the Middle East that were cohabitated by humans and bats.

They have been mentioned as early as several hundred years BC in Greek literature. As trade among ancient cultures grew, so spread the bed bug. They were acknowledged in 11th century Germany, 13th century France and it is believed they were introduced to London in the 18th century. After hitchhiking on sailing ships in the bedding of early colonial settlers they finally reached the Americas. By the early 20th century you would be hard pressed to find individuals that had not been subjected to the bedbug’s love bites.

It has been a common misconception that bedbug infestations are due to poor sanitation and poverty. The dirty truth is that bedbugs cross all economic barriers and are drawn to carbon dioxide given off by the humans whose blood is their meal of choice.

They are nocturnal and come out to feed under the cover of darkness. When satiated, they return to their hiding places which can include bedding, headboards, baseboards, curtains, sofas, shoes, books, clothing, electrical outlets etc. 

It wasn’t until the ’50s that bed bugs were brought under control (at least in industrialized countries). With the liberal usage of pesticides such as DDT, Lindane and Malathion Public enemy No. 1 was brought to a screaming halt.  That is, until the mid-1990s.  Sorry to say, folks but we are under siege again.

The bedbug’s motivation is to feed and reproduce, which means you are on the menu. Bites are painless due to the liquid they inject into the bitten area, which keeps the blood from coagulating and has the benefit (if you can call it that) of anesthetizing the tiny wound.

Bite symptoms can vary with each individual, and can manifest as welts, rashes, and itching. Scratching of bites can cause extreme discomfort and could develop into an infection requiring a doctor’s care. The female requires a blood meal to reproduce and can lay 200-500 eggs in her life span. The timespan from egg to nymph to adult takes approximately one month. The nymph can survive without a blood meal for 3-4 months whereas an adult can do without for up to a year.

How to spot a bedbug:

Bedbugs are oval in shape, flat, wingless, light brown, approximately 5mm in length and surprisingly fast on their feet. Depending on the severity of the infestation you may notice on your bed linen, mattress or box springs signs of blood spots from crushed insects, black stains from regurgitated blood, shed skins (molts), and, with established infestations, a foul odor similar to that of rotting raspberries.

There are many theories as to their resurgence:

Pesticide resistance
Increased international and intercontinental travel
Modern lack of education on the subject
Lack of effective baits for blood-sucking insects
Bed bugs have become more migratory and mobile during daylight hours
Large numbers of migratory workers occupying small living spaces.