Bed bugs have lived with humans since ancient times. They are mentioned in plays pre-dating 335 B.C. Fossilized bed bugs have been found during excavations of ancient Egypt. Pliny, the roman philosopher, wrote about bed bugs as a cure for snake bites around 77A.D. Early American colonist wrote about their plight with bed bugs.
Bed bugs were practically eradicated from the United States near the end of World War II. Pesticides like DDT were responsible for getting rid of bed bugs. Shortly after bed bug eradication, the environmental impact of products like DDT was discovered. DDT was causing damage to the eagle population due to run off into the water supplies which affected the eggs causing a decrease in birth rates.
This led to the introduction of the FIFRA act. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) provides for federal regulation of pesticide distribution, sale, and use. All pesticides distributed or sold in the United States must be registered (licensed) by EPA. Before EPA may register a pesticide under FIFRA, the applicant must show, among other things that using the pesticide according to specifications “will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.’’
Bed bugs were re-introduced to the United States back around 2002 and have since reached nearly pandemic levels of infestation, especially in larger cities and urban populations. Bed bugs are also becoming a major problem in more rural communities.
Bed Bug Biology
Bed bugs are commensal insects. This means that they are dependent upon humans for survival. There are many other commensal pests that we deal with daily such as cockroaches, rodents, fleas, and ticks. That being said, they are highly adaptable and have become masters at sneaking into our homes, going largely undetected and hunting us for food.
Bed bugs are flat and small. They prefer the dark. Bed bugs are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. They will, however, adapt their feeding to match human habits. If an individual worked at night and slept in the daytime, then they might be active in the day and feed then. Adults are not much bigger around than a pea. Egg sacks are smaller than a grain of salt and have thousands of tiny hooks on them. They easily attach to skin, hair, clothing, and other materials. Juvenile bedbugs are very tiny versions of the adults, looking almost identical. They shed their skin about 5-6 times during development. This is called molting. This full development cycle can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 5 months depending on conditions. They must have a blood meal each time they shed their skin and change sizes. Adults can live 9 months without a blood meal. Females will lay 200-500 eggs in their lifetime.
Bed bugs feed only on blood. They use CO2 to track us down. They know when we are in deepest sleep. That is when they take the opportunity to feed. When they get close they use body heat to locate the best place to get a blood meal. They have mastered walking on us virtually undetected. When they bite their saliva acts as a localized anesthesia making the bite go undetected. The saliva also acts as an anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing while they feed. Most humans have a mild allergy to the saliva and will break out in a rash around the bite area within 2-3 days of being bitten.
Often times this is the first sign of bed bugs. This means if you are traveling and visited a hotel with bed bugs you may not know about it until you are already back home or in another town, making pinpointing the source troublesome and problematic.