I was at a recent conference for bed bugs and came away better informed and with a serious case of the heebee geebees. The topics covered were on the biology of the bugs, detection and eradication of the bugs, and the human issues surrounding the transmission and spread of the bugs.
Like most little boys I was fascinated by bugs, much to the dismay of my mother. (We still laugh about the caterpillar incident. Well I do.) As bugs go, bedbugs are not much to look at, but they are so well adapted to living with humans that you have to admire them, even if only grudgingly.
The bugs hide during the day, and are most active between 2 and 5 in the morning, when humans are the least active. They are attracted to the warmth, smell, and CO2 expelled by breathing humans, and will travel up to 20 feet for a meal. Fully fed they are the size and shape of apple seeds. When unfed they are the same shape, but are as thin as a business card, all the better to hide in the smallest crevasses.
Females lay one to five eggs per day, depending on food availability and ambient temperature. The eggs mature and give rise to nymphs - baby bed bugs that need to feed and molt five times to become adults.
In addition to being difficult to detect, they are sneaky when it comes to feeding. A bed bug finds a subject, locates a favourable site, and then injects a local anesthetic so that you don’t even know that you’ve been bitten. After dinner, the bug wanders off.
Unlike a mosquito bite that causes a reaction pretty much right away, a bed bug bite can take up to 9 days (!) to evidence, and the bumps only show up in less than half of people bitten. Think about going on a trip with stops in several hotels. You could be bitten in Pisa and not have any bumps until Paris!
They are lazy too. They don’t fly, but they transfer to a new host by hitchhiking. They hide in folds of clothing, and under collars of coats. You can transfer them simply by standing by someone at a bus stop. If you sit somewhere where there have been bed bugs, the eggs are covered with a glue that can affix to just about anything.
The other good news is that they are immune to the chemical arsenal that professional pest management have at their disposal.
Feeling a little itchy?