A Primer on Bed Bugs

Dermatologists call the bite of the Bed Bug “breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” for the common three bites they have been known to leave as they move from place to place. Bed bugs, known scientifically as Cimex lectularius, have long been known around the world for feeding on human blood during the night.

A bed bugs works its feeding organs, called stylets, into the skin and gently pierces its victim. At the same time, its saliva produces an anticoagulant to prevent the blood from clotting while it taps into a blood vessel and feeds. A bed bug will feed for approximately five minutes if left alone and then wander off.

bed bug bite
bed bug bite

These creatures largely disappeared in the United States since the second World War due to broad-spectrum pesticides, but have reappeared due to increased international travel, the use of targeted pesticides, and rising levels of pesticide tolerance that allows them to survive exposure to certain chemicals. New York bed bugs have become especially tough, as they have developed mutations that allow them to overcome the neurotoxic chemicals in many bug sprays. For New Yorkers, this means allergic reactions, rashes, swelling, infection from scratching, and even anemia from blood loss. City dwellers have even become hesitant to purchase used furniture in fear that there are bed bugs within.

bed bug mouth
Close up of Bedbug

Bed bugs are difficult to control in homes. In the city, they prefer to hide in upholstery, loose wallpaper, behind pictures, and inside of light sockets. They can move from room through ductwork and cracks in the plaster. They can even live an entire year without feeding. Although they usually do not travel around with people, they may live in the clothes of homeless people who do not change their clothes often, laying eggs inside clothing or underneath overgrown toenails.

In order to control bed bugs, a combination of desiccant dust mixed with the bugs’ own pheromones has been used. It works by enticing them to get up and move around, while at the same time they are exposed to enough desiccant dust to dry up and die. A more natural method to control them is using the house centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata, to feed on the bugs, or the masked hunter, Reduvius personatus, an assassin bug that robs human blood to feed on by consuming the bed bug. (Natalie Gilmore)