10 Myths And Misconceptions About Bed Bugs

Cimex lectularis, aka “bed bugs”, were once a pest of the past, but of late they have re-infested literally every part of the United States (US). Bed bugs are oval-shaped insects about the size of a lentil (slightly larger than 1/8 of an inch). They do not jump or fly, but crawl instead. They are like miniature vampires that love to feed on human blood, although they are also reported to feast on avian species like chicken in poultry farms.

Bed bug, Cimex lectularius

Oblique-dorsal view of a bed bug ingesting blood from human arm (Photo Credit : Piotr Naskrecki/Wikimedia Commons)

Prior to World War 2, bed bugs were widespread, but they virtually vanished in the 1950’s and 1960’s thanks to improvements in hygiene and the wide use of controversial DDT. However, since the turn of the 21st century, there have been signs that they are staging a comeback in the land of opportunity—the US! Experts believe that this revival will continue to surge as urban cities become filled with humans, and the travel and tourism industries keep flourishing, not to mention the genetic modification by the pest to become pesticide-resistant!

STOP SPREADING FAKE NEWS; ABOUT BED BUGS meme

Spreading rapidly with these bed bugs is also a whole bunch of misinformation about their behavior and lifestyle—a mild form of fake news! Let’s take a few minutes to debunk some of the notorious myths about bed bugs that have been making the rounds in recent years.

Myth 1: Bed Bugs Thrive Primarily On Beds

Some people are duped into thinking that bed bugs primarily sprawl over beds or underneath them, as that’s what their name suggests!

However, ‘bed bug’ is a major misnomer—they could just as easily be called “pet bugs”, “suitcase bugs”, “train bugs”, “theatre bugs” etc. It’s not just beds that they inhabit; they can dwell in any tiny space or crevice, within baseboards, in wall cracks, in ceiling crevices, in furniture and drawers, on mattresses, in curtains and linens, on luggage and backpacks, and even in electrical outlets for radios and fans! In general, however, they prefer to be within 10 feet of a human residing in the room!

Myth 2: Bed Bugs Can Fly

No, bed bugs cannot fly, as they do not have wings, although if you run a blow dryer over this little creature it might appear as if it is flying. Their flight-via-dryer can be over a meter in length, duping onlookers into thinking they can fly, but in reality, they do not. It’s just the heavy air draft giving them some air swing on account of their feather-light bodies. Bed bugs typically crawl, but they do that at a good pace. They can cover close to a meter every minute.

Myth 3: Bed Bugs Don’t Bite

This is a terrible myth! Mammal’s blood is their main source of food, and they find human blood the tastiest! So yes, bed bugs do bite us in order to slurp up our blood. You can think of them a bit like insect vampires. They bite humans to feast on their blood, especially when we’re engrossed in deep sleep during the night.

Myth 4: Bed Bugs Can Live Without Food For Years

This is certainly an exaggeration of the abilities of these diminutive bloodsuckers. Scientists and entomologists debate over their survival timeline, but the evidence shows that at normal room temperature (around 25Celsius), bed bugs can only survive three to four months without a blood meal. However, remember that bed bugs are cold-blooded creatures. This means they can slow down their metabolism in a colder environment, so they may be able to survive for more than four months. Surviving for a year or more without blood, however, is certainly an overstatement.

Myth 5: Bed Bugs Can Wreak Havoc In an Apartment Within a Few Weeks

It normally takes a few months for a severe bed bug infestation to spread to other rooms within an apartment. In fact, bed bugs are slow reproducers—with each adult female producing only about one egg per day. A common housefly that infuriatingly buzzes in your ears lays around 500 eggs in a 3-5 day period. It must also be noted that each bed bug egg takes more than a week to hatch and another four to six weeks for the nymph (offspring) to develop into an adult.

i saw a bed bug meme

Myth 6: Bed Bugs Prefer Unhygienic Urban Sprawl

Bed bugs are actually nonpartisan, meaning that they don’t discriminate between the rich and the poor! Bed bugs can be found anywhere from ritzy edifices to gritty ghettos. The ubiquity of these bugs in houses of poor/low-income families does not represent the insect’s interest in poor homes. This is often found because these poor families cannot afford expensive pest control treatments. According to entomologists, any human inhabiting a location is vulnerable to bed bugs.

bed bugs meme

Myth 7: Bed Bugs Come Out Only In the Night/Dark

Although bed bugs are generally nocturnal, in a way, they’re like humans—if their tummy feels empty, they’ll get up and march out on a quest for food. So, if you go out on vacation for a week or two, come back and sit down on your comfy sofa, even in broad daylight, the hungry insects might come looking for you and your blood! Keeping the lights on doesn’t guarantee that bed bugs won’t seek out your skin for a quick bite of food!

Myth 8: Bed Bugs Travel On Our Body

Bed bugs will crawl over your body in search of food when they’re hungry, but they generally do not like heat. We are warm-blooded creatures and our slightly heated bodies don’t provide a good environment for cold-blooded bed bugs to hang around in. So, unlike lice or ticks, bed bugs do not stick to our skin. When they’re done swigging our blood, they’ll go hide in a cover or find some other colder surface. They won’t mind crawling into items like luggage, backpacks, suitcases, or shoes for that matter. That’s how they travel across the globe! With traveling made so easy with modern technology, you’ll find bed bugs traveling and thriving in most locations where humans reside.

Myth 9: Bed Bugs Spreads Diseases

Their secret bloodsucking trait might coerce us into thinking that bed bugs are vectors of diseases. However, while bed bug bites can cause itchy welts, anxiety, sleeplessness and even secondary infections, there have been no recorded instances of bed bugs transmitting diseases to humans. There is a caveat though, as they do harbor human pathogens – at least 27 viruses, bacteria, and protozoans that are known to cause illness. The good thing is, however, that these microbes do not reproduce or multiply within the insects.

Myth 10: Pesticides Can Easily Get Rid of Bed Bug Infestation

Well, if you thought using an over-the-counter chemical like pyrethroids (pesticides) and spraying them over the infestation would mean the end of a bed bug era in your home, you’re unfortunately wrong. Many studies (find more details in this article) have discovered that these tiny pests have genetically modified themselves to shield against a number of different pesticides. So, purely relying on chemicals might not achieve your desired results. Experts believe that fumigation and other heat treatments, alongside the use of pesticides, are mandatory to properly eliminate an infestation.

References:

  1. Environmental Protection Agency, USA
  2. University of Kentucky
  3. Purdue University
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About the Author:

Hussain Kanchwala is an Electronic Engineer from University of Mumbai. He is a tech aficionado who loves to explicate on wide range of subjects from applied and interdisciplinary sciences like Engineering, Technology, FinTech, Pharmacy, Psychology and Economics.

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