Bed Bug Behavior

Bed-Bug-BehaviorIt is generally true that bed bugs are nocturnal creatures that prefer to do their work when the host is sound asleep. This makes it possible for the insect to feed to repletion without interruption from its human host. This does not mean that bed bugs won’t feed during daytime hours. In fact, if food is scarce, or competition great, these bugs will feed most anytime. Most scientists believe that bed bugs have poor vision or may be blind altogether. In the past it was suggested that bed bugs may simply find their food sources through random search. Most entomologists do not believe this to be the case given the insect’s apparent level of success. It’s now generally thought that bed bugs, because they often find their hosts in the dark, must use other cues such as heat and carbon dioxide to find their food. Remember, because bed bugs consume blood meals that completely fill them up, they don’t need (and won’t) feed every day.

Bed bugs tend to cluster or aggregate into crevices. They are not social insects like bees, ants, and termites. Rather, these creatures seek out harborage in crevices close to their food source and over time, their numbers will grow, sometime in the hundreds or thousands. The bugs demonstrate a preference for warm surfaces such as wood, cloth, plaster, paper, or cardboard. The cooler surface of metals, glass, tile, stone or concrete are less preferable. This does not mean the bugs will never make use of these materials. Give the bug limited choices to feed, and he will do as nature programmed him to do.

Bed bugs are “temporary” ectoparasites. This means they visit the exterior of the human body only to feed then they return to the cracks and crevices where they hide. They’re not like fleas on a dog, they don’t live on the host. Bed bugs are true parasites of humans. In some cases, when humans are absent from their environment, they may feed on secondary hosts such as pets, birds, or rodents. These cases are probably rare, however, since bed bugs are quite adept at staying close to humans.

Bed bugs are notorious hitchhikers, and this is the trait that has caused their widespread distribution. We educate the public that bed bugs should be regarded as a pest of commerce. Anytime we move an object from one infested location to another, there’s a risk that a new “infection” has occurred. Bed bugs can get into books, clothing, furniture, wheelchairs, bags–virtually anything. For this reason, you must be discerning about the things that come through your front door. Guests may bring the bugs in with their luggage. A cleaning service may relocate bugs to your home via vacuum cleaners. That new mattress you bought is delivered in the same truck that takes the old one away.

Nature has been kind to these bugs, giving them the ability to endure long periods of time without food. For this reason, it’s not easy to starve a population to death. This is a species preservation trait, and one which has control implications. It’s been widely reported that specimens have been kept alive in laboratory settings without a blood meal for a year or more. In the real world bed bug mortality is much more variable, probably lasting just three or four months.

Bed bugs prefer temperatures in our comfort zone (not a coincidence). They can endure cold temperatures if need be, so generally freezing is ineffective to get rid of populations. A summer camp in the New England area had hoped that the freezing temperatures of winter would eliminate the infestations in their cabins, it did not. Year after year the bugs endured. While these bugs do enjoy some warmth, they don’t like it hot. In fact, these bugs start feeling uncomfortable in the same temperature zones we do. Temperatures above 100 degrees F are concerns for this insect. Their slight build makes them susceptible to dehydration. Immature stages–including the newly hatched nymph–are especially susceptible to heat and dehydration. Therefore, heat is a more effective and reliable means of control than freezing.