Bed bugs do crawl over the skin of their prey while the prey is sleeping. Although there are many bed bug species, the two species that prefer human blood to other types of blood are Cimex lectarius or the common bed bug and Cimex hemipterus or the tropical bed bug. Both look nearly identical and both have the same feeding habits.
Bed bugs do not hop like fleas nor do they fly, even though they do possess two small wing pads, called vestigial wings. These false wings suggest that past generations of bed bugs did fly, but found that crawling worked out much better for them. Without needing their wings, they eventually became smaller and smaller. Bat bugs, swallow bugs and poultry bugs -- close relatives of the human-blood-drinking bed bug -- also cannot hop or fly.
Bed bugs are nocturnal and usually feed at night. This is when people are most likely to be in a deep sleep. Adults and juveniles, called nymphs, crawl out of their hiding places and onto the body of their prey. They pierce the skin with their beak-like mouthparts and inject some saliva. This saliva contains an anesthetic so that the bite does not wake up the sleeper. The saliva also contains an anticoagulant so the blood does not immediately start to clot. The bed bug can feed undisturbed for three to 10 minutes. After feeding, it crawls off the sleeper's body and back into a hiding place.
During the day, bed bugs hide in places near a sleeping person. Their nearly flat bodies make them able to wedge themselves into very narrow cracks in baseboards, electrical outlets, wooden furniture, grooves made by screws, mattress seams, box springs, upholstered furniture, luggage and picture frames. Adult bed bugs can go over one year between meals. During this time, they wait and stay still.
By staying in their hiding places, bed bugs have no need to hop or fly in order to find people to feed on. Humans conveniently move some of their hiding places and act as taxis from an infested area to an uninfested area. Some of these hiding places for bed bugs include used furniture, old mattresses and the luggage of travelers. Bed bugs do not live in colonies, but will cluster together if the hiding space is large enough. But all it takes is one crawling female bed bug to begin an infestation.
- University of Missouri Extension: Occasional Biting Pests; Richard M. Houseman; September 2003
- University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension: Bed Bugs; Dr. Donald Chandler; November 2010
- University of Kentucky Entomology: Bed Bugs; Michael F. Potter; August 2008
- Cornell University Integrated Pest Management: FAQ List for Bed Bugs
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images
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