How Did Common Bed Bugs Come To Rely On Human Blood As Their Sole Food Source? Does There Exist Similar Parasitic Insect Pests Of Homes? And How Are Bed Bugs Controlled Today?
Cimex lectularius is usually referred to as the common bed bug, and along with ants, cockroaches, and termites, bed bugs are one of the most commonly controlled insect pests within homes and buildings in every US state. Like nearly all insect species in the order Hemiptera, bed bugs possess a syringe-like mouthpart that they use to pierce tissues in order to feed on internal fluids. However, unlike most Hemipterans that use this feeding appendage to pierce plant tissue to suck out tasty sap, bed bugs pierce human skin in order to suck blood, which is their primary source of sustenance.
Bed bugs belong to the carnivorous Hemipteran family Cimicidae, which is made up entirely of parasitic insect species that feed solely on the blood of other organisms, most notably humans, bats, and birds. While the common bed bug is easily the most widespread, pestiferous, and successful Cimicidae species on earth, several other similar looking species in this family are also known for parasitizing humans within homes on occasion. These less common Cimicidae pest species include the bat bug (C. pilosellus), the barn swallow bug (Oeciacus vicarius), and the Mexican chicken bug (Haemato inodorus), and each once can be found in Austin, though infestations are rare.
Long before the advent of civilization thousands of years ago, bed bugs inhabited caves where they relied on blood meals collected from bats in order to survive. Once prehistoric humans started to inhabit caves, bed bugs began to gradually transition to human hosts in order to collect their nutritious blood-meals. Today, bed bugs live solely within homes and buildings inhabited by their human blood hosts, but surprisingly, there was once a 50 year long golden age in which bed bugs were thought to be non-existent in the US.
Bed bugs resurfaced and spread like wildfire to homes and buildings throughout the country just two decades ago, and now, it looks like the parasitic insect pests are here to stay. That being said, licensed pest control professionals no longer rely solely on ineffective insecticides for controlling bed bug pests; instead, high heat treatments have largely supplanted insecticides as the primary method of bed bug control, though conservative insecticide spot treatments are still commonly performed within infested homes in order to maximize the efficacy of bed bug control programs.
Have you ever encountered one or more bed bug specimens in a public location?