Bloodsuckers on the Comeback

What, Where?

Though rare in recent years, but on the rise for the last 10 years, the bed bug, Cimex lecturalius of the family Cimicidae (which includes the similar bat and bird bugs) once infected a third of 1930's London bedrooms, and every American had probably been bitten before the use of insecticides after World War II. This denizen especially of low income housing, homeless shelters, camp sites, and jails prefers human blood over its other animal sources. There is a tropical species, which you might encounter while visiting the alligators or Disney World in Florida, Cimex hemipterus that feeds on people, birds and bats.

Where, Why, When

They can be a persistent pest as they can survive without food (blood) for six months fooling naive returning or visiting summer cabin inhabitants or any empty dwelling. They came to America just as the colonists did, by ship, and now they can travel by infested trains, buses, and airplanes. They love hiding and living in the dark cracks near or even in any nooks and crannies away from the mattress. The babies, the nymphs, only feed on you for a couple of minutes, but when they grow up they can have a feast for maybe quarter of an hour. Eight out of ten are going to get a itchy bump, and the odds are great there will be multiple bites as well. You will only probably be able to see the little critters after they turn dark bloody red-brown because they are pale while waiting for you to set their table.

Determining if One Has this Problem

Fortunately you can be alerted to an area with a large colony because their multiplied scent glands will allow you to smell the sickly-sweet, musky raspberry aroma. Look closely at the bedding, see their waste products stain dark brown, the skin sheddings of the larvae that will be left, and blood stains.

You might have to do a ransack of a bedroom, however to really find them as they are better hiding than Osama Ben Laden. Looking very closely at the mattress, especially seams and buttons, box spring, and bed frame. Looking around the woodwork, holes in walls, switch and wall socket plates, around windows, and all through the furniture, pulling drawers out, and most importantly any rug.

What Now?

Now, after determining you have the problem, now clean, vacuum and spread bed bug applicable pesticide on everything except the pillow, blanket or sheet (laundry should suffice). Allow the bedding to dry, then use mattress covers. Keeping attics or basements, even vents and air conditioners clean of nests and then dusting helps in the similar process of ridding oneself of the cousin bat and bird bugs.

The Comeback Kids

Reports from pest control contractors or operators (PCO's) show an increase in complaints concerning bed bugs. My guess is some poison tolerance and perhaps laxity in hygiene has caused some resurgence.

Obviously Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones had experience with them in New York as it is cited as a place where one finds the "...bed bugs uptown..." in Shattered.


Note:  They're back! --again, in the news and in your bedrooms (as of April 2009)

Source: Advanstar Communications

The mating habits of the bed bug are particularly curious. In most insects the male produces a parcel of sperm, called a spermatophore, and either places this in the female's vaginal aperture or passes it to the female, who inserts it in her own vulva or cloaca, depending on the species.

However, bed bugs are far more strange: you might even say perverted. The male does not gently place his sperm in an opening in the female's body, rather he stabs into her with his long sharp penis, and injects his semen into her flesh. The sperm then works its way through the female's body into special vessels, where it is stored and then used to fertilize eggs.

Bizarrely there is a sound evolutionary reason for this. In many species, after sex the male attempts to block the female's genital opening with a hard plug (in extreme cases, for example in bees, the male genitals may be left in the female's vulva). This is done so as to stop other males subsequently having sex with the same female, to ensure the first male to have sex with the female will see his semen and hence his genes passed on. In bypassing the vagina, the male bed bug is able to get around this barrier, and render mating plugs useless. And the female is adapted sufficiently that this violent rape does not endanger her life. Evolution is full of this kind of bizarre race between competing animals.

But that isn't the end of it. It gets freakier. In the species Xylocaris maculipennis the male will actually stab his penis into other males, and inject his sperm into them. The sperm then finds its way into the testes of the attacked male, and will subsequently be passed out when the recipient has sex. Such attacks may even take place upon a male who is engaging in sex with a female. This allows a male to fertilize a female without even having sex with her, which is evolutionarily desirable, if not as much fun.

So now as well as hating bed bugs for living in your bed, you have another reason.


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