Facts about the Bed Bug Life Cycle
An abhorrent discovery that many hotel goers find upon pulling back the immaculately prepared bedcovers in their hotel room is that of a bed bug. Life cycle information about these creatures is no more reassuring, as their rate of reproduction can keep their populations going for years.
What is a bed bug?
Tiny and wingless, bed bugs are in the insect world like the vampire is in the human world. They thrive on the blood of warm blooded animals and people. Called bed bugs merely because a favorite habitat is in the beds of humans, they are also quite frequently found in the nests of birds.
The anatomy of a bed bug is distinctive. Their slight bodies are whitish as nymphs; darkening to a brownish red in color as adults and appearing similar to an apple seed. The color of the insect grows darker, redder and engorged after they finish feasting on their buffet of blood. Oval and flat, their bodies can reach up to ¼ inch in length when mature. True to the insect classification, bed bugs possess six legs, a head, thorax and abdomen. Their piercing mouthparts contain two stylets; one for inserting saliva into the wound and the other to withdraw blood from their prey. A protein present in the saliva keeps the blood from clotting.
The bed bug life cycle begins as a miniscule egg, about the size of a grain of salt. Eggs are laid in groups of 5 to 12 in cracks or crevices where they remain for approximately two weeks. At the end of this time, the eggs hatch and tiny whitish yellow nymphs emerge. The nymphs are immediately able to begin feeding upon the first warm flesh they are able to find.
These immature bed bugs will remain in the nymph stage for the next five to seven weeks, but will not go without change. During this time, they will molt five times; growing larger at each molt as they discard their smaller skin. Feeding from a blood host is necessary to achieve the next stage of molt; if the nymph does not have a host, it is unable to molt to the next stage. Temperature will also affect their molting stages; cooler temperatures slow the process while warmer temperatures accelerate it. Once the five molts have been completed, the nymph becomes an adult.
Adult bed bugs
The adult bed bug will feed approximately once per week. They are most active in predawn hours, about an hour before sunrise. Darkness is their friend, so they will not be as visible during daylight hours unless hunger forces them out in the daytime. Bed bugs seek out their prey through heat sensors and the presence of carbon dioxide. Once discovered, these adult blood suckers will feed from their host for three to five minutes. After feeding, they retire to their hiding spots for the next week or so before venturing out again. While they prefer to feed weekly, they can survive months without a meal.
Bed bugs begin to reproduce as soon as they reach adulthood. Females are thought capable of producing up to 500 eggs during her lifetime, mostly dispersing eggs on a daily basis. As the bed bug life cycle can normally last between four and six months, there can be a continuing population for years.
While most reports of bed bug infestations center on hotels and motels, many homes are affected by the presence of the blood sucking insect as well. The first sign of their presence other than visual is the itching that is caused by a protein in the saliva to halt blood clotting. Once a population has begun, it can be extremely difficult to eliminate the bed bug. Early detection and professional extermination are the only methods of cutting short the life cycle of this blood sucking insect.