Bed Bugs: Infestation and Breeding

The first thing to understand about our infestation is that we never actually saw an adult bed bug. In fact, of the hundred-odd photos I took during the experience, it’s not clear that any show a bed bug.

That’s a crucial difference between our infestation and the horror stories you’ll read about elsewhere. Our infestation consisted of a relatively few bed bugs and, because we (generally) acted quickly, decisively, and consistently, they didn’t multiply beyond control.

There is no mistaking a bed bug bite, however, and that will probably be the first indication that you have an infestation. The references in the first post in this series should give you a general idea of what a bite looks and feels like, but here’s a quick summary:

  • You’ve never felt a bite itch like that in your life
  • Two or three such bites, a few cm apart, are diagnostic

Some people have a long-delayed reaction or no reaction at all. If you’re one of those folks, then our techniques probably won’t work for you, unless the rest of your family has more “normal” reactions.

Bed bugs are obligate hematophages: they must have at least one blood meal at each stage of their life cycle. That’s where you come in. While they prefer humans, it seems any mammal will serve in a pinch, and if you’re the sort with indoor dogs or cats, you have a real problem.

Because they’re only a few millimeters long, bed bugs tend to stay relatively close to their food supply (i.e., you), rather than commute long distances. The bed bugs you brought home will, most likely, quickly take up lodging in your bed, a favorite chair, or the desk where you sit for a few hours. Eliminating all of those lodgings, known as harborages, is essentially impossible, despite what you read in the references.

Each of the five instars from egg to adult requires at least one blood meal to provide enough energy to grow and molt. An adult female bed bug requires one meal after mating, after which she can produce a few hundred eggs without another meal. Although the references aren’t forthcoming, we think bed bugs have no qualms about introducing loops in their family trees: any male may inseminate any female.

(Digression: So you think you’re comfortable with weird sexual practices? This will turn your stomach: bed bugs practice traumatic insemination.)

Our overall plan of battle, then, was quite simple:

  • Eliminate as many harborages as practical
  • Prevent every instar from progressing to the next stage
  • Prevent breeding

The plan may be simple, but the implementation posed some, ah, difficulties…