WHAT DO BED BUGS FEED ON?

WHAT ARE BED BUGS ATTRACTED TO THAT MAKES THEM FEED ON YOU?

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Control Technician

You probably already know what bed bugs feed on. Bed bugs are attracted to your blood so they feed on you, the blood meal! They are rusty-red in color and remain flat until they have fed. Once they have fed they become engorged and red with your blood (their preferred meal of choice), or the blood of a pet.

They feed by piercing your skin with an elongated beak and inject both an anesthetic so you cannot feel the bite, and an anticoagulant to prevent the blood from clotting for easy withdrawal.[1]

Bed bugs feed on you at night when you’re asleep as they are nocturnal insects. But if they’re especially hungry they will come out during the day for a meal, especially if a person sleeps during the day.

So apart from blood, what else draws them to us? They are attracted to humans and animals because we breathe out carbon dioxide (CO2) and are warm-blooded, they also prefer dark areas which is why you’ll find them hiding near and in the bed.

DO BED BUG NYMPHS FEED?

The female bed bug will lay approximately 5 eggs a day (various studies have differing amounts, but it seems to be around this figure) and possibly 500 during her life cycle.

These eggs, which can be laid individually or in clusters, will hatch in about 7-10 days (7 days under ideal conditions) and are literally the size of a speck of dust.

The eggs are very small (1mm) and are a translucent white making them very difficult to see with the naked eye.

The female bed bug uses a sticky clear substance to attach her eggs to cracks and rough surfaces like wood, fabrics, baseboards, and under floorboards.

A newly emerged nymph (baby bed bug) will seek out a blood meal and feed. These immature nymphs will molt (shed their exoskeleton) five times before they reach adulthood. However, they must have a blood meal before each molt takes place.

The nymphs will reach adulthood in approximately 21 days under favorable conditions of temperatures between 70-80ºF (21-27ºC).

Bed bugs cycle of life
Bed bug cycle of life from eggs to adults and molting stages.
Picture of Bed bug nymph feeding on human and abdomen filling with blood

Bed bug nymph, Cimex lectularius, during feeding. Baby bed bug is almost translucent and the human’s blood is visible inside the bed bug’s abdomen. Image credit: CDC/ Harvard University


Thankfully bed bugs can neither fly nor jump but can crawl quickly when leaving or returning to their harborage areas at night before or after feeding. You’re unlikely to notice or feel them biting you but they will feed for between 3-10 minutes, which is not a nice thought.

Luckily, although they are classed as a public health pest there is no firm confirmation they transmit diseases. They are more of a nuisance but are associated with several conditions caused by scratching the bites and also having an allergic reaction to the bites.[2] Many people develop an itch that might last for several days, which could lead to an infection due to the intense scratching. However, many people will also not have any reaction to the bites and will have no idea they are getting bitten.

HOW LONG CAN BED BUGS LIVE WITHOUT FEEDING?

Bed bugs are able to go without feeding for between 2 to 6 months. [3] But what is worse is they can hibernate for a year or longer without a blood meal when the temperature drops to 55ºF (12.7ºC) or below. This alone makes bed bugs an extremely resilient and hard to treat pest, and one you don’t want to find in your home or feeding on you!

If you suspect you have a bed bug infestation, read How to Permanently Get Rid of Bed Bugs in 9 Steps which gives you step-by-step guidance to getting rid of them on your own.

For more detailed images of what bed bugs look and pictures of bed bugs feeding, check out our compilation of over 65 pictures and images.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3255965/

[2] https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/bed-bugs-public-health-issue

[3] https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef636