Thanks, Darwin: Bed Bug Evolution

Bed bugs have always been with us. Where humans have lived, bed bugs have fed off their blood–for millennia. Human blood hasn’t changed, but have bed bugs? Bed bug evolution!

Bed Bug History

Bed bugs probably started out as bat bugs–living off the warm blooded bats in caves. When humans moved into the caves with the bats, the bed bug evolution took over and moved their parasitical lives over to the larger creatures, perfectly understandable. We offered much more food than bats.

As the human population grew and became more mobile, living in villages, town and cities and traveling to distant lands, bed bugs too found new places to live and new countries to explore.

By 100 A.D., they were a well-known presence in Italy, in 600 A.D. in China, in the 1200s in Germany and the 1400s in France. Heat that was generated from cooking and sleeping fires afforded the bugs a comfortable life in the wealthiest families residing in castles and the less fortunate working class living in huts. —

Bed bugs were at one time believed to have medicinal value for ear infections and snake bites, and even hysteria. We think they probably caused more hysteria than they cured–like today!

Bed bugs came to America with the settlers and made the New World their new home. By the early 20th Century, most people had personal experience with bed bugs, but by the 1950’s, bed bugs were hard to find.

DDT was very successful at eradicating bed bugs and other pests, but, of course, it turned out to be dangerous to other creatures as well and in 1972 its use was banned due to its cancer-causing properties and the damage it was doing to bird populations like the Bald Eagles in the US.

Bed Bugs Today

Bed bugs didn’t just come back from DDT, they came back stronger. Populations that survived to today have thicker exoskeletons with waxier surfaces that resist pesticides better. They also have faster metabolisms to deal with those chemicals more quickly, before they can kill. Bed bugs in other countries had longer exposures to DDT and developed even better resistance to pesticides. When they travel from those places to cities, they are very hard to eradicate.

What can you do about today’s bed bugs?

Modern bed bugs are pesticide resistant. And DDT is no longer an option. The safest and most effective treatment for today’s bed bugs is high temperatures. Heat kills bed bugs and their eggs without pesticides. Whether a bed bug is a weakling from the 1800’s or a 21st Century megabug, heat will still do the job!