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Bed Bug Feeding: 17 Facts on Food, Feeding Times and Lifespan


Reading Time: 11 minutes

Bed bugs are tiny and annoying. Ever since you come across one in your home, you can’t help but freak out at the thought of a possible infestation. But as you prepare to get rid of the bed bugs, we recommend that you learn everything there is to them. This will help you rid yourself of these pesky little pests successfully. It is, as they say, keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.

In this piece, we shall go through bed bug facts surrounding their feeding habits and life span.

1. Bed bugs feed on blood

There are a couple of bed bug species. Though they are similar, they have some minor differences that can only be seen under a magnifying glass, and when you know what you are looking for. However, even with the similarities, entomologists have proven that they all feed on the same thing – blood.

Bed bugs are not picky eaters. They don’t care where the blood comes from. When their survival is on the line, they will suck on pretty much any warm-blooded animal.

With that said, though they have a preference for warm-blooded animals, they seem to prefer human blood unlike other types of bed bugs such as swallow bugs and bat bugs that prefer swallows and bats respectively.

The common bed bug is attracted to human beings by the carbon dioxide and warmth that they emit. Their sense of carbon dioxide is so strong that they can trace you from a different room. It might take a while, but eventually, they will get to you. Because of this, it is not advisable to put off dealing with a bed bug infestation by moving to a different room. What this does is just pushing the bed bugs to the edge, and they frantically search for you.

2. A bed bug bite will not make you sick

We have grown up knowing that a bite from specific bugs like Tsetse fly, mosquito, a tick or flea could lead to diseases. And in some parts of the world, these insects are feared because of this. Fortunately, this is not the case with bed bugs. So far, there’s no evidence of these bugs spreading diseases when they suck on your blood. This is the only silver lining to their bites. But how is this possible? Well, viruses and bacteria cannot survive in the body of a bed bug as they die after just a couple of minutes after coming in contact with the bugs.

3. Bed bugs are snipers

It’s true, while they may not have the skill to wield a long-range sniper gun, they are stealthy in their feeding ways. Unlike mosquitoes, when a bed bug is sucking blood from you, you’ll feel no discomfort. You might notice you were bitten a couple of days later after the area has developed a red and itchy bump.

The bites don’t hurt mainly because they inject an analgesic (a pain reliever) into the skin before they start feeding. Once the analgesic wears off, you might or might not feel any effects. The difference between a bed bug bite and a mosquito bite is in the pattern and the areas that they bite.

Bed bug bites appear linearly and in spots that aren’t exposed when you sleep, including the back and the chest. On the other hand, mosquito bites are random and only appear in places that you expose when you are asleep like the arms and feet.

4. Bed bugs don’t feed daily

This comes as a shock to many homeowners because they often wake up with a couple of new bed bug bites. But these bites don’t belong to a single bed bug. No single bedbug can cause such damage.

According to entomologists, bed bug feed after every three or so days. Some even feed once a week. This is because their bodies take a long time to digest the blood. In terms of volume, bed bugs eat a lot more than humans do.

Bed bugs are usually tiny and flat insects. However, after a hearty meal, they are rounder and longer.

With that said, we should also point out that bed bugs do not have a regular feeding schedule. The amount of time their bodies take to digest the blood also depends on the prevailing weather (especially temperature).

When it is warm, they tend to feed frequently. Because of this, during the summer, bed bugs feed after two days. But during winter, they could go for more than a week without coming out for a meal.

If you get a couple of bed bug bites every night, then it only means you have a serious bed bug infestation in your hands. It is worse if new bites are popping up every night.

5. Without feeding, a nymph can’t grow into an adult

The feeding schedule of a bed bug relates to its life cycle. To be on the same page, the life cycle of a bed bug is as follows.

  • Stage 1: Egg – the bed bug eggs are found in dark and secluded areas in the home, including cracks and crevices. They are small and white. The eggs take between six and nine days before they hatch.
  • Stage 2: Nymph – in this stage, the bed bug can’t mate or reproduce. The nymphs are between 1.4 and 4mm long. They usually go through 5 stages before they become adults. These stags are called instars. Each instar lasts between 5 and eight days. Cumulatively, the nymph stages last for between 35 and 40 days.
  • Stage 3: Adult – this is the final stage of development. At this stage, the bed bugs are at their biggest. They measure between 4 and 7mm and can reproduce.

How much a bed bug feeds will depend on the stage of development it is in. Every stage requires the bed bug to have a hearty meal to increase in size and molt. They tend to eat most during their nymph stage.

Also, we should point out that female bed bugs need to feed to lay eggs. The nutrients are derived from the blood. On the other hand, males need to feed to create sperms as well. Usually, their feeding slows down and they die due to old age or predation.

6. A bed bug can survive for long without a human host

Bed bug feeding habits are different from those of humans. If humans were to feed as infrequently as the bed bugs do, they would be hungry most of the time, fall sick or even die.

We mentioned that bed bugs feed after every one week during winter and every two days during summer. But when the situation calls for it, they can last for a lot longer without meals.

According to our research, there are conflicting timelines of how long a bed bug can last without a meal. Some say six months while others say eighteen months.

However, what truly determines how long a bed bug can last without a meal is the instar stage and the current temperature.

Entomologists say that the fifth instar can survive the longest without food.

During various studies, the 5th instar survived for a maximum of 142 days. The least number of days one survived was 41 days. Also, other entomologists document the fact that insecticide-resistant bed bugs survive for lesser periods than normal bed bugs. The adults of the resistant bed bugs can last between 42.9 days and 60.3 days on average while normal bed bugs can survive between 82.6 and 99.4 days.

7. You can starve a bed bug to death

If you are patient enough and have the right tools, you can. The best method to use is a mattress encasement. These are designed to wrap around a mattress like a plastic bag. They can be zipped up such that no bed bug can escape or come out for a meal. How long the bed bug takes to die will depend on the temperature in the house. If your room has normal temperatures, then an adult bed bug will hold on for their dear life for around two to three months.

During this ‘isolation’ period, the bed bugs will continue to mate since it’s assumed they’ve recently had a meal. Additionally, the females that had mated in the past couple of weeks will continue laying eggs. But that’s about it. Once their energy and nutrient reserve runs dry, they stop laying eggs, producing sperms, and mating.

Remember that food is essential for the production of sperms and eggs.

But here’s the thing with this method of killing bed bugs; it’s not efficient. Why? Well, not all bed bugs are hiding in your mattress. Some are in the bed joints, in the furniture, cracks, and crevices in the walls, and closet. But if you do choose to have a mattress encasement, do not remove it for 18 months at the very least.

8. Bed bugs don’t eat each other

Because they can survive for a long time without a host, many people tend to assume that they feed on each other. But this is not true. In the absence of humans, they will shift their attention to pets. And in the absence of pets, they will starve – they will not turn on each other for food.

And now that we are at it, this behavior isn’t normal for any animal or insect. Feeding on each other means that the population will reduce drastically and eventually die out.

Bed bugs do not feed on bed bug blood. After all, bed bugs don’t even have blood as warm-blooded animals do; they have hemolymph. This fluid is different from blood in several ways –first, it doesn’t have hemoglobin, and second, it’s not a lot. As such, it is unsuitable for bed bugs to feed on.

Bed bugs don’t feed on crumbs

Most pests in homes will eat anything in the trash can or even food crumbs that fell on the table and the floor. The perfect example to use is a cockroach. Cockroaches can survive for months eating nothing else but crumbs, and you will never notice they exist. They will come out when the room is dark to feast on the trash and crumbs in the house. However, bed bugs don’t do the same thing. You can test it out yourself. Leave your home and a plate of crumbs somewhere they can access it. When you come back, you’ll find the crumbs intact.

9. Bed bugs don’t drink water

Humans need water to survive. Other warm-blooded animals need water to survive, as well. However, the only drink bed bugs need is the blood they suck from you. You’ll never find them surrounding a puddle of water drinking to their feel.

This is because they get enough fluids from the blood they suck. Think about it – human blood is made up of 90% water. Bed bugs extract water from the blood. In addition to this, bed bugs can retain water for a long time.

According to entomologists, their exoskeleton is surrounded by a waxy layer, which prevents water from evaporating.

10. Bed bugs don’t eat wood

Bed bugs get their name from the fact that they love hiding in bed joints. And while this is true, they also hide in other areas of the house as well. But because they hide in beds and furniture, most homeowners assume that they eat the wood. Well, they don’t. Other pests like cockroaches do, though.

The reason bed bugs can’t feed on wood is that they don’t have the mouth parts to chew. Their mouthparts are only specialized to pierce and suck blood. They are so efficient and follow the rules of physics that you don’t even feel it when they draw blood from you.

11. Bed bugs feed for 20 minutes

With their mouth parts, bed bugs make small incisions in the skin. At the same time, they insert the tubes (forming the mouth parts) into the skin. The short tube injects an analgesic to stop the process from itching and hurting while the long one searches for a capillary to draw blood from. The long tube moves around during the search for the capillary. If they can’t find one from the spot they pierce, they retract and pierce another spot.

A normal feeding session takes about twenty minutes. If you shift while sleeping or brush over the area they are on, they scatter.

Unlike cockroaches and fleas, bed bugs are easy to squash. Because of this, they are extra careful than other pests. If they suck blood to their fill, they will become three times their previous size.

Once they are done eating, they will retract back to their hiding place to rest and digest the food. And in case they are still growing, they will molt and transition to the next stage.

Now, since the incision they make is tiny, it heals very fast. But eventually, the analgesic it leaves behind wears off after a while. And at some point, the body will detect it and try to get rid of it. This is what medical experts refer to as an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction manifests in the form of red and itchy bumps.

12. Bed bugs don’t feed in the dark only

Usually, bed bugs come out to feed when the lights are out. But this doesn’t mean that they are truly nocturnal. It’s more accurate to say that bed bugs are opportunistic.

Usually, they prefer feeding between 12 am and 5 am. It doesn’t matter whether you leave the lights on or off. And even if you change where you sleep, they will still get to you. As pointed out earlier, bed bugs find people through the warmth and carbon dioxide they emit.

And if you change your sleeping time to morning, a bed bug will still come out to feed on you. The warmth and carbon dioxide you emit doesn’t change because you are sleeping when the sun is out.

13. Bed bugs suck a lot of blood in one feeding session

The idea of having a bed bug feed on you while you try and catch your beauty sleep is quite disturbing. But before you start thinking that you can die as a result of blood loss, relax. Here are the facts.

A bed bug sucks about 0.0055 milliliters of blood for every bite. To have an accurate idea of how much blood this is, let’s take an example that you can relate to. 0.0055 milliliters of blood is less compared to a drop from a dropper. Mosquitoes on the other hand, feed on more in one sitting. They suck up 0.01 millimeters of blood.

In a couple of minutes, a bed bug can drink blood that weighs six times its original weight. However, remember that they are tiny, and once they feed in between ten to twenty minutes, they’ll detach and retreat to their hiding place.

Given the above figures, a single bed bug can’t do any harm in terms of blood loss. You should only be concerned when the infestation is getting out of hand (because then you’ll notice some adverse effects).

But this doesn’t mean that you let the bed bugs roam free in your house. There have been cases where individuals have developed severe anemia because they lost a lot of blood from bed bug bites.

14. How many eggs do bed bugs lay?

Bed bugs breed fast because females lay eggs even daily, depending on the prevailing conditions. The best terms should be around room temperature (70 an 80 degrees Fahrenheit). But as earlier pointed out, females will only lay eggs when their bellies are full. Provided a female bed bug is fed and is mated; they can lay eggs regularly all their life. And given that bed bugs live for even one year, the numbers can add up fast.

Without food, a female reduces the number of eggs that it lays a day and even a week. The numbers may drop to even ten every week. Compared to the average of four a day, when well-fed (this is a huge drop).

15. Bed bugs don’t eat hair

People who have had really bad bed bug infestations often complain that they get in their hair as well. They often worry and feel bed bugs roaming around in their hair as they go about their daily duties. This raises a couple of questions. Do bed bugs live in human hair? And can they eat human hair?

The quickest and most straightforward answer to this is no. Bed bugs don’t eat hair. Their mouth isn’t designed for chewing on hair. Additionally, there aren’t any pests that feed on human hair. Even fleas and mites that live on hair only suck blood. They don’t chew on the hair. It does not make sense for them to eat hair because this would mean that they would be eating their habitat. The only exception to this rule is cockroaches that feed on dead skin and hair.

And in any case, bed bugs have a hard time crawling on the skin, let alone through hair. Instead, they prefer finding open patches of skin to feed on instead of going through the trouble of navigating through a forest of hair.

16. Bed bugs can bite you when you are awake

So far, we’ve only pointed out the fact that bed bugs bite when you are asleep. But in addition to this, they can also bite you when you are watching your favorite Netflix series or movie. But this usually happens when they are starving like when you recently came back home from a long journey or if you shifted to a different room in the house.

17. Bed bugs feed on pets

In the absence of humans, bed bugs will turn to the next best source of food, including cats, and dogs. Though they are not the preferred choice, they are a great source of sustenance. And just like in humans, the bed bugs bite and leave once they’ve had their fill.

Bed bugs are annoying and cause an unsightly bump. However, they are consistent in that they only feed on human blood, their bites aren’t painful, and they need food to grow and reproduce. With this information, you can now devise ways to get rid of them.