Bat bugs sound like mythical creatures or the kind of creatures you’d expect to see in horror movies like the mummy hidden in ancient caves in the Egyptian pyramids. But I’m sorry to burst your bubble. These little suckers are real. And even worse, you can find them in your place of work or at home, especially if you live in the Midwest US.
In this piece, we shall decipher what bat bugs are and help you determine what is true and what is not. And without much ado, below are the top facts about bat bugs you should know:
1. Bat bugs are related to bed bugs
How so? Well, biologists classify these bugs under the family Cimicidae. They are true insects and very close relatives for common bed bugs in this light. But before you freak out, the bat bugs don’t have the taste buds for human blood. They love bat blood, hence the name ‘bat bugs.’ But make no mistake. When they are forced to, in the sense that the bats living close to your home or in your home relocate they will turn to human blood for survival – think of it like you turning to your worst kind of food when you hit rock bottom, and nothing else is available.
But why do the bat bugs prefer bats? Like with everything else in nature, there is a logical explanation for this.
Bat bugs need bats to reproduce. The environment around them is perfect and crucial for their survival. But as mentioned above, in the event they move away, the bat bugs will relocate to other spots like living room furniture, beds, and mattresses.
2. Bat bugs don’t live on bats
Now, the fact that they are called bat bugs and prefer bat blood can be a little misleading. Most people think that bat bugs live on bats. Well, this cannot be more false. Think about it. Since common bed bugs feed on human blood, do they live on humans? Of course not. They are not like ticks. They feed differently, more like mosquitoes. The common bed bug comes out to feed at night between 12 midnight, and 5 am and then crawls back to the dark crevices and joints close to the food source (usually the bed, mattress, and closet).
Bat bugs behave in the same way. They love being close to their source of food. They come out to feed when hungry and retreat to their hiding places when they are full. They prefer to hide in the bat nests and other crevices close by.
3. Bat bugs look like bed bugs, but with subtle microscopic differences
Given that they fall under the same family, bat bugs look like bed bugs. You can’t pick out the differences between the two unless you use a magnifying glass and know what you are looking for.
Let’s start by describing the general appearance before we move to the differences. Since they are true insects. As such they have a head, thorax, abdomen and six legs. Generally, their bodies are tiny, oval-shaped, and appear flat. Adult bat bugs are brown.
However, their color changes to a deep red after they are done with feeding. Adult bat bugs move slowly and can grow up to 5 mm in length. And unlike what most people think, bat bugs can be seen with the naked eye (just like ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas). Their heads and thoraxes are tiny in comparison to the abdomen. Moreover, their mouthparts are specialized to pierce through the skin without being detected.
Now the difference. Under a microscope, bat bugs differ from common bed bugs because they have long hairs on the thorax and abdomen in comparison to bed bugs. While most pest control experts say you can know what type of bed bug you are dealing with from the choice of its hiding place, it is not an accurate method of distinguishing the two.
If bats in your area (or in your attic) have relocated for whatever reason, bat bugs can relocate to mattress seams, bed joints, and closets just like common bed bugs. As such, the best way to tell them apart is to use the physical features as viewed under a microscope.
4. Bat bugs life cycle
The life cycle of bat bugs starts with the female bat bugs laying eggs. Now, female bat bugs need to feed to lay eggs. Typically they lay hundreds of eggs at a time. In favorable conditions, a bat bug can survive a whopping 12 months without food.
The eggs are laid in the bat nests or cracks and crevices where the bat bugs hide.
In a few weeks, the eggs hatch into a nymph. The nymph requires a steady supply of blood meals to develop into an adult bug. With every feeding session, the bat bug nymph grows significantly larger and molts. With every molt, the nymph gets a darker exoskeleton (it becomes more and more like that of an adult bat bug).
The eggs are about 1mm long (the same size as two salt grains laid side by side). The nymphs molt five times before they finally become adults. The process takes about five weeks when they are in a conducive environment.
Note that nymph bat bugs are not sexually mature and as such cannot lay eggs.
5. Bat bugs feed on tiny brown bats
Though bat bugs can feed on all types of bats, they have a special preference for tiny brown bats. These bats live in colonies. And in the event the bats are absent, they will feed on human blood. But before they get to you (on the food chain), they will feed on mice, rodents, and birds.
In the absence of all these, then they will suck on your blood. But here’s the good news. Though they might bite, the bat bugs cannot reproduce without bats. Eventually, they will all die, even when they are feeding on human blood.
However, we do not recommend waiting for them to die out since it could take months. As previously mentioned, bat bugs can live for 12 months without feeding.
6. Bat bug bites are worse than common bed bug bites
If you’ve been bitten by a common bed bug, you know how itchy the bite can get. Unfortunately, bat bug bites are more painful in comparison. Different people react differently to bat bug bites. As such, the reactions reported are from individual cases. However, the most common symptoms of a bat bug bites are bumps or red welts. These are extremely painful and itchy.
But here is the tricky bit about bat bug bites – you might not notice you’ve been bitten until a few days when the symptoms start to manifest.
The welts may appear in clusters or a line close to each other. The itchiness and pain experiences last for a couple of days (a maximum of a week). Medical experts advise that you don’t scratch the bites as this can cause skin infections, which may ultimately cause skin complications that are difficult and expensive to treat. There are numerous home remedies one can use to ease the itchiness and pain.
7. Bat bugs bite exposed and covered parts
In appearance, common bed bug bites and bat bug bites are similar. However, they vary in the intensity of symptoms. Aside from this, most people confuse bat bug bites with mosquito and flea bites. And we cannot blame them since to the untrained eye; these are similar as well.
The differences between mosquito bites and bat bug bites are in the pattern. Mosquito bites are often random. A mosquito will bite any exposed spot from the face, foot, back, and arm. Once they are disturbed, they move to a different spot. As such, the bite marks are spaced out and don’t follow any specific pattern. They also cannot be found on skin that was protected by clothing or sheets.
Bat bug bites, on the other hand, follow a pattern. The bites are either clustered or linear. Also, they do not only bite exposed skin but the body part that is closest to the edge of the bed. Due to this, it’s rare to find bat bug bites on the face. But bug bites can be found in covered areas because they tend to crawl under the clothing.
8. OTC drugs can ease bat bug bites
Usually, bat bug bite symptoms will not last more than a week (two weeks in some people). And though the bites are not often serious, you can relieve the symptoms using OTC drugs, including anti-itch creams and calamine lotion.
You can also take oral antihistamine drugs like diphenhydramine to reduce the burning and itching sensation. Pain relievers can help ease pain and reduce the swelling.
9. Bat bugs don’t spread diseases
According to scientists, unlike most pest bugs, bat bugs don’t spread diseases. This is shocking to many people who are used to diseases like malaria being caused by mosquito bites. Though it can be troublesome to deal with the bat bug bite symptoms, the good news is that no diseases are spread through the bites.
However, you need to be careful with how you handle the bites. In most cases (depending on an individual’s immunity system and reaction), itchiness and pain can be quite disturbing. But even then, you should resist the urge to scratch as it can lead to infections, which in turn cause severe skin conditions which need treatment.
10. Bat bugs don’t die in sunlight
It is common knowledge that bed bugs hate and avoid sunlight. They prefer to hide in cracks and crevices to stay away from the sun because they are photophobic. Bat bugs are the same. Because of this, people often think that they die when they are exposed to the sun. But this is far from the truth. Bat bugs don’t burst into flames like vampires when exposed to the sun. Sure, they’ll be uncomfortable, but this is a long way from being pronounced dead.
Why won’t direct sunlight kill bat bugs? First, we should point out that even the hottest summer heat won’t come close to frying the puny brain of a bat bug. It’s, therefore, not a cost-effective method of killing bat bugs.
For heat to kill the bat bugs, it needs to be in the range of 117 and 120 degrees. The sun cannot get to these heat levels on earth.
11. Heat treatment is an efficient bat bug treatment method
Because of its effectiveness, expert exterminators depend on it to kill bed bugs. Heat treatment works by causing a malfunction in bat bug cells. When the temperatures are high enough, the bat bug cell DNA starts to disintegrate. The higher the temperature is, the quicker the DNA breakdown happens.
The heat treatment starts at 113 degrees. But for an even better result, the temperatures are higher. To hit these temperatures, the exterminator uses an industrial heater. The first step taken during the treatment process is sealing all exit and entry points to the rooms and the home as a whole. When the heating tool is turned on, you don’t want the bed bugs running away to cooler areas.
And once it’s turned on, the heater runs for between 4 and 6 hours with constant temperature checks. This treatment method is perfect because the heat goes through everything. It penetrates mattresses, furniture, and all tiny crevices bed bugs might hide in.
Because of the high temperatures involved, the process should be handled by professionals only. Doing it yourself could expose your home to fire accidents. Usually, the treatment will cost about $500, inclusive of inspection costs. Though pesticide treatments are cheaper, their success rate cannot be compared to heat treatment. Also, before you go with pesticide treatment, you need to factor in the cost of alternative residence during the period your home will be uninhabitable.
12. Bat bugs cannot fly
It is puzzling to many how bat bugs can travel across countries. The common question is, can they fly? No, bat bugs, like their close brothers- common bed bugs cannot fly. Bat bugs are wingless, and it is therefore impossible for them to do so. However, the adult bat bugs have wing pads. But these are useless when it comes to flight.
Bat bugs move from country to country by hitching a ride on humans. They could be on your clothes or bags. Because of this, international travel is cited as the number one aid in the bat bug spreading around the world.
13. Bat bugs hate essential oil scents
Essential oils have strong scents. Some are nice and calming, and others are, well, not so good for humans. Because of their strong nature, bat bugs can’t stand them, and while they cannot kill them, they can at least keep them away or make them pack and leave.
Cedar oil – there must be a reason why cedar trees grow big and live for long. Some believe one of the reasons is their oil. Cedar trees are immune to insect infestations that plague other trees because of its oil. The cedar tree oil repels and even kills all kinds of insects and bugs.
Lavender oil – who doesn’t love the lavender scent?
It’s a good thing to have your home smelling like a field. Lavender oil will kill bedbugs when applied directly to it. However, the scent will help in making them uncomfortable. Some anecdotal researches suggest as much. As such, in addition to helping with your sleep, it will ease the bed bug infestation.
Since it is used for varied purposes in most homes, buying a bottle of this essential oil is not one of the things that you’ll never regret. However, if you plan to put the oil in a diffuser to chase the bed bugs away, you might not be so lucky.
Though the bat bugs might not like the smell as much, their hate for the scent is not enough to drive them away from your home. However, when you apply the essential oil on your body, it will repel the bugs (but only for a few days. Once their hunger builds up, they will persevere through the smell).
Blood orange oil – this is the most effective essential oil in killing bat bugs. The oil needs to be applied directly to the bat bugs. As such, you will have to spend a lot of time tracking down the bat bug hiding spots and spraying them with the oil. If you have the time, you can give it a shot; otherwise, it’s time-consuming.
14. Lavender scented candles don’t kill bat bugs
Since lavender essential oil works against bat bugs, you might be tempted to think lavender-scented candles work as well. And quite honestly, if they did, it would be perfect. But unfortunately, they don’t. The scent from the candles doesn’t permeate the entire room, let alone the whole house.
If you have severe essential oil allergies, inhaling the scent is enough to trigger an allergic reaction. Lavender-scented candles do not have the same concentration as essential oils. Because of this, lavender-scented candles wouldn’t cause a severe allergic reaction. Additionally, the scent isn’t strong enough to penetrate every crevice and crack in a home. Yes, it can spread through the air in your home but not in the cracks where the bat bugs are hiding.
15. Bat bugs can be eliminated
Like common bed bugs, you can rid your home of bat bed bugs. And no, you don’t have to wait until they die of starvation. You need to take the right steps. To help in the elimination process, here are some don’ts.
Even though bat bugs are annoying and can steal your sleep, you should maintain a level head. Come up with a clear course of action before you do anything.
Don’t have the legs of your bed dipped in kerosene of coated with petroleum jelly
While this trick might work, it will only be effective for some time. After a while, the bat bugs will device new ways of getting to you, including climbing to the ceiling and dropping onto the bed. In addition, kerosene is a fire hazard, and experts don’t recommend it.
Do not desert your home during winter hoping to kill off the bat bugs
As we pointed out earlier, bat bugs are resilient and can live without food for close to 12 months. Winter only lasts for a few months. Not unless you are ready to stay away from home for a long time, it is not an option for eliminating bat bugs. And the worst thing about it all is that bat bugs can survive for longer during winter since their metabolism slows down.
Do not sleep with your lights on
Bat bugs usually feed at night. However, leaving the lights on will not trick them into thinking it’s still day time. They will notice your inactivity and come out to feed. Also, like most animals and insects, they have an inbuilt sense of time.
Do not relocate to a different room
Doing so will only cause the bat bugs to spread to the new room. It might take a while, but eventually, the bat bugs will catch on and follow you. Moving to a hotel doesn’t help either.
Do not throw away your infested mattress and buy another one
The problem is not with your mattress. Bed bugs hide in other places as well. New mattresses might be free of bat bugs, but the moment it will be placed on the bed, it will be overrun with bat bugs in no time. Before you buy a new mattress, get an expert pest exterminator to get rid of the bat bug infestation in your home.
Also, you shouldn’t throw away good furniture just because they are infested. You can ‘reclaim’ your furniture through a serious of cleaning and treatment.
Placing your infested furniture on the street will only help to spread the bat bug infestation in the community. And if you insist on disposing of the furniture, include a bat/bed bug sticker on it so that anyone who comes across it knows why it’s lying unattended on the streets.
Don’t move your infested items before you wrap them tightly with plastic
Doing so provides bat bugs with an opportunity to escape. Again, this could help in spreading the infestation to another home.
Do not use insecticides in your home until you know what it is you are dealing with, including the potential risks
Bat bug insecticides are potent. This means that they are poisonous to humans if inhaled or handled in the wrong manner. The best thing to do when you have a bat bug infestation is to call a professional to handle the problem at hand.
16. Pets can be infested with bat bugs
Depending on the level of infestation in your home, your pets might be infested by bat bugs as well. Though this is not common, it has been known to happen. It’s also worth noting that science doesn’t support the act that bat bugs prefer pets. From time to time, bat bugs get stuck in pet hair. But since they don’t feed like ticks do (with their head buried under the skin) and do not live on pets like fleas, it’s easy to get them off your pet.
Bat bugs feed for less than 10 minutes. While feeding, their feet do not hold tightly on the hair. Because of this, thirty minutes of light grooming should shed the bat bugs from your pet. But before you return the pet to its cage, you should inspect the bedding. If possible, wash and dry the cage for 60 minutes or freeze the cage for a minimum of two weeks.
17. It takes three weeks to get rid of bat bugs
Why does it take so long, you wonder? Well, getting rid of bat bugs (like common bed bugs) is a lengthy process that needs some bit of planning. Below is the process/steps followed (these steps extend for a week):
- Placing infested items in a freeze for two weeks will do an excellent job of killing the bat bugs.
- Insecticides are not effective against bat bug eggs. The eggs require 14 days to hatch. If need be, the pest exterminator should re-inspect your home and apply additional pesticide after two weeks just in case some eggs hatched after the initial pesticide treatment.
- For quick bat bug management, a homeowner needs to work as a team with the pest exterminator. Homeowners should conduct proper preparation beforehand and make necessary accommodation plans if pesticides will be used.
18. You can prevent bat bugs from hitching a ride when you are traveling
To prevent bat bugs from hitching a ride from a hotel, you should always inspect a room before you lay down to rest. The first thing you should do when you enter a hotel room is to take your luggage to the bathroom (it’s easier to detect bed bugs here. And since they don’t like moist spaces, they rarely infest bathrooms).
Next, check the bed joints and other crevices for bed bug signs. If you don’t notice any bat bug or signs of an infestation, you can rest easy. And if you notice any, request for a room change.
When checking out of a hotel tool, take a shower and put your clothes in a plastic bag. When you get home, the first thing you should do is clean those clothes just in case a bed bug hitched a ride. Inspect your luggage as well. Perform the inspection in the bathroom.
19. Signs of bat bug infestation
Common bed bugs and bat bugs share in the signs of infestation. Below are some infestation signs to be on the lookout for.
Fecal matter – bat bugs usually leave fecal matter behind after they feed. The fecal matter as black dots. They are tiny, and you need to be looking for them to find them. They are often found on mattress covers and fabrics.
Blood – bat bugs usually inject an anesthetic, coupled with an anti-coagulant into your system when they feed (they do the same to bat bugs). But even then, you might shed a bit of blood. And other times you might toss and turn in your bed and squash a bat bug full of blood. Because of these, you might find blood spots on the chair, sofa, and mattress.
Odor – In a building that is heavily infested, there is usually a bat bug odor. Bed bug dogs can detect the order even when the infestation is small. For humans, the infestation has to be big enough to notice the smell.
Unlike with common bed bugs, you cannot rely on seeing eggs, nymphs, or molt to detect bat bugs. This is because they do not reproduce in the absence of bats. And when you start to notice an infestation in your home, it only means the bats have relocated hence no eggs or nymphs.
20. Bat bugs can bite kids too
Bat bugs do not differentiate between adults and babies. To them, we are all a meal. If your child has been bitten by a bat bug, consult a doctor for an effective treatment to ease the itchiness and pain. The bat bug bite patterns are the same in adults as they are in babies.
21. You can prevent a bat bug infestation
The best way of preventing a bat bug infestation is by getting rid of bats in your home. You can do this by sealing off any entry and exit points in your home. Inspect your attic for bats and get rid of them if they are present. To do this, you can install bat doors that allow them to leave but not re-enter.
Next, you should get rid of all damaged insulation. Clean the drywalls, and attic with an antibacterial cleaner.
Finally, Install new insulation all around the house.
Bat bugs are like common bed bugs. In some parts of the US, they are referred to as bat bed bugs. Since they look and behave a lot like common bed bugs, they can be identified, prevented, and eliminated in the same manner.