How Quickly can a Bedbug Infestation Occur?

How Do You Get Bed Bugs

Bedbug Life Cycle Adult bed bug Cimex lectularius Bedbug Adult Stage-f

This article is intended to help you learn more about bedbug life cycle and how bed bugs work so that you can be equipped with the knowledge to recognize and deal with them quickly and effectively.

Over the last few years, there has been a rash of stories about bed bug infestations all across the big cities. With so many people packed in such a small area, it’s no surprise that these tiny bloodthirsty insects are causing so much of a pain to the residents of the city.

For a long time, people have connected the idea of bedbugs with dirty hotels and poor housing conditions, but this is not really true.

Although a dirty apartment or bedroom makes it more likely for these tiny beasts to appear, all it takes is for a few bedbugs to hitch a ride on your coattails, and anyone, even someone who lives in a beautifully maintained house, can have a frustrating bed bug problem on their hands.

What are other names for Bedbugs?

The scientific name for bedbugs is Cimex lectularius and they belong to a family of insects called Cimicidae. All members of this family feed exclusively on blood.

The bedbug is also often referred to by some other names, including the wall louse, redcoat, mahogany flat, and the bed louse.

When humans began living in the caves over 50 000 years ago, the bugs began feeding on them. Later, when agricultural civilizations started, the bugs keep existing beside them. All that centuries, people spread bed bugs all over the world.

What do Bedbugs Look Like?

Bedbug kind of looks like a cross between a flea and a roach. They are slightly larger than a flea and have a very round, scaled back. Bedbugs are not winged insects, so if you have problems with some bug flying around in your apartment, the problem is likely something else like fruit flies.

The largest bedbugs grow no longer than a quarter of an inch long, or about two-thirds of a centimeter according to the metric system. Hungry bedbugs are brown, but when they have just had their fill of a host, their bodies appear reddish because of their stomachs balloon with blood.

When are Bedbugs Active?

Bed bugs have a cryptic lifestyle, meaning they spend the majority of their time hiding together in cracks and crevices where they will not be seen or disturbed. they become active at night, generally between midnight and 5:00 am.

They are primarily active only when it is dark in the room, tending to stay under cover when the lights are on even when it is nighttime.

Bed bugs like to feed when the human host is typically in their deepest sleep. You may not even realize that you have bedbugs until you start to notice the characteristic bites.

In this sense, they are similar to roaches, although roaches don’t have the nasty habit of feeding on human blood.

What is the Diet of a Bedbug?

Bedbugs can only sustain themselves on a healthy diet of blood from warm-blooded animals. Their primary target will always be humans, but they can also feed on other mammals if given the opportunity.

Like fleas evolved with a preference to feed upon animals with fur, bedbugs are a pest which has co-evolved with humans but have learned to sustain themselves even when their host-of-choice is not present.

Although bedbugs are known for feeding off humans, there are other species of bedbug which have evolved to have a preference to feed off of other warm-blooded mammals.

When the lights turn off, bedbugs leave their established homes and go out looking for dinner. The worst thing about bedbugs is that you are their dinner. They crawl from their homes, looking for a temporary host. They feed on humans in a way which shows significant similarity to mosquitoes.

Both bedbugs and mosquitoes have organs known as proboscis that they use to suck blood. Think of this organ as a cross between a mouth, a straw, and a tiny surgical knife.

They feed by finding a host, darting through the skin of their host with the proboscis, and draining blood directly into their stomach to feed. They probe the skin with their mouthparts to find a capillary space that allows the blood to flow rapidly into their bodies.

A bed bug may probe the skin several times before it starts to feed. This probing will result in the host receiving several “bites” from the same bug. Once the bed bug settles on a location, it will feed for 5-10 minutes.

Like mosquitoes, bedbug bites are evolutionarily designed to cause minimum irritation, making it easier for them to get their dinner and move on quickly.

Also like mosquitoes, just a short time after they bite, the feeding site develops an irritating little bump or rash.

How do Bed Bugs Breed?

Their mating behavior is called traumatic insemination because the male literally stabs the female’s body. The stabbing creates a wound and leaves a scar.

The female’s bedbug must heal from this injury and leave aggregations after being mated several times to avoid any further abuse. She seeks another place to hide, spreading the infestation further.

The single mated female brought into a home can cause an infestation without having a male present, as long as she has access to regular blood meals. When she runs out of sperm,  she can easily mate with her own offspring after they become adults to continue the infestation.

After the female bedbug becomes fertilized, it begins to develop eggs. Female bedbugs can release eggs one at a time, but under optimal circumstances, they will lay eggs in large clusters of as many as fifty!

How do I know if I have Bedbugs?

Except under rare circumstances, you will not see bedbugs, even if your apartment is currently under infestation. What you will see, however, are the products of molting. As the adolescent bedbugs grow larger and molt, they will leave behind their old skin all throughout the area in which they are active.

The more bedbugs that you have, the more of these moltings that you will see. As a result, an experienced exterminator can quickly tell the extent of your extermination simply by the concentration of moltings throughout your infected area.

Although this is the easiest way to recognize a bedbug infestation, there are other signs as well. For example, when bedbugs digest and release their dinner, it leaves dark spots on your bed, carpet, or floor.

Also, although you probably won’t wake up as the result of a bedbug bite, some of them tend to not make it out of your sheets alive.

When they get crushed, they leave small red marks of blood on your blankets, sheets, and pillows.

How Quickly can a Bedbug Infestation Occur?

The number of egg batches a female will produce in her lifetime is dependent on her access to regular blood meals. The more meals the female can take, the greater the number of eggs she will produce.

Due to the large clutches of eggs laid by bedbugs, an infestation can develop very fast. A single pair of bedbugs is known to bear as many as five hundred children over the course of its breeding cycle.

Bedbugs typically breed three generations of children per year, so after a single year, a single female bedbug can bear a countless number of grandchildren.

All it takes is one pair of bedbugs to turn your apartment or bedroom into a bedbug paradise.

Breakdown of the BedBug Life Cycle

Knowledge is power when we need to get rid of any unwanted pest. Understanding the full reproductive cycle is the most crucial step in understanding how to get rid of bedbugs safely.

Bedbugs undergo a particular form of development known as incomplete metamorphosis. Incomplete Metamorphosis is also known as Hemimetabolism.

Animals that undergo Incomplete Metamorphosis don’t turn into beautiful butterflies or significant change in shape and structure. They just grow larger and grow reproductive organs and structures like wings.

Another way to describe this is that animals that undergo Incomplete Metamorphosis lack a pupal stage, and develop from egg stage, to nymph stage, directly to adult stage.

Bed Bug Life Cycle Characteristics

The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius), has five life stages. Each immature stage must take a blood meal to develop into the next life stage.

Bed bugs have an exoskeleton – on the outside of their body. They must shed it to grow larger. It is called molting. A bed bug nymph must take a blood meal to molt successfully. After growing through five instar molts, the bed bug becomes an adult.

Adult bed bugs, both female and male, just as well take regular blood meals to reproduce.

bed bugs life cycle biology adult larvae egg blood meal molt

Source: Virginia State University Bed bugs before and after feeding

When bedbugs hatch, they are known as nymphs. After they are first born, they are almost entirely invisible to the naked eye, due to their completely colorless appearance. Although they are without color, they look almost exactly like their parents, otherwise. As they age, they go through a series of molts. Upon each successive molt, their exoskeleton darkens, and they become more and browner.

Bedbug Egg Stage

When it is time for the fertilized bedbug to lay her clutch of eggs, she releases them in large units up to fifty per fertilization. The female bedbug also releases a substance which glues all of the eggs together. This glue can also be used to adhere the eggs to a rough or unstable area.

Eggs develop over the course of the next series of days, and after one to two weeks, they finally hatch.

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Bed bug Nymph Stage

Before the bedbug can molt for the first time, it must find a host and feed. Every time that a nymph molts, it progresses closer to adult form, and after five molts, it officially reaches its adult phase.

Dependent upon the characteristics of the environment, the amount of time that this takes can vary tremendously.

In warm environments, the nymph reaches adulthood over the course of only a few short weeks. This same process can take months to occur if it is colder. This adaptation allows bedbugs to live and thrive even under poor conditions.

Bed bug Adult Stage

After the Bedbug reaches adulthood, in generally thrives for ten months. Under certain conditions, adult bed bugs can live significantly longer, however.

Bed bug Defenses and Adaptations

There are a few particular adaptations that bedbugs have at their disposal to increase their ability to thrive and reproduce.

Like certain kinds of bees, bedbugs have the ability to sense the carbon dioxide that humans and other animals exhale. In addition to this, they are also attracted to both moisture and warmth.

This combination of adaptations allows the bedbug to find a temporary host for feeding, and ensure that the host is warm-blooded.

The bedbug shares another adaptation with mosquitoes. When it injects is proboscis into its host, the saliva of the creature disrupts blood clotting, in order for the bedbug to take in an entire meal in a single bite.

Also like mosquitoes, these bites have the capacity to cause tiny allergic reactions which induce itching and the development of tiny rashes where bites occur.

Where do Bed Bugs Live?

Bed bugs are attracted to the CO2 produced by the host’s exhalations and heat. They are only able to detect body heat from distances less than 3 feet. They can travel many yards to reach their meal, do a lot of wandering around and moving very quickly.

Bedbugs generally live very close to their primary hosts. These insects take root in the seams, crevices, and folds of mattresses and upholstered furniture. These locations allow the bedbugs to remain very close to their human hosts while also remaining relatively safe from danger.

In heavy infestations they are crowded and many bugs have to seek refuge at distances several yards from the host.

Because they lack the maneuverability of other types of insect, they must stay very close to their source of food.

Once a bedbug finds a suitable location for feeding, they remain in that location as long as food remains available.

Unfortunately for you, that means that bedbugs love everywhere that we have a habit of resting, whether that means your comfortable bed or your big, luxurious sofa.

What is the Global Breeding Range for Bed Bugs?

bed bug life cycle, bed bugs world map America Europe Africa USA UK South America


A recent laboratory study has shown that starvation can greatly reduce bed bug survival.  On average, starved bed bugs held at room temperature will die within 70 days. Most likely these bed bugs are dying of dehydration, rather than starving to death.

In fact, one of the reasons that bed bugs pack themselves so tightly into small cracks and crevices is so that they can maintain a microhabitat of favorable temperature and humidity, thus increasing their ability to survive periods of starvation.

Bedbugs thrive in climates which are known to be temperate. Bedbugs are present in greater density in the northern temperate latitudes rather than the southern temperate latitudes.

In recent decades, Bedbug infestations have begun to rise significantly in Central Asia, Europe, and North America.

Source: Bed Bug Life Cycle
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

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