Bed bugs live where humans live because our blood is their weekly treat. Each of them travels from their hiding places to our beds once a week to have a feast with enough blood to get back and process it for a couple of days. But what if we moved for a few weeks or months? What if bed bugs do not have a host? Do they depend on us to survive, and how long can they live without human blood?
How long does it take for bed bugs to starve?
Bed bugs use blood as an important energy source, and they need to feed once every week or so. However, they are also very resistant to starving. If you enclose bed bugs in a ventilated area and make sure they do not have blood for weeks, you will see them moving and still living for an impressively long time. Depending on each individual bed bugs, they can take up to 400 days to die from starvation. That’s more than one year. Indeed, each bed bugs has its own resilience to famine, and temperature and other environmental conditions also play a significant role. But the message is that they can survive for a very long time, waiting for you to come back.
Thus, taking long vacations will not get rid of bed bugs when you get back home. They visit your bed every week to get their share of blood, but if they don’t have any, they won’t likely die for several weeks or months. If you place them in a sealed bag, they are more likely to die from lack of oxygen than starvation, and each individual bed bug does not consume a lot of oxygen, either. So, at the end of the day, bed bug control is not as easy as waiting for them to die on their own.
Is blood their only energy source?
When we think about bed bugs and how they use blood to live, most of us immediately compare them with mosquito bites. But there’s a huge difference. Mosquitos need the blood’s proteins to lay their eggs, but they do not use blood as their primary energy source. You might be impressed to know that male mosquitos never bite because they feed on pollen and other natural energy sources. It is only female mosquitos when they are about to lay eggs that bite humans to complete the process and perpetuate their species.
In contrast, bed bugs do not feed off pollen or any other energy source. They are true hematophagous creatures, meaning that they need blood as the only energy source to live. If they do not have blood around, they die. However, it takes a long while, sometimes one year or more, to starve them to death.
That’s why, for evolutionary reasons, bed bugs create their nests very close to us humans. They are usually close to your bed and sometimes live on the inside of your mattress. In most cases, they are in the bedroom or a few meters from the bedroom, and you will only see them crawling to your bed at night.
Can bed bugs feed off human blood only?
Bed bug’s evolution specialized in biting humans. They adapted to our environments, learned to find fitting places in our homes, and based their whole life cycle according to ours. That’s why you won’t see them in your house, because when you have the switches on, they have their switch off. All of this is an adaptation to our environment, and since they are adapted to our environment, they also have a preference for human blood. This is not a matter of personal taste. It’s more like an evolutionary preference that makes them more likely to be around us and build their cycle according to ours.
However, that does not mean that bed bugs won’t survive on other types of blood. When they do not have a human host, bed bugs can obtain energy by sucking blood from cats, dogs, and even rodents and birds. So, they are not even restricted to mammals. Anything that has blood running through their veins is a good host. Not as excellent as humans, but appropriate for survival.
That’s another reason why leaving your house for a few weeks or months does not make a difference. They can feed on rats in the meantime. Worse still, they can migrate to another home and come back when you decide to return to your house.
Trying to starve bed bugs to death is definitely not a good idea. In attempting to do so, it is more likely that thousands of them will multiply, and you will end up with a severe bed bug problem.
What is useful to kill bed bugs, then?
If you’re starting to notice a bed bug infestation, you can use insecticides to kill them. Buy bed bug sprays and try to look for their hiding spots. As mentioned above, they usually hide close to your bed. Any crack or crevasse on the wall, on your mattress, and in old furniture is appropriate for them to hide, lay eggs, or both.
When you locate their nest, spray the area and its surroundings. You can do this several times a day and a few days a week because they run for cover when they are disturbed. Do not spray your bedding and clothes. You can wash them and store them in sealed plastic bags.
It is also essential to get rid of all your clutter, vacuum, and keep everything clean. If you still have problems with bed bugs after this type of treatment, call for a specialist. You may have a more complicated situation, and they have the experience and tools to locate bed bugs and set you free from their bites.
Aak, A., & Rukke, B. A. (2014). Bed bugs, their blood sources and life history parameters: a comparison of artificial and natural feeding. Medical and Veterinary Entomology, 28(1), 50-59.
Harlan, H. J. (2006). Bed bugs 101: the basics of Cimex lectularius. American Entomologist, 52(2), 99-101.
Szalanski, A. L., Austin, J. W., McKern, J. A., Steelman, C. D., Dim’M, M., & Gole, R. E. (2006). Blood Meals1 at. J. Agric. Urban Entomol, 23(3), 189-194.