Bed bugs are pesky pests that seem to live forever and are virtually impossible to get rid of with time alone. We know that their favorite food is human blood as we see the results of bed bug bites all over our backs, necks, and hands. Some people may even have allergic reactions that can lead to asthma attacks, a runny nose, and nasty rashes on human skin for a couple of weeks.
In order to survive for as long as bed bugs clearly do, they must be able to consume dead skin cells like dust mites or maybe eat insects like cockroaches and other pests. Something other than blood, like hair or dead skin cells, must be the reason bed bugs can live for months without a living host.
Below we will look at what other food sources bed bugs chomp on and how they eat what they do.
Are There Other Food Sources for Bed Bugs?
During the warmer months of the year bed bugs will be the most active and have the biggest appetite. The one thing that a bed bug craves is human blood. There is no other food source that a bed bug is interested in or capable of eating other than mammal blood.
They will not eat dead skin cells, dead dust mites, or other bed bugs. Using their antennas and a sense for carbon monoxide, these indoor pests will only feed on human blood like common parasites.
One of the reasons it seems bed bugs feed on other food sources is they are found in similar locations with other dead insects, dead cells, and food crumbs. Bed bugs hide where ever they will be safest, and often the spaces we cannot clean are where bed bugs live.
These nearly microscopic creatures hide in cracks in furniture and can transfer from upholstered furniture to clothing and move around your home. Getting rid of these common household pests can be tricky.
What Won’t Bed Bugs Eat?
While it is simple enough to say that bed bugs only eat blood, the myths of a more varied diet need to be put to rest. Bed bugs are often said to be cannibalistic when populations are in trouble. Additionally, dead hair and the exoskeleton of insects that have died are also said to be bed bug food. Will bed bugs really munch on human hair?
No, blood is all that a bed bug can suck on, and due to our lack of fur and relatively thin skin, bed bugs prefer human blood the most. They will not eat dead skin or hair to stay alive for many, many months. You will not find bed bugs chomping on food crumbs, other bed bugs, or dirt and feces either.
How Do Bed Bugs Eat?
Bed bugs are tiny insects only about the size of an apple seed. Despite their limited size, they breed quickly and can grow their population to large numbers in a very short amount of time. How do bugs this small get all the food they need to sustain such a large colony? From human blood.
In order to survive bed bugs will need to sense humans, crawl to where they are, and bite with all their might in order to get the blood they need to survive and grow. Unlike mosquitos, where only the female bites to get the blood meal needed to lay eggs, bed bugs of every stage and gender snack on human blood. Below is how these sneaky common pests get our blood at night.
|Antennae||4 segments and is half as long as a bed bug’s body||Sensors that find sleeping hosts and guide bed bugs toward food and away from predators|
|Proboscis||2 tubed straw-like mouthpieces that fold under the body when not in use||Injects anesthetic saliva into bite site to allow undetected feeding of blood meal|
|Eyes||Bed bug eyes are made of repeating segments called ommatidia||These compound eyes are more aware of motion than mammals eyes and allow them to stay hidden and keep out of danger|
|Head||Short, broad head that contains the eyes, mouthpiece, and antennae, and connects to the thorax||Holds the key parts that allow bed bugs to survive|
|Thorax||Thin middle section of the bed bug where legs attach and by which the head and abdomen are connected||Allows the bed bug to move and survive|
|Wing Pads||Nubs where wings would for from on an adult bed bug if wings were still functional||Bed bugs used to be bat bugs and needed wings to reach the sleeping bast but have adapted to only crawl and climb to hunt humans|
|Legs||Six legs with a hooked claw at the end of each effective for climbing and holding onto prey||Used to climb and move bed bugs toward food and away from danger, very efficient and can move four feet every minute|
|Abdomen||11 segments that stretch as a bed bug feeds and the housing of most internal organs needed for survival and mating||Fills with blood and allows bed bugs to survive for a long time on minimal biting while keeping the rest of the body safe and functioning properly|
Most of the parts of a bed bug’s body are used for long-term survival with limited food and water sources. Bed bugs can live a really long time off of only a single feeding from a warm human at night. To stay alive, a bed bug needs to use several parts of its body to detect and avoid danger as well as find the next meal.
The main way a bed bug survives is by drawing much more than is needed from the host when food is available. The abdomen of a bed bug will stretch, and the 11 segments will separate, allowing bed bugs to drink their fill and draw on that for many months afterward. The biology of a bed bug allows it to use most of its food for growth and very little to live and wait for more food.
Having a small body that makes detection and trapping extremely difficult also contributes to the survival of bed bugs. Tiny insects can slip between the cracks of furniture and hide deep in mattresses and box springs. Once a female bed bug lays eggs, they will hatch in as little as 10 days, starting another generation of hungry pests.
The tiny sticky eggs are hardy and can be laid and survive on almost any surface. Extremely smooth and vertical surfaces are hard for bed bugs to crawl on, but any other surface can easily be navigated.
In order to get a meal of human blood bed bugs have to be able to sense the person and make their way under the cover of night to where the feast awaits. The main ways a bed bug does this is with its eyes and antennae. Bed bug eyes are made of a bunch of tiny compartments that make it easier to detect motion and alert a bug of any sudden movements that could be a threat or potential prey.
Unlike most insects that can eat a few different meal types, bed bugs are hematophagous. Bed bugs only eat blood, and so their senses all work together to move them to the closest source of their favorite food. Once they know where the blood is, they will need to use their 6 legs and sharp claws to navigate to the nearest surface from which to feed.
Other hematophagous insects are mosquitos, vampire bats, and some butterflies though none of these are likely to take up residence in your bedding.
Once a bed bug has made contact with a host, it will latch on with its hooked feet and drink its fill. Since bed bugs move as a group, if one is biting you, likely hundreds or even thousands are enjoying your blood. This can result in some serious itchy bite marks all over your body. To feed, bed bugs use a straw-like appendage that quickly draws blood from sleeping humans.
Originally, bed bugs were bat bugs and used wings to fly to where bats slept to drink their blood. Since that was the only food in caves, the straw mouthpiece is all these bat bugs have ever needed. Now, bed bugs feed exclusively on humans and don’t need wings, but do inject a heavier dose of anesthetic saliva than the older species of bugs.
The proboscis is a bed bug mouthpiece that consists of two parts. One tube is a short, slightly wider hose that quickly fills the bit area with a numbing agent. Next, the longer tube is inserted and draws up to .0055 milliliters of blood. When that is done, the bed bug retreats and waits until it is ready to feed again. Meanwhile, the person who has been bit is left with itchy bed bug bites and unsightly red marks.
Do Bed Bugs Need to Feed Each Night?
Although bed bugs love blood, they do not need to feed every night. While each individual bug doesn’t need to eat again right away with a heavy infestation, there will always be some bugs that need to feed again. In this way, you will most likely get bitten every night you are sleeping on bed bug-infested bedding. After only one feeding, a bed bug can survive for over a year. This is most common in adult bed bugs as a growing bug may need to eat more often.
Human blood is high in vitamins, fats, and proteins and is all an adult bed bug needs to live for a year or two. Most bed bugs are not interested in just surviving and want to actively grow and breed. When this happens, you will find bed bugs feeding every chance they get.
On average, a bed bug will feed as much as it can, which is every 5 to 10 days for an adult bed bug and more often for larvae and adolescents. Having multiple generations can make constant nightly bites a nightmare and have you running for the nearest pest control company or friendly exterminator to rid of these blood-sucking bed bugs.