Bed bugs are survivors. They have the capability of genetically adapting to environmental changes that would kill other insects making the creatures notoriously hard to kill.
History of Bed Bugs
Prior to the 1940s, bed bugs were a common pest in cities around the world. In fact, the pests were so prevalent that many parents would send their children to bed with the rhyme, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” The practice of tucking the covers snuggly around sleepers arose to prevent the bugs from gaining access to those slumbering in the night.
Pesticides to Control Bed Bugs
After the 1940s, the development of harsh pesticides started to take center stage for pest control. DDT was an especially effective killer and for a time bed bugs became rare. It was not until 2001 when DDT was banned worldwide due to its devastating environmental and health effects that bed bugs started to re-emerge and once again became a common pest, especially in bustling metropolitan cities.
Why are Bed Bugs so Hard to Kill?
Here are 6 of the top reasons why bed bugs are so hard to kill:
- Hardy Survivors: Bed bugs are seriously hardy survivors. They are hard, small, and flat. Their exceptionally tiny size enables them to squeeze into cracks and crevices which often makes detection difficult until the colony has burgeoned in size. Bed bugs can hide behind wallpaper, along baseboards, under floorboards, and even inside electrical outlets.
- Exoskeleton Adaptation: The bed bug that you see today is quite different from one 20 years ago. The modern bed bug exoskeleton has evolved to be 15 percent stronger in recent years. Scientists believe that the thicker ‘skin’ is to better repel pesticides. The skin also has great levels of enzymes known as esterases and oxidizes which breaks down common insecticides and renders them useless.
- Prolific Breeder: A female bed bug spends her life pregnant, so if your clothing or luggage accident picks up a female bed bug hitchhiker, chances are nearly 100% that she is pregnant with hundreds of baby bugs. Each female bed bug can lay 500 or more eggs during her lifetime. Within just a few months of hatching, the baby bed bugs also start to breed. A few bed bugs can rapidly become thousands and in one year, several generations can occur. In addition, bed bugs reproduce best when the temperature hovers at 70 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit which is the temperature that most people keep their homes.
- No Food Needed: A bed bug loves a good blood meal under the cover of darkness, but if there is no host to feed on, they can survive a remarkably long time. In fact, adult bed bugs can live up to 550 days with no food. If a home has been vacant for a long time, there is still no guarantee that it is not home to a thriving population of bed bugs who are just waiting for new occupants. When they do eat, the bed bug can consume a great deal of blood which fuels their tiny bodies for an extended period. A bed bug can consume up to 200% of their body weight in one meal. Their bite contains anticoagulants to keep the blood flowing as well as an anesthetic making it painless.
- Bed Bugs are Mutants: Yes, in some ways bed bugs are mutants. Scientists have found that the bed bug possesses genes from other organisms, which makes them even harder to kill. They have genes from the parasitic bacterium Wolbachia and others within their genome. In addition, there are 400 plus species of bacteria that live both inside and on the exterior of bed bugs. The bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with the bed bugs and appear to help keep them alive by fending off viruses, pesticides, and other harmful substances.
- Living Fossils: Bed bugs are considered living fossils that existed even during the time of the dinosaurs. Despite their ancient history, the bugs adapt to their environment and continue to survive. Their ability to genetically change and evolve is one of the main reasons why they are so hard to kill. Even if a pesticide shows promise of killing the insects, the same product might not work a decade from now after the bugs have had a chance to adapt.
If bed bugs are so hard to kill, you might wonder how you can effectively destroy the pests and rid your home from their presence once and for all. Bed bugs are resistant to many pesticides but not all and there are new options hitting the market all the time. While they are a challenge to treat they also offer an opportunity for new innovative solutions!