Bed bugs were once a common public health pest worldwide, which declined in incidence through the mid 20th century. Recently however, bed bugs have undergone a dramatic resurgence and worldwide there are reports of increasing numbers of infestations. Australia has also been included in this trend and the Department of Medical Entomology, ICPMR, has been at the forefront of documenting this phenomena and providing information on the ecology and control of this important public health pest.
Bed bugs are wingless insects, roughly oval in shape, 4-5mm long when fully grown, and are fast runners. They are rust brown in colour and change to a deeper red brown following a blood meal. Bed bugs are dorsoventrally flattened and being thin means that they can hide in narrow cracks and crevices, making detection often very difficult.
The mouthparts of bed bugs are especially adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood. Like most blood sucking arthropods, they inject saliva during feeding, which has anticoagulant properties. Bed bugs respond to the warmth and carbon dioxide of a host and quickly locate a suitable feeding site. They tend not to live on humans and the only contact is for a blood meal. Most blood feeding occurs at night, and they generally seek shelter during the day and become inactive while digesting the blood meal. However, bed bugs are opportunistic and will bite in the day especially if starved for some time. They can survive for long periods without feeding. While their preferred host is human, they will feed on wide variety of other warm-blooded animals including rodents, rabbits, bats, and even birds.
Being a cryptic species, bed bugs shelter in a variety of dark locations, mostly close to where people sleep. These include under mattresses, floorboards, paintings and carpets, behind skirting, in various cracks and crevices of walls, within bed frames and other furniture, and behind loose wallpaper. Bed bugs tend to stay in close contact with each other and heavy infestations are accompanied by a distinctive sweet sickly smell. Blood spotting on mattresses and nearby furnishings is often a tell tale sign of an infestation.
Bed bugs are one of the great travellers of the world and are readily transported via luggage, clothing, bedding and furniture. As such, they have a worldwide distribution.
Did you know?
- After mating, each female lays 2-3 eggs a day throughout her lifespan.
- That allergens from bed bugs may be associated with asthmatic reactions.
- There is no evidence to show that bed bugs transmit any infectious diseases.
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