As old man winter begins to stride across the state, the time has come once again to fire up the furnace and unpack the family’s winter clothes. With wind chills dipping into the single digits it would be nice to think that there would at least be a trade off of sorts – a few months of bone-numbing cold in exchange for a reduction in the growing bed bug population. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Bed bugs are frightfully resilient creatures, and they can adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions. In short, even the freezing depths of a New York winter can do little to stop these pernicious little blood suckers in their tracks.
Bed Bugs and Extreme Temperatures
Bed bugs prefer temperatures ranging from 70° – 80°F, and it is within this range that they are best able to reproduce and progress through their natural growth cycle. Extreme heat and cold has been used to kill bed bugs, but the temperatures needed to exterminate the insects must be intense and the exposure time prolonged. Laboratory studies have shown that bed bugs can be killed if they are exposed to temperatures of 0°F or less. Unfortunately, the necessary exposure time is in excess of four days. Moreover, well fed adult females can take even longer to die in near 0° temperatures, illustrating just how resilient and hard to kill these blood suckers can be. Bed bugs may not like the cold, but in practical terms even the hardest of winters doesn’t provide much of a weapon in the ongoing fight against these pests.
Do Bed Bugs Hibernate?
If it takes extreme and prolonged exposure to freezing temps to actually kill a bed bug, how do they respond to the average cold of winter? There is a myth that bed bugs hibernate during the winter months. Unfortunately, this is not really true. Temperatures below 60°F do have a definite affect on bed bugs, though that affect is moderate at best. As temperatures slide into the sub-60° range bed bugs can enter a state of semi-hibernation called diapause. In this state the bed bug’s metabolism slows down and they go into an energy conservation mode. This allows them to go dormant, surviving for months without feeding. In this way bed bugs can survive the cold, waiting until environmental conditions improve. As temperatures return to more moderate levels bed bugs will come out of their state of diapause and resume their normal life cycle.
The Nub of the Winter Problem
Of course, a lot of this talk of cold winter temperatures is somewhat moot. Bed bugs are parasites, and they go where their hosts go. Cold temps may slow the odd bed bug down, but more likely than not the bed bugs you have to worry about will be in your home or office. Chances are you have the heat turned up and are doing your best to keep the winter chill at bay. Like it or not, your comfort is the bed bugs’ comfort and they’re more than happy to keep you company while the snow is falling outside.
Keeping Warm and Cozy for the Winter
For most of us, the winter season means warm blankets and cuddling up by a roaring fire (or, at least, round a toasty radiator). Unfortunately, bed bugs crave the same warmth and comfort that we do, and as we make our homes more amenable for the winter months we are also providing a perfect habitat for these blood sucking parasites. The flannel sheets and extra-think blankets we pull out of storage this time of year give bed bugs more places to hide. More to the point, when it’s bitter outside we all tend to stay in out of the cold. That makes us the perfect unmoving feast for a hungry family of bed bugs.
Bed bugs don’t have an off season, and while the winter cold may drive the rest of us inside for the duration the chilly days and bitter nights really do little to deter the hungry bed bug. It would be nice to think that the bitter cold of winter would, at the very least, be an ally in the fight against an exploding bed bug population. But the truth is it barely slows these troublesome pests down. As always, whatever the weather outside, the best defense against bed bugs is vigilance. Keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs of a bed bug infestation and be prepared to take swift measures should you see any signs of a colony in your home. Don’t let the chill of winter deter you – because it won’t deter a hungry bed bug.