Bed bugs are definitely a nuisance. They invade our personal space, reproduce at will, and infest our homes and offices with impunity. But it’s not just the invasion that makes the bed bug such an unwelcome pest. It’s their eating habits. The bed bug’s diet is extremely limited, and their primary food source is our families and us.
What Do Bed Bugs Typically Eat?
All bed bugs, regardless of species, feed on the same basic foodstuff – blood. It’s their primary source of nutrition, and they aren’t too particular where or whom that blood comes from. Their main objective is survival, and to that end they will feed on the first available warm-blooded mammal they can access.
One of the most common species of bed bug, and the one that troubles humans the most, is called Cimex lectularius. This type of bed bug prefers human blood above all others, and they will ignore alternative sources of food whenever a human donor is in close proximity.
Bed Bugs, Mosquitos and Other Blood Drinking Pests
Of course, the bed bug isn’t the only insect that feeds on human blood. Mosquitos, fleas, and ticks are just a few examples of common pests that feed on human blood. However, unlike many of those other insects, bed bugs do not appear to carry or transmit any known diseases to their human hosts. It’s the sole silver lining in the grey cloud of the bed bug’s diet. They may take our blood, but at least they don’t pass on any infectious diseases to us in the process.
Bed bugs differ from other blood-sucking pests in another important respect – their bites. While mosquito bites and tick bites are felt by the victim almost immediately bed bugs have a subtler mode of attack. When a bed bug feeds they inject their victim with a mild analgesic. This numbs the victim, and stops them from feeling the bed bug’s bite. The bed bug can then feed as long as it needs to without disturbing its host.
Later, when the analgesic wears off, the victim will begin to feel the effects of the bite. Eventually, depending on the sensitivity of the host, lesions will appear on the body and an intense itching will set in around the bites.
Do Bed Bugs Feed on Other Animals?
While humans are the preferred food source for most bed bugs if they are desperate enough, and hungry enough, they will turn to other sources of food. These other sources include most warm-blooded animals, and that includes pets.
It’s true that the family dog or cat is never a bed bug’s first choice for dinner, but if there is no other option they will feed where they can. Your pet’s fur is no deterrent. The bed bug will burrow through the fur until it reaches bare skin, and then it will feed to its heart’s content.
Again, pets are not the primary source of food for bed bugs. But in a pinch bed bugs will feed where they can, and that can make your pet both a food source and a mode of travel for hungry bed bugs.
How Often Will a Bed Bug Feed?
The bed bug’s feeding routine is greatly influenced by the weather. When it’s warm bed bugs tend to feed at least once a week. Baby bed bugs, or nymphs, will feed more often as they pass through their life cycle to adulthood. As the weather cools bed bugs tend to be less active, and will feed more infrequently.
It’s important to note, however, that bed bugs living in an infested home are less influenced by outside temperatures. Remember, they are sharing your environment. When the weather turns, and it gets cold outside, any bed bugs in your home are enjoying the same heating system you are and may not be as likely to go dormant for the winter months.
How Much Does a Bed Bug Eat in a Single Meal?
The thought of something feeding on our blood is certainly disturbing. But it is important to remember that bed bugs only take a small amount of blood when they feed. A bed bug typically takes about .0055 milliliters of blood per bite. That’s less than a drop from a medicine dropper. In contrast a mosquito can take as much as .01 milliliters in a single feeding.
While it’s true that bed bugs will bite their host several times during a single feed, the total amount of blood lost by the host is minimal. Unless you are experiencing an unusually large infestation it is unlikely you will suffer any ill effects from blood loss. While the irritation associated with bed bug bites can be severe in most cases the blood loss is negligible.
That being said, in rare instances infants and small children have been known to suffer some ill effects from prolonged blood loss. However, this is extremely rare and only occurs in victims who have suffered repeated bed bug attacks over an extended period (11 to 15 weeks). This is one reason why it is so important to treat a suspected bud bug infestation as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
How Long Can a Bed Bug Survive Without Food?
Adult bed bugs can survive for several months without food. Nymphs are less resilient, and can only survive for two to three months without a steady source of food.
Again, while bed bugs can remain dormant for several months in colder climates in a typical home they will remain active and feed regularly throughout the year. If you are seeing any of the telltale signs of bed bug activity it is important to take action immediately. Any unnecessary delays will only prolong the infestation.
Bed bugs rely on the blood of humans and warm-blooded animals to survive. While they can survive for extended periods without a fresh meal they are always on the lookout for new hosts, and you and your pets are a potential source of food. If you begin to notice any signs of a bed bug infestation call in a bed bug inspection service and let the experts tackle the problem. The sooner you act, the sooner you and your family can sleep soundly once again.