If your Bed Bug Treatment strategy is to "starve them out," we have some bad news - it's going to be a while and probably not very successful. But, let's unpack the question: "how long can a bed bug live without food"?
Many insects and parasites can go without feeding for weeks or months, and bed bugs certainly fit into this group. However, how long bed bugs can live without food depends on three main factors.
Factors That Affect How Long a Bed Bug Can Live Without Food
1. Life Stage
Once a bed bug hatches from its egg, it will go through 5 life stages before becoming an adult. Each life stage ends with a molting process. The bug will shed its skin (casing or exoskeleton) and grow a new exoskeleton larger than the previous one. This process is how they grow, but the bugs must feed to do it.
A newborn bed bug is called a nymph and must feed on a blood meal to grow into the next life stage. Without this blood meal, the nymph cannot molt into the next size exoskeleton. As they grow through the life stages, they will become more resistant to starvation and can survive longer without food.
For example, a nymph can survive for 2-3 weeks without food. Still, a healthy adult can survive for up to 5 months without food in ideal conditions that we will discuss next.
Temperature is vital in how long a bed bug can survive without food. They love humans and like the thermostat set to whatever their humans prefer. But, they can't spend long periods in extreme cold or heat.
Typically, bed bugs cannot survive temperatures below 25F for more than three weeks and die at temperatures over 113F for more than a week. They will die off rapidly at significantly higher or lower temperatures, as seen in Bed Bug Heat Treatments.
Keep in mind that if these extreme temperatures are inconsistent, it may not be enough to kill off the bed bugs. For example, if your freezing temps only occur for a short period during the night, it won't be sufficient to kill them off. Similarly, having your Arizona home with the air conditioning off in summer heat is not enough to kill off any unwanted visitors.
Bed bugs need the humidity their host and their meal provide to survive. In normal circumstances, with a full meal and ideal temp and humidity, it can survive up to 5 months. However, they may die sooner if conditions cause them to dry out and dehydrate, such as high and dry heat regularly during the day.
Don't Forget About Alternative Hosts
If you're buying a property that has been vacant for a long time and think that time without humans would kill off any bed bugs, it's probably unlikely. Like most living things, they are more interested in a meal than being picky about where they eat.
It's not their preferred diet, but bed bugs will feed on other animals if that's what's available. A bed bug can feed on a rat or mouse (or any other animal) if they are present.
You can't assume that just because a property has been empty for over six months, there won't be a bed bug hanging around.
Also, don't forget that bed bugs can travel through walls and under floors, which is a big reason why apartment buildings and hotels struggle to get rid of bed bugs. The bugs have free reign to move from unit to unit, searching for a new food source, and can spread quickly through an entire structure.
Watch Out for Used Furniture, Storage Containers, and Empty Homes!
If you're buying secondhand furniture or clearing possessions out of a storage container, be aware that bed bugs can come home with you even after long durations of storage. The item has been in a sealed container and left undisturbed for six months or more to be confident the thing is free of bed bugs. Remember, starting an infestation only takes one adult female bed bug to lay eggs in your home.
Similarly, empty homes and businesses may still harbor these unwelcome visitors, even if the space has been empty for some time. Bed bugs can hide in any dry crevice, so they may "hibernate" in the bedroom of your new home, even if there's been no furniture in the room and it has been empty for weeks.
It is always best to heat-treat a room containing new secondhand furniture to ensure no bed bugs are lurking.
If you are a regular traveler, own a business, or frequently buy vintage furniture, you are more likely to come into contact with bed bugs. Their sole interest is in your blood, and they don't care where or how you live. If you had a shower five minutes ago or five weeks ago won't matter. They are in cheap motels and 5-star hotels, so make sure you know the signs. Access to food (blood) is their only concern.
We recommend that anyone at high risk or running a business have a bed bug heat system on hand. You can regularly treat your residence, possessions, or place of business and prevent bed bug infestations.
Own your equipment and do your own pest control.