Where did bed bugs come from?
But where do they originate and how long have we had to put up with Cimex lectularius? It turns out humans and bed bugs have been bedfellows for a very long time indeed.
Humans were not the original host, bed bugs are thought to have first been a pest that preferred bats. But archaeologists have found what are thought to be the fossilized remains of bed bugs in human habitations going back at least 3,500 years. The species is believed to have developed in caves in the Middle East, caves that were the home to both bats and humans.
If there is one thing bed bugs are good at, it is hitching a lift. They may not have thumbs but they can get a ride whenever they need. They spread all over the Ancient World and were known by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. No one was immune from this successful parasite. By 600 C.E. their range included China and there are records of their presence all over Europe by Medieval times.
Interestingly, bed bugs were used by these civilizations as treatments for all sorts of ailments, from eye infections to malaria, snakebites to hysteria. We now understand that while they don’t transmit disease they are not a cure for anything.
Bed bugs have no class distinction. They don’t care if you are rich or poor, live in a palace or a hovel; if it is warm and inhabited by humans bed bugs can thrive.
The First Definitive Reports
The first definitive reports of these apple seed-sized insects in England date from the late 16th century and it wasn’t long before they had made the crossing to the Americas riding along with the first colonists. While the villages of the indigenous peoples seem to have been unaffected by the new visitor the same can’t be said of the incoming Europeans. Efforts were made to combat them in the new settlements, but nothing other than rigorous cleanliness made much impact. As we came to understand the importance of hygiene and soaps and detergents became better so some sort of control was achieved.
However, it was not until the 1950s and the widespread use of a new insecticide that the population of bed bugs took a real hit. DDT was found to be lethal to bed bugs. Unfortunately, it was also lethal to just about anything and so was banned in 1972. By this time some bed bugs had become resistant to DDT but the development of other, safer insecticides helped to keep the numbers down.
A Modern Resurgence
They had become a rarity in much of society until a resurgence began in the 1990s. Air travel is thought to be a major factor, particularly the availability of cheap flights to almost everywhere in the world. Whatever remedies had been tried, bed bugs were still great at hitchhiking.
Today, they are once again common and there are reports from every major city in the U.S. of bed bug infestations. While bed bugs have become resistant to chemical treatments, modern heat treatment provides a safe and effective way of destroying all stages in the bed bug’s life cycle.
If you believe you may be dealing with bed bugs, a heat treatment (whether DIY or by a professional) is the best way to get rid of them. For more information on our DIY heat treatment packages, click here.