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Largely eradicated as pests in the developed world (largely through the use of DDT) in the early 1940s, bedbugs have been resurgent since about 1995.
Adult bedbugs are reddish-brown, flattened, oval, and wingless. Bedbugs have microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. Adults grow to 4–5 mm in length and 1.5–3 mm wide. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent, lighter in color and become browner as they moult and reach maturity.
Bedbugs use pheromones and kairomones to communicate regarding nesting locations, attacks, and reproduction.The life span of bedbugs varies by species and is also dependent on feeding.
The common bedbug (Cimex lectularius) is the species best adapted to human environments. It is found in temperate climates throughout the world. Other species include Cimex hemipterus, found in tropical regions, which also infests poultry and bats, and Leptocimex boueti, found in the tropics of West Africa and South America, which infests bats and humans. Cimex pilosellus and Cimex pipistrella primarily infest bats, while Haematosiphon inodora, a species of North America, primarily infests poultry.
Bedbugs can survive a wide range of temperatures and atmospheric compositions. Below 16.1 °C (61.0 °F), adults enter semi-hibernation and can survive longer.Bedbugs can survive for at least five days at −10 °C (14.0 °F) but will die after 15 minutes of exposure to −32 °C (−26 °F).They show high desiccation tolerance, surviving low humidity and a 35–40 °C range even with loss of one-third of body weight; earlier life stages are more susceptible to drying out than later ones.The thermal death point for C. lectularius is high: 45 °C (113 °F), and all stages of life are killed by 7 minutes of exposure to 46 °C (115 °F).Bedbugs apparently cannot survive high concentrations of carbon dioxide for very long; exposure to nearly-pure nitrogen atmospheres, however, appears to have relatively little effect even after 72 hours.
Bedbugs are obligatory hematophagous (bloodsucking) insects. Most species only feed on humans when other prey are unavailable. Bedbugs are attracted to their hosts primarily by carbon dioxide, secondarily by warmth, and also by certain chemicals.
A bedbug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow feeding tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host. After feeding for about five minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place.
Although bedbugs can live for a year without feeding,they normally try to feed every five to ten days. In cold weather, bedbugs can live for about a year; at temperatures more conducive to activity and feeding, about 5 months.
At the 57th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America in 2009, it was reported that newer generations of pesticide-resistant bedbugs in Virginia could survive only two months without feeding.
DNA from human blood meals from bed bugs can be recovered for up to 90 days, which may allow bed bugs to be used for forensic purposes for identifying who the bed bugs have been feeding on.
Natural enemies of bedbugs include the masked hunter (also known as "masked bedbug hunter"), cockroaches, ants, spiders, mites, and centipedes. The Pharaoh ant's (Monomorium pharaonis) venom is lethal to bedbugs. Biological pest control is not very practical for eliminating bedbugs from human dwellings.
All bedbugs mate by traumatic insemination. Because the female has no genital opening, the male pierces her abdomen with his hypodermic genitalia and ejaculates into the body cavity. Especially desperate males sometimes mistake other males for females and fatally wound the latter in the abdomen.
The "bedbug alarm pheromone" consists of (E)-2-octenal and (E)-2-hexenal. It is released when a bedbug is disturbed, as during an attack by a predator. A 2009 study demonstrated that the alarm pheromone is also released by male bedbugs to repel other males who attempt to mate with them.
C. lectularius and C. hemipterus will mate with each other given the opportunity, but the eggs then produced are usually sterile. In a 1988 study, 1 egg out of 479 was fertile and resulted in a hybrid, C. hemipterus × lectularius.
Bedbugs will shed their skins through a molting process (ecdysis) throughout multiple stages of their lives. The discarded outer-shells look as clear, empty exoskeletons of the bugs themselves. Bedbugs must molt six times before becoming fertile adults.
With the widespread use of DDT in the 1940s and 1950s, bedbugs mostly disappeared from the developed world in the mid-20th century, though infestations remained common in many other parts of the world. Rebounding populations present a challenge because of developed resistance to various pesticides including DDT, and organophosphates. Bed bug populations in Arkansas have been found to be highly resistant to DDT, with an LD50 of more than 100,000 PPM DDT was seen to make bedbugs more active in studies done in Africa.
Because some bedbug populations have developed a resistance to pyrethroid insecticides, there is growing interest in both synthetic pyrethroid and pyrrole insecticide chlorfenapyr; insect growth regulators such as hydroprene (Gentrol) are sometimes used.
Tests show that the carbamate insecticide propoxur is highly toxic to bedbugs, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been reluctant to approve such an indoor use because of its potential toxicity to children after chronic exposure.
The salivary fluid injected by bedbugs can cause skin to become irritated and inflamed, although individuals can differ in their sensitivity. A few cases of bullous eruptions have been reported. Anaphylactoid reactions from the injection of serum and other nonspecific proteins are observed and the saliva of the bedbugs may cause anaphylactic shock, though rarely.In rare cases of intense and neglected infestation, sustained feeding by bedbugs may lead to anemia. Secondary bacterial infection (i.e., infections from scratching itchy skin too much) are possible. Systemic poisoning may occur if the bites are numerous.
The World Health Organization reported in 2008 that bedbugs may cause bronchial asthma through the release of airborne allergens and that numerous bedbug bites may cause victims to become more susceptible to other diseases, as well as causing "general malaise".
Bedbugs were mentioned in ancient Greece as early as 400 BC (later mentioned by Aristotle). Pliny's Natural History, first published c. 77 AD in Rome, claimed that bedbugs had medicinal value in treating ailments such as snake bites and ear infections. (Belief in the medicinal use of bedbugs persisted until at least the 18th century, when Guettard recommended their use in the treatment of hysteria.) Bedbugs were first mentioned in Germany in the 11th century, in France in the 13th century, and in England in 1583, though they remained rare in England until 1670. It was believed by some in the 18th century that bedbugs had been brought to London with supplies of wood to rebuild the city after the Great Fire of London (1666). Giovanni Antonio Scopoli noted their presence in Carniola (roughly equivalent to present-day Slovenia) in the 18th century.
Eighteenth and 19th century Europeans believed bedbugs to feed on the sap of certain trees (especially fir), paste (which may have included tree sap), other insects, and Acari.
Prior to the mid-twentieth century, bedbugs were very common. According to a report by the UK Ministry of Health, in 1933 there were many areas where all the houses had some degree of bedbug infestation.
Plants traditionally used as bedbug repellents include black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), Pseudarthria hookeri, and Laggera alata (Chinese yángmáo cǎo | 羊毛草), though information about their effectiveness is lacking. Eucalyptus saligna oil was reported by some Zairean researchers to kill bedbugs, among other insects.
Other items that were believed to kill bedbugs in the early 19th century include "infused oil of Melolontha vulgaris" (presumably a kind of cockchafer), fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), Actaea spp. (e.g. black cohosh), tobacco, "heated oil of Terebinthina" (i.e. true turpentine), wild mint (Mentha arvensis), narrow-leaved pepperwort (Lepidium ruderale), Myrica spp. (e.g. bayberry), Robert Geranium (Geranium robertianum), bugbane (Cimicifuga spp.), "herb and seeds of Cannabis", "Opulus" berries (possibly a kind of maple, or European cranberrybush), masked hunter bugs (Reduvius personatus), "and many others." In the mid-19th century, smoke from peat fires was recommended.
Dusts have been used to ward off insects from grain storage for centuries, including "plant ash, lime, dolomite, certain types of soil, and diatomaceous earth (DE) or Kieselguhr". Of these, diatomaceous earth in particular has seen a revival as a non-toxic (when in amorphous form) residual pesticide for bedbug abatement. Insects exposed to diatomaceous earth may take several days to die.
Basket-work panels were put around beds and shaken out in the morning, in the UK and in France in the 19th century. Scattering leaves of plants with microscopic hooked hairs around a bed at night, then sweeping them up in the morning and burning them, was a technique reportedly used in Southern Rhodesia and in the Balkans.
Bedbug cases have been on the rise across the world since the mid-1990s. Figures from one London borough show reported bedbug infestations doubling each year from 1995 to 2001. There is also evidence of a previous cycle of bedbug infestations in the U.K. in the mid-1980s.The U.S. National Pest Management Association reported a 71% increase in bedbug calls between 2000 and 2005. The Steritech Group, a pest-management company based in Charlotte, North Carolina, claimed that 25% of the 700 hotels they surveyed between 2002 and 2006 needed bedbug treatment. The resurgence led the United States Environmental Protection Agency to hold a National Bed Bug Summit in 2009.
The cause of this resurgence is still uncertain, but it is thought to be related to increased international travel, the use of new pest-control methods that do not affect bedbugs, and increasing pesticide resistance.
One recent theory about bedbug reappearance is that they never truly disappeared from the United States, but may have been forced to alternative hosts. Consistent with this is the finding the bedbug DNA shows no evidence of an evolutionary bottleneck. Furthermore, investigators have found high populations of bed bugs at poultry facilities in Arkansas. Poultry workers at these facilities may be spreading bedbugs, unknowingly carrying them to their places of residence and elsewhere after leaving work. 
Bedbug pesticide-resistance appears to be increasing dramatically. Bedbug populations sampled across the U.S. showed a tolerance for pyrethroids several thousands of times greater than laboratory bedbugs. New York City bed bugs have been found to be 264 times more resistant to deltamethrin than Florida bedbugs due to nerve cell mutations. Another problem with current insecticide use is that the broad-spectrum insecticide sprays for cockroaches and ants that are no longer used had a collateral impact on bedbug infestations. Recently, a switch has been made to bait insecticides that have proven effective against cockroaches but have allowed bedbugs to escape the indirect treatment.
A population genetics study of bed bugs in the United States, Canada, and Australia using a mitochondrial DNA marker found high levels of genetic variation. This suggests that the studied bed bug populations did not undergo a genetic bottleneck as one would expect from insecticide control during the 1940s and 1950s, but instead, that populations may have been maintained on other hosts such as birds and bats. In contrast to the high amount of genetic variation observed with the mitochondrial DNA marker, no genetic variation in a nuclear rRNA marker was observed. This suggests increased gene flow of previously isolated bed bug populations, and given the absence of barriers to gene flow, the spread of insecticide resistance may be rapid.
The rise in infestations has been hard to track because bedbugs are not an easily identifiable problem. Most of the reports are collected from pest-control companies, local authorities, and hotel chains.Therefore, the problem may be more severe than is currently believed.
Bedbugs are an increasing cause for litigation. Courts have, in some cases, exacted large punitive damage judgments on some hotels. Many of Manhattan's Upper East Side home owners have been afflicted, but they tend to be silent publicly in order not to ruin their property values and be seen as suffering a blight typically associated with the lower classes.
Numbers of reported incidents in New York City rose from 500 in 2004 to 10,000 in 2009. Some of those afflicted have been stigmatized as a result of the perceived uncleanliness and risk of spreading the insects.
Dwellings can become infested with bedbugs in a variety of ways:
Bedbugs can be found on their own but often congregate once established. They usually remain close to hosts, commonly in or near beds or couches. Nesting locations can vary greatly, however, including luggage, vehicles, furniture and bedside clutter. Bedbugs may also nest near animals that have nested within a dwelling, such as bats, birds, or rodents.
Bedbugs are elusive and usually nocturnal, which can make them hard to spot. Bedbugs often lodge unnoticed in dark crevices, and eggs can be nestled in fabric seams. Aside from bite symptoms, signs include fecal spots, blood smears on sheets, and moults.
Attractant devices for detection use heat and/or carbon dioxide.
Bed bug detection dogs are trained to pinpoint infestations, with an accuracy of 97.5%, and often in minutes where a pest control practitioner might need an hour. In the United States, about 100 dogs are used to find bedbugs as of mid-2009.