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Where Did Bed Bugs Originate?

First, what are bed bugs? They are parasitic insects that feed the on blood of warm-blooded animals. There are several species of bed bug; and Cimex Lectularius, the most common variety, feeds on human blood. Their name results from their preference for warm areas, particularly beds (surprise!) or other areas where people sleep. While not completely nocturnal, they are more active at night and can also feed on their hosts without being noticed. While they haven’t been known to transmit pathogens, bed bug bites can result in a variety of negative health effects such as rashes and allergies.

Cimex lectularius aka the common bed bug

But where did bed bugs come from?

The most common form, Cimex lectularius, most likely originated from caves in the Middle East. These caves were probably inhabited by bats and humans, who provided their primary source of food. There were historical references to bed bugs as early as 400 BC and have been mentioned by famous writers and thinkers such as Aristotle and Pliny, who claimed in his Natural History that bed bugs had medicinal value. There are other records through the past 2000 years that mention bed bugs: in Germany in the 11th century, in France in the 13th century, in England in 1583, and in Slovenia in the 18th century.

How they came to Europe in the first place is unclear. Although it is likely they were carried over by travelers or shippers. In fact, some people believed that bed bugs grew in number in England as a result of new shipments of wood brought over to rebuild after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

How were bed bugs treated back then?

Historically, bed bugs were treated with a variety of natural sources such as plants, fungi, and insects. Specific examples include black pepper, black cohosh, Eucalyptus oil, henna, mint, and other organic remedies. Smoke from peat fires was used in the mid-19th century, and dusts have also been used to protect grain storage. Additionally, basket traps placed around beds were used in the UK and France in the 19th century. Bean leaves have also been used as traps in Eastern Europe.

An 1860 engraving of bed bug parts

Okay, but what about recently? Why are there so many now?

Well, before 1950 or so, bed bugs were quite common. In fact, a 1933 report indicated that all houses in many areas had a bed bug infestation to some degree. Electric heating is often cited as the cause of this rise. Toward the end of the 20th century, advanced pesticides culled the growth of bed bugs and even started to diminish their numbers. Increased awareness and other factors also contributed to their decline.

So why have we all been hearing so much about bed bugs lately?

Since the 1980s, bed bugs have started to come back. While the cause isn’t completely clear, there are several theories. These theories suggest contributing factors such as complacency, increased resistance to common pesticides, bans on certain pesticides, and increased travel internationally. Others have suggested that bed bugs never went away, but merely found new hosts and are only recently starting to return to humans. Either way, their return is bad news.

Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about bed bugs.

And the lesson to be learned? Bed bugs are just the worst! So you should make sure you keep them away.

If you happen to have bed bugs, we’re here to help you with your problem. Contact us any time, 24/7, for professional bed bug extermination services.