Fireside Chat with a Bed Bug

This article and so many like it have people, including workmates of reader +Penny Innes of Aurora, Colorado asking "how do people get bedbugs?".  Having a number of long conversations with customers, particularly in the last two years, people want to know fundamental things about bed bugs.  How are they transmitted?  How do I know if I have them?  How do I get rid of them? Are they dangerous?  These questions can be answered and they can be answered well.  Extensive research into bed bug behavior and control methods are very developed and occurring globally  as you read this blog.  You can visit Wikipedia or even a bed bug focused web site such as www.bedbugcentral.com to educate yourself on everything that you have ever wanted or not wanted to know about bed bugs.  Fortunately though, you are reading my blog.  Being The People's Entomologist, and wanting to educate you, the people, in the ways of the bedbug, I arranged a special and unprecedented visit with a very seasoned and candid bedbug.  It seemed to me that so much of the information being disseminated about bed bugs and their behavior was biased by a hostile media reporting to a hostile audience.  I thought that it was time that I, the science-minded objectivist, give voice to the often maligned "pest", the bed bug.  What better way to answer people's questions about bed bugs than to probe the mindset, behavior, and motivations of an actual bed bug.

I was fortunate enough to arrange some time with a "typical" bed bug. Leon Redbelly agreed to meet me on his own turf and visit about some of the things that he wants the general public to know about him and all of those identified as Cimex lectularius.  He asked me to keep his exact whereabouts private, but I can tell you that he lives on the backside of a wood crafted headboard, a desirable piece of real estate amongst his peers.  Freshly engorged from a blood meal, I found him receptive and more than willing to divulge the mysteries of bed bug life.

The People's Entomologist: Leon, I would first like to thank you for this opportunity.  I realize that you don't often verbally communicate with your host species but I hope that you and I can forge new lines of open communication between our kinds with this interview.

Leon: It really is my pleasure, I believe that we bed bugs have enjoyed so much success over the last few years, and it is an honor for me to potentially be a spokesperson for my community.  Most of the feedback I overhear from humans is negative, which can be difficult, but I know in my heart that if my ancestors, the bat bugs, could see how developed and widespread we bed bugs have become(tearing up), they would be engorged with pride, and blood.

TPE: So let's talk about your typical day.  What is it common for Leon the bedbug to do on any given day? 
LR:  Oh boy, typical day?  I vascilate between something and nothing, some days I'm motivated  to find a blood meal and then mate, some days I'm not.  And I can't really tell you why either.
TPE: A blood meal eh?  I can tell by your protruded abdomen and bright red color that today was your day to eat.  Am I right?
LR:  You better believe it.  There I was, nestled tightly into my spot of the headboard, just sitting idly among my favorite things.....
TPE:  I'm sorry to interrupt, but to help our audience know you, please describe your favorite things before you go on.
LR:  Sure, sure.  Here's what makes a bedbug's home, really a home.  It has got to be a tight spot, us bedbugs are like cockroaches only sophisticated, we like to wedge ourselves into areas where the walls are touching our bodies.  It's the only way to relax.  We decorate our homes with our shed exoskeletons, our fecal spots, our fallen brothers, and eggs that never hatched.  These are all reminders of where we've been.
TPE:  Fecal spots? The idea of painting your own dwelling with fecal spots is a difficult concept for humans to understand, can you expand a bit?
LR:  One thing every successful bed bug knows is that you don't question a good thing, you capitalize on it.  All I can say is that fecal spots are the trail that I follow home each and every morning.  You want to find me?  Where's the feces?
TPE:  Very enlightening.  So let's return to your activities leading up to this moment.
LR:  As I was saying, I'm sitting idly, I spend a lot of time doing that.  So the glowing billboard on the nightstand says 2:00am, and I remember distinctly wave after wave of carbon dioxide floating past my corner of the headboard, and so warm!  It wasn't just the CO2 that was warm, everything was warm, like somebody turned on the heater.  So I said to myself "today is the day you do something Leon!"  When I got out there, I realized I wasn't the only one who smelled dinner, bed bugs of all sizes started pouring out, some of them obviously hadn't eaten in a while, but all of us out there headed in the same direction.
TPE:  What determines what size a bed bug is going to be?
LR:  In a word?  Nutrition.  When a bed bug nymph emerges from the egg, he or she knows that the only way they will advance to adulthood is by eating.  You've got five instars, or sheddings to accomplish before you're one of the big boys, and the only way you're going to get that done is by eating.  Guess what happens before you mate?  Eating.  What happens before a female drops her eggs?  Eating.  Why are my buffet pants at full capacity right now?  Eating.
TPE:  I think I'm starting to get the picture.  With such an emphasis placed on nutritional intake, what can you tell us about the physical act of taking a blood meal from a host?
LR:  Funny thing that is, how we feed on our host.  Let me ask you a question.  You humans, what do you think of anesthetics and anticoagulants?  You like em?
TPE:  Well, for certain medical problems, yes we employ both of those substances...
LR:  We know!  That's why we inject both of them into you while we extract your blood!
TPE:  Freaky.
LR:  Right?  I know.  So, I pick a spot, start injecting/extracting and somewhere inside of 10 minutes I am fat and happy.
TPE:  How happy?
LR:  Well, remember how I told you that eating has to occur before a little somethin' somethin' happens?  Well that happens.
TPE:  Leon, if I can stop you for just a moment to remind you about our conversation before the interview.....
LR:  I know, I know.  Humans have different standards of propriety and taboo when it comes to mating, I get it.  That's what you say, but I've watched Jersey Shore!  Don't pull your superior species rank nonsense on me!
TPE:  Leon, Leon, can we get back to the part of the interview where humans are learning about bed bugs?
LR:  Yes, forgive me.  I really need to watch my anger levels, I've got blood pressure problems, and I've been working on it is all I can say.  So do you want me to talk about mating?
TPE:  In a tactful way, yes.
LR:  So when a male bed bug is full of blood he tends to get all sentimental about ensuring a prosperous future for our kind.  Naturally, he displays that by violently and indiscriminately mating with anything that resembles another bed bug.
TPE:  Awwwwww.

With a good introduction to bed bug behavior now in our knowledge bank, we will break there until next week.  What would you like to ask Leon?  If you have bed bug related questions or comments, comment below!  Thanks for reading, and as always you can find me, The People's Entomologist, at www.BenzelPest.com.  Or you can find me in Torrington, Gering, Cheyenne, Alliance, Sidney, Lusk, Wheatland, Scottsbluff......
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