How long can bed bugs live without a meal?

FAQ: How Long can Bed Bugs Live Without a Meal?

A common issue when dealing with bed bugs is knowing when the coast is clear. If you can’t see every bed bug in the area, you can’t know when to declare victory. You may have steamed, sprayed, and encased every nook and cranny that you can reach, but you don’t know if it’s enough. Can bed bugs still reach you and your family? Are they still feeding and breeding? If not, how long can bed bugs live without a meal? Let’s talk about what it takes for bed bugs to starve to death:

How Bed Bug Feeding Works

Before we dig into bed bug survivability, it’s important that we understand how bed bug feeding works. After a bed bug egg hatches, the nymph goes through five instar stages before it becomes an adult. While nymphs still behave and feed like an adult bed bug, they are much smaller and weaker. This has an effect on their lifespan if they are unable to feed.

In ideal conditions, a nymph will feed about once a week. With a blood meal digested, they are able to molt into the next instar stage. They need to do this six times to become sexually mature. That means that each bed bug needs to feed at least six times before it is able to reproduce.

While reports on actual timing varies quite a bit (more on that soon), data shows that younger instar nymphs starve to death faster than adults. First instar nymphs will starve 30% to 50% faster than adults in the same environment. This is yet another benefit of cutting off the bed bug population’s food supply.

Unfortunately, bed bugs are a lot better at living without food than humans and other animals are. They have evolved to enter a hibernation-like state when a food source is unavailable. To help cope with this fasting period, the bugs will form a “hunger bubble” that fills their gut.

Conflicting Reports

So with all this information available, how long can bed bugs live without feeding? The bad news is that it’s difficult to give a single solid number to answer that. There are some very old studies that people like to cite as a source, while newer studies have conflicting results.

The most common figure we see online is 18 months for an adult bed bug to live without a meal. This comes from a commonly cited source from Lister Institute entomologist A. W. Bacot’s 1914 paper, “The Influence of Temperature, Submersion and Burial on the Survival of Eggs and Larvae of Cimex lectularius“. In the paper, Bacot describes how he studied starving bed bugs in various life stages. He kept a mixed population of adult and immature bed bugs in an outhouse (not the kind you’re thinking of) for 18 months. Some bed bugs in the mix reportedly survived fasting that long, and were allowed to feed after.

Bacot’s test is later cited by C. G. Johnson in 1941. Johnson published a paper that year in Cambridge’s Journal of Hygiene. In his experiment, he allowed 51 bed bugs to feed until they reached adulthood. They were then deprived of a food source and observed. On average, these bugs died only four and a half months later. The hardiest specimen made it to six months before expiring.

Other Variables

Unfortunately, there’s more to bed bug starvation than basic timing. New strains of bed bugs may have different survival characteristics. In 2009, entomologists reported that a Virginia strain of bed bugs could only survive two months without feeding. These results also suggest that bed bugs from different strains may live shorter or longer than other bugs.

To complicate matters even further, the area temperature affects the bed bugs’ survivability. Researchers conducted a test of bed bug nymphs that were fed only once, allowing them to molt into the first instar stage. Their survival time without feeding varied drastically in different ambient temperatures.

At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the first instar nymphs lasted an average of 28 days after their meal. Turning the temperature up to 98.6 degrees dropped the average to just 17 days. For adults in the tests, the averages were 39 days at 80 degrees and only 33 days at 98.6 degrees.

Conclusion

If we were to focus our estimates on more recent studies, we could deduce that today’s bed bugs can be expected to live from two to six months without a meal. So what does all this have to do with your bed bug treatment efforts? Not a lot if you’re approaching your treatment appropriately. An effective treatment shouldn’t depend on isolating yourself from hungry bed bugs and then waiting for them to starve to death.

There is no debate about the importance of stopping bed bugs from biting you. They need to feed to reproduce, so it’s top priority that you stop that from happening as soon as possible. You also don’t want to keep itching and scratching. That’s the whole point of treating the infestation in the first place!

However, there’s more to a bed bug treatment than just cutting off their food supply. The truth is that bed bug survival time without a meal is mainly relevant only in a laboratory setting. In the real world, bed bugs will search for a meal until they find one. There isn’t a question of if they’ll starve to death, but when they’ll find a new host to feed on.

There’s also the concern of their dispersal making treatment harder. By cutting off their original path to a meal, you will likely cause the infestation to spread as they search for a new way to feed. That’s why it’s important that you cut the bed bug population down as much as possible while also preventing them from feeding. Learn how to kill bed bugs quickly and keep them from biting you with our recommended treatment solution.

FAQ: How Long can Bed Bugs Live Without a Meal?

A common issue when dealing with bed bugs is knowing when the coast is clear. If you can’t see every bed bug in the area, you can’t know when to declare victory. You may have steamed, sprayed, and encased every nook and cranny that you can reach, but you don’t know if it’s enough. Can bed bugs still reach you and your family? Are they still feeding and breeding? If not, how long can bed bugs live without a meal? Let’s talk about what it takes for bed bugs to starve to death:

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How Bed Bug Feeding Works

Before we dig into bed bug survivability, it’s important that we understand how bed bug feeding works. After a bed bug egg hatches, the nymph goes through five instar stages before it becomes an adult. While nymphs still behave and feed like an adult bed bug, they are much smaller and weaker. This has an effect on their lifespan if they are unable to feed.

In ideal conditions, a nymph will feed about once a week. With a blood meal digested, they are able to molt into the next instar stage. They need to do this six times to become sexually mature. That means that each bed bug needs to feed at least six times before it is able to reproduce.

While reports on actual timing varies quite a bit (more on that soon), data shows that younger instar nymphs starve to death faster than adults. First instar nymphs will starve 30% to 50% faster than adults in the same environment. This is yet another benefit of cutting off the bed bug population’s food supply.

Unfortunately, bed bugs are a lot better at living without food than humans and other animals are. They have evolved to enter a hibernation-like state when a food source is unavailable. To help cope with this fasting period, the bugs will form a “hunger bubble” that fills their gut.

Conflicting Reports

So with all this information available, how long can bed bugs live without feeding? The bad news is that it’s difficult to give a single solid number to answer that. There are some very old studies that people like to cite as a source, while newer studies have conflicting results.

The most common figure we see online is 18 months for an adult bed bug to live without a meal. This comes from a commonly cited source from Lister Institute entomologist A. W. Bacot’s 1914 paper, “The Influence of Temperature, Submersion and Burial on the Survival of Eggs and Larvae of Cimex lectularius“. In the paper, Bacot describes how he studied starving bed bugs in various life stages. He kept a mixed population of adult and immature bed bugs in an outhouse (not the kind you’re thinking of) for 18 months. Some bed bugs in the mix reportedly survived fasting that long, and were allowed to feed after.

Bacot’s test is later cited by C. G. Johnson in 1941. Johnson published a paper that year in Cambridge’s Journal of Hygiene. In his experiment, he allowed 51 bed bugs to feed until they reached adulthood. They were then deprived of a food source and observed. On average, these bugs died only four and a half months later. The hardiest specimen made it to six months before expiring.

Other Variables

Unfortunately, there’s more to bed bug starvation than basic timing. New strains of bed bugs may have different survival characteristics. In 2009, entomologists reported that a Virginia strain of bed bugs could only survive two months without feeding. These results also suggest that bed bugs from different strains may live shorter or longer than other bugs.

To complicate matters even further, the area temperature affects the bed bugs’ survivability. Researchers conducted a test of bed bug nymphs that were fed only once, allowing them to molt into the first instar stage. Their survival time without feeding varied drastically in different ambient temperatures.

At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the first instar nymphs lasted an average of 28 days after their meal. Turning the temperature up to 98.6 degrees dropped the average to just 17 days. For adults in the tests, the averages were 39 days at 80 degrees and only 33 days at 98.6 degrees.

Conclusion

If we were to focus our estimates on more recent studies, we could deduce that today’s bed bugs can be expected to live from two to six months without a meal. So what does all this have to do with your bed bug treatment efforts? Not a lot if you’re approaching your treatment appropriately. An effective treatment shouldn’t depend on isolating yourself from hungry bed bugs and then waiting for them to starve to death.

There is no debate about the importance of stopping bed bugs from biting you. They need to feed to reproduce, so it’s top priority that you stop that from happening as soon as possible. You also don’t want to keep itching and scratching. That’s the whole point of treating the infestation in the first place!

However, there’s more to a bed bug treatment than just cutting off their food supply. The truth is that bed bug survival time without a meal is mainly relevant only in a laboratory setting. In the real world, bed bugs will search for a meal until they find one. There isn’t a question of if they’ll starve to death, but when they’ll find a new host to feed on.

There’s also the concern of their dispersal making treatment harder. By cutting off their original path to a meal, you will likely cause the infestation to spread as they search for a new way to feed. That’s why it’s important that you cut the bed bug population down as much as possible while also preventing them from feeding. Learn how to kill bed bugs quickly and keep them from biting you with our recommended treatment solution.

bedbugsupply.com

Bed Bug Facts & Statistics

Read our Bugs Without Borders Survey below for more bed bug statistics.

The following bed bug facts and statistics are compiled from the 2018 Bugs Without Borders survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association:

  • Almost all (97 percent) pest professionals have treated bed bugs in the past year. A majority of them say that overall bed bug service work (69 percent) and the prevalence of these pests (66 percent) are increasing.
  • Bed bugs may be easily confused with other pests, as 84 percent of pest control professionals were initially contacted about a different type of pest before identifying them as bed bugs. The majority of these contacts (71 percent) were about fleas, followed by cockroaches (28 percent).
  • More than half of pest control professionals noted that they receive the most bed bug complaints during the summer, as increased travel during this time of the year may help spread bed bugs from vacation destinations to homes or even college lodgings to homes as students go on summer break.
  • The top three places where pest professionals report finding bed bugs are single-family homes (91 percent), apartments/condominiums (89 percent), and hotels/motels (68 percent). Past bed bug statistics have shown these environments to consistently be the top three where bed bugs have been encountered.
  • Bed bugs are also found seemingly everywhere else and in higher numbers, such as nursing homes (59 percent), schools and daycare centers (47 percent), offices (46 percent), college dorms (45 percent), hospitals (36 percent) and public transportation (19 percent).
  • Bites are the most commonly reported sign of an infestation (92 percent) and more than half of people reach out for treatment after discovering bites and welts on their bodies. Although some people immediately develop a skin reaction to bites, others may take two to three days before showing obvious symptoms or any symptoms at all, meaning that people could be unaware of a bed bug problem until a full-blown infestation has taken root.
  • Typically found in couches and bed frames, bed bugs can also be found in some of the most unexpected places, including stuffed animals, wheelchairs, airplanes, school buses, purses and even inside bedside lamps.
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Previous Bed Bugs in America Survey

The following bed bug statistics and facts are compiled from the NPMA’s 2011 Bed Bugs in America Survey:

  • One out of five Americans has had a bed bug infestation in their home or knows someone who has encountered bed bugs at home or in a hotel
  • Americans who have encountered bed bugs tend to be younger, live in urban areas and rent their homes. The incidence of bed bugs is three times higher in urban areas than in rural areas due to factors such as larger population size, apartment living and increased mobility, which are conducive to the rapid spread and breeding of bed bugs.
  • Bed bugs are found in all 50 states. Specifically, the pests were encountered by 17 percent of respondents in the Northeast; 20 percent in the Midwest; 20 percent in the South; and 19 percent in the West.
  • Most Americans are concerned about bed bugs and believe that infestations in the United States are increasing. Nearly 80 percent are most concerned about encountering bed bugs at hotels; 52 percent on public transportation; 49 percent in movie theaters; 44 percent in retail stores; 40 percent in medical facilities; 36 percent in their own homes; and 32 percent equally pointed to places of employment and friends’ homes. The fear of getting bitten topped the list of concerns.
  • As the public’s awareness of the bed bug resurgence grows, many Americans are modifying their behaviors to minimize their risk of an infestation: 27 percent have inspected or washed clothing upon returning from a trip; 25 percent have checked a hotel room for bed bugs; 17 percent have inspected or vacuumed a suitcase upon returning from a trip and 12 percent have altered or canceled travel plans because of concern about bed bugs.
  • Sixteen percent of survey respondents inspected second-hand furniture they have brought into their homes; 15 percent have checked dressing rooms when trying on clothing and 29 percent have washed new clothing immediately upon bringing it home from a store.
  • Of the 13 percent of respondents who said they knew someone who had a bed bug infestation in their home, 40 percent said they avoided entering the infested home and 33 percent discouraged those who had the infestation from entering their own home.
  • Despite the availability of information, most Americans still have misconceptions about bed bugs. Nearly half of respondents incorrectly believe that bed bugs transmit disease. However, research conducted to date has shown that bed bugs do not transmit disease to their human victims, although some people may experience itchy, red welts; 29 percent inaccurately believe bed bugs are more common among lower income households, and 37 percent believe bed bugs are attracted to dirty homes. Bed bugs do not discriminate in regard to household income and are found in both sanitary and unsanitary conditions.

www.pestworld.org

How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food?

Science can be frustrating. You may have been researching “how long bed bugs can survive without food” for a while now and found 63 different answers. Why are there 63 different answers? Why can’t you just get one answer and be done with this? You may read on a website that they can survive 18 months or more without food and how on Earth is that possible? Let me clarify and provide you the answer you’ve been looking for…..sort of….

The reason there are 63 different answers is because different factors and influences can change how long bed bugs can survive without food. Let’s take age for example. We know that 1st instar or “baby” bed bugs (right after they hatch out of an egg) can’t survive without food as long as adult bed bugs. Seems fairly simple and straightforward as a newborn human couldn’t survive as long as an adult without food. Activity level can also change the time it takes for bed bugs to die in the absence of food. If a bed bug is in a vacant apartment actively searching for food, they can’t survive as long as a bed bug in a jar on a scientist’s desk. As the bug in the vacant apartment wanders around looking for food, it is using energy and, therefore, will succumb sooner than the bug sitting in the jar. Again, using humans as an analogy, if someone is starving in a desert and wandering around looking for food they will succumb to the conditions sooner than if someone is stuck in a cave and can’t move around and use energy as quick as the person wandering. Make sense why there seem to be 63 different answers?

So the answer to the question depends upon why you are asking? If you have a vacant apartment that has bed bugs, and you want to know when it can be rented out, the answer is probably nine months or more. Research has found live bed bugs in vacant apartments six months after they vacated and how long they survive depends upon how active they are, the temperature in the apartment and what stresses they may have been exposed to. Because of all of these factors, there is no way to guarantee how long you should leave an apartment vacant to starve the bed bugs inside. In fact, you may be putting surrounding apartments at a higher risk as the bugs in the infested, vacant apartment are probably going to search for food, and that may increase the chance that a surrounding apartment becomes infested.

In a similar scenario, I have found live bed bugs in summer camps ten months after they were vacated. The difference in this setting is that the cabins were not heated over the winter, and the cold temperatures assisted the bed bugs in surviving longer than normal. How long could they have survived? The world may never know….

Lastly, many ask this question because they have personal belongings they want to seal in bags or in storage and want to know how long they have to leave the items before they can use them again. Unfortunately, this may be the toughest question to answer. You can find reports online that state people have observed bed bugs surviving 18 months or more when placed inside a jar and left in storage. To be honest, 18 months seems a bit long to me but bugs inside a container or bag and unable to search for food could probably survive 9-12 months or maybe much more. A good recommendation for this scenario is to add stresses to the setting to make the situation as difficult as possible on the bugs. Increasing the temperature, adding pesticidal dusts when possible (by label directions) and other treatment options can increase the stress on bed bugs in these situations and decrease the time they can survive.

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So the answer to the question is…….don’t rely on starving bed bugs as a treatment option. Too many factors can influence how long they can survive and unless you can survive without an item for 12-18 months or more I would recommend finding a way a way to treat the item.

www.bedbugcentral.com

How Can You Tell the Severity of a Bed Bug Infestation?

By Chris Williams on April 29, 2015.

Bed bug exuviae (shed skins)

A concerned property owner in Rochester, New Hampshire recently asked me if I could tell how long bed bugs had been in an apartment. With legislation in place regarding bed bug infestation and the responsibility of property owners, his concerns were justifiable. New Hampshire now mandates that bed bug or other infestations are the responsibility of the property owner, regardless of the cause of infestation. Fleas may be the only exception to this rule, as pet activity associated with a tenant may directly cause the infestation.

Cockroaches, bed bugs, ants, rodents, fleas, and wasps are the main problems that property owners and property management run into at typical apartment settings. Fleas from a previous tenant will also be covered by this legislation. Now the burden lies on the property owner to provide a pest free living space to all occupants.

As a rule, early detection of a pest problem can lead to an early solution. Problems develop over time, so early detection is critical. This may not be possible, as tenants may not report an issue until it is beyond a quick fix. Non-notification of pest problems may be due to many reasons that I will not go into here. Frequent property inspections and good tenant relations can go a long way in pest prevention.

Documentation of any complaints is critical. Thorough inspection with photos to document the conditions before and after renting an apartment or property will be very helpful to all parties. Always use a Pest Control Professional when dealing with pest issues to avoid potential mistreatment or poisoning.

In the following sections, I will try to describe the different levels of bed bug infestation, divided into three categories: Light, Moderate, and Heavy.

Light Bed Bug Infestation

  • New infestation, just arrived. It takes 45-60 days from egg to mated adult (1-2 months)
  • Few sightings and blood stains noted if any, 1-2 caught as specimens for identification, minimal irritation from bites. Adult bed bugs are tan to dark reddish brown, flattened, compact insects about 5-6mm long; juveniles are much smaller and are clear with a red or black dot after feeding. Both adults and juveniles are visible.
  • Minimal fecal staining (small black stains in areas of travel, feeding, and harborage). Fecal stains will be anywhere the bed bugs hide or travel and can be used to detect hot spots.
  • Minimal cast skins (exuviae are the skins shed during the molting process). These small translucent to tan shells can be found near harborage sites, in dust, or in webs. Each bed bug will produce five cast skins during its 100-day juvenile stage.
  • Few if any visible eggs. Eggs are laid in clusters near harborage sites and along feeding routes. Eggs look like small white dots or lines glued to surfaces near the host. Females may lay 3 eggs a day if continuous feeding is available, laying over 300 eggs during her 10-11 month lifetime.
  • Only 1 or 2 areas of suspect activity noted. Bed bug infestations usually starts in one or two “hot spots” of the home or apartment, then spread as the population increases. Natural migration by females to new areas and spreading through movement of personal items allows bed bugs to find new areas to infest.

Moderate Bed Bug Infestation

  • Established Infestation (4-8 months since initial arrival of bed bugs)
  • Many live adults and nymphs noted (bloodstains on walls and mattresses, live insects engorged with blood on mattresses, furniture, walls, under carpets, etc.)
  • Visible fecal stains present in multiple areas (staining on mattress, sheets, pillows, bed frames, bedside tables, dressers, books, walls, baseboards, curtains, chairs, couches, behind pictures, under and on carpets, etc.)
  • Many cast skins (on floors, in webs, under carpets, in dressers, along with dead bed bugs, and bed bugs caught by spiders). By now, there should be hundreds of exuviae.
  • Many hot spots (beds and sleeping areas, couches, corners, most furniture has staining and live insects present, all rooms including bathroom may have live bed bugs on walls and ceilings, as well as under carpets near sleeping areas and feeding routes). The bed bug population has spread out from initial hot spots to locations throughout the apartment/home and now pose a threat to neighboring units above, below, and to sides.

Heavy Bed Bug Infestation

  • Heavy infestations take 6 months to 1 year to develop. Bed bugs mature relatively slowly; at a certain threshold, multiple overlapping generations are produced and the population will explode if conditions permit.
  • Countless adults and nymphs present (Adults walking on walls, clustered in cracks on walls, stained curtains, etc. Dead bed bugs and blood stains on sheets, mattresses, walls, bed frames, on/under carpets, moldings, under tiles, almost every where they can hide and get to a host).
  • Heavy fecal staining. This thick blood byproduct becomes like black paint in areas of high bed bug density and traffic. As they move to and from the human host, fecal droplets fall off the backside of the bed bug. Densely populated harborage sites also contain heavy fecal staining. Over time, it becomes thick and even has a semi-sweet, bug smell for aggregation. It is a bad infestation if you can smell this odor. Heavily stained mattresses, box springs, carpets, and other fabric items may need to be discarded or deep cleaned to remove the organic material. Walls, ceilings, and floors will also need attention once the infestation has been taken care of, and certainly prior to rental.
  • Cast skins are all over the place. Multiple overlapping generations have produced thousands of exuviae, especially in harborage sites. Heavy infestations create so many exuviae that they will be readily evident upon inspection of areas near sleeping areas.
  • Eggs and hatched eggs are visible (along seams, edges of molding, mattress tufts, in couches, dressers, tables, carpet edges, all around hotspots).
  • The population is now only limited by access to the host (tenants).
  • Heavy infestations can populate entire structures. Due to natural movement from overcrowding as well as transport of personal items, bed bugs can spread to previously uninfested dwellings. Wall voids, pipe chases, electrical apertures, and other hidden conduits may contain adult bed bugs, which can live over 1 year if no host is present, and actively seek a new host.

Bed bugs are no joke, they are real, and can cause serious problems if left untreated. If you suspect bed bugs, call Colonial Pest Control at 1-800-525-8084.

www.colonialpest.com

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