Myrmecos

A Plague of Bed Bugs

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Cimex lectularius - the common bedbug

Bed bugs are back.  The resurgence of these blood-feeding pests is perhaps the biggest entomological story of the past decade.  Take a look, for instance, at the Google search volume for “bed bugs” over the past few years:

Google Trends shows an increase in bed bug interest relative to other pests, 2004-2009

Google Trends shows an increase in bed bug interest relative to other pests, 2004-2009

Why am I telling you all of this?

I’ve just posted a new online bed bug photo gallery.  I was fortunate to get my hands on a vial of live bed bugs recently, and it turns out that the little guys are excellent entomological models. Cute, cuddly, and willing to work with feed from the photographer.  I’ve posted some of the shots below, and the full series is at alexanderwild.com.

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Portrait of an adult bed bug.

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Bed bugs have mouthparts of the piercing/sucking kind. Think of a razor-tipped straw. Here, a bug shows how the labium folds back on itself to give the stylets deeper access to the host.

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A trio of bugs hiding in the sheets.

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A younger bed bug (called a "nymph"), probes about for a good place to feed.

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Close-up of an adult bedbug.

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The flattened shape of bed bugs helps them hide in tight crevices during the day.

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Bed bugs are bigger than many people think: adults can reach 5-6 mm in length and are about the same size and color as an apple seed. Here, a bug navigates a rather hairy host.

Additional bed bug links:

[An aside to friends and family having second thoughts about visiting the myrmecos household after reading this post: Let me reassure you that these images were NOT taken anywhere near home.  The bugs were photographed in a controlled lab environment, and each individual was accounted for and pickled in ethanol following the photo session.]

Comments

  1. #1 Dave General
    September 17, 2009

    I noticed that your adult bedbug hasn’t had a blood meal. It would be cool if you took a backlit image of one that had just fed.

  2. #2 myrmecos
    September 17, 2009

    Yeah, I agree. That’s one of those great ideas that comes up *after* I’ve already pickled the specimens.

  3. #3 nobugsonme
    September 18, 2009

    Really amazing photos!

    Thanks for linking to Bedbugger also!

  4. #4 Dave Ingram
    September 18, 2009

    Fantastic blog Alex – enjoyed the article and the photographs were stunning.

  5. #5 Tim Eisele
    September 18, 2009

    I’m just guessing here, but given the excellence of the pictures, coupled with the sort of things that people do searches for, I suspect that you may have just written what will become your Most Popular Blog Posting Ever.

  6. #6 Dave
    September 18, 2009

    Hi Alex,

    Great pictures as usual, and I guess letting a bedbug from a lab colony feed on you for the purposes of art isn’t as creepy as it first seems. Last I read bedbugs were not considered important vectors in the field (or rather, in the habitation), but in lab tests they have the capability to transfer some nasty pathogens, so letting wild-caught bedbugs feed on you isn’t the best idea in the world.

    When I took Insect Taxonomy thirty years ago or so, bedbugs were impossible to find – even in flop house mattresses. I had to make do with a batbug for my collection. Now it seems it is the rare dormitory that doesn’t have them. I think I prefer the old days in this instance.

  7. #7 jason
    September 18, 2009

    Fascinating… Beautiful and intriguing images, although I’m not sure I share your enthusiasm for letting them nibble your tender bits during the photo session. Yet I have to admit that made for some fantastic views!

  8. #8 Ted
    September 18, 2009

    There was a article published recently about a study conducted by UMAS, that Bed Bugs have developed resistant to pesticides commonly used by Pest Control Operators and Exterminators. More info please login here http://www.xerobugs.wordpress.com

  9. #9 Ant
    September 19, 2009

    [itches]

  10. #10 Jack Jumper
    September 19, 2009

    I glad you put that disclaimer in a bit worrying Alex.

  11. #11 bedbugsnorthwest
    September 22, 2009

    Thanks for the great/creepy photos. I’d like to post a link from my blog http://bedbugsnorthwest.wordpress.com/.

    The Great Northwest is having it’s own little epidemic, but folks aren’t quite talking about it yet. Soon!

    Tarra Byte

  12. #12 JerryCS
    September 23, 2009

    Alex; Looks like you were down nose to nose with these bugs.

  13. #13 Jimmy
    September 25, 2009

    Very nice photos!

    It’s much better when you can take them voluntarily out of a vial rather than steal yourself for taking scans or photos of them while you are infested.

  14. #14 bug_girl
    September 29, 2009

    Oh, I really like the use of the google traffic data to make your point. Great idea! (and great shots, but that goes without saying :)

  15. #15 monsun
    October 10, 2009

    Nice photos and beautiful detail, what kind of camera do you have?

    Just a hint, they like to feed at dawn.

    If you let them bite you, it may cause a reaction causing welts and the scratching may become unbearable. One lady in New York had to be hospitalized due to the reaction.

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