What Makes Bed Bugs so Tough to Kill?

Bed bugs are, unfortunately, some of the most resilient household pests, up there with cockroaches and termites in terms of their ability to breed and survive in the most hostile conditions. For millennia people have searched for ways to rid their homes of bed bugs, trying everything from smoking them out to stuffing the mattress with poisonous leaves. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that effective pesticides were developed and virtually cleansed the developed world of bed bugs. However, many of the pesticides that were effective back then have since been banned due to their toxicity to humans, and new ones have been hard to come by.

Because the developed world spent several decades living bed bug free, most modern pesticides are ineffective against them. While there are a few pest control methods that work against bed bugs (most notably pyrethroids), recent reports indicate they might be becoming resistant to these modern poisons. So, bed bug infestations are on the rise all over the US, and they are getting harder and harder to kill. But what makes bed bugs so hard to get rid of? There are actually a number of reasons – bed bugs possess several traits that each help them survive tough conditions, and combined together make them extremely robust.

They can hide anywhere and survive up to a year

One of the main ways bed bugs traveled the world was hiding in wood – most famously, many London residents blamed the importation of wood used to rebuild after the fire of London in 1666 for their bed bug infestations, which started soon after. This is highly likely as bed bugs are known to be able to survive up to a year without food (mammal’s blood), and can squeeze themselves into any tiny space to hide (such as the uneven surface of wood). So, while you may be aiming your bed bug control efforts at areas near your bed, you may find that there are a few left hiding behind your light fixtures, or inside your electrical items, or virtually anywhere in your house. And a few is all that is needed for an infestation, due to their ability to breed.

They can breed easily and in huge numbers

Female bed bugs can lay over 300 eggs in their lifetimes, and there can be up to four generations of bed bugs produced each year. Unfortunately, the optimum temperature for bed bugs to start breeding is closely matched to the temperature of many houses (72 to 82 degrees F), although they can still breed effectively in highly varied temperatures if they have to. They are also one of the few animals that can mate with close family members without the offspring experiencing any negative effects. Altogether, this means that even if there are even two bed bug eggs remaining hidden after your pest control efforts, there could easily be thousands by next year.

What can be done about them?

While it is possible to get rid of a bed bug infestation using a pest control agency (although expensive and time consuming), prevention is a much better way to go. Because bed bugs have not been a problem for the past few decades, preventative methods have been largely forgotten – allowing this decade’s recent bed bug infestations to spread rapidly.

The first thing to remember is that bed bugs don’t travel on people like tics and lice do – they rarely stay on people’s bodies for more than 10 minutes – instead they travel on furniture and other household items. The best preventive measure is to simply be very careful about what second-hand items you bring into your home (and items you have been recently traveling with), making sure you fumigate anything that could possibly harbor these bugs. Becoming aware of what the early signs of a bed bug infestation look like can help as well. In the early stages an infestation is far easier to get rid of than an established group.