Where Do Bedbugs Come From?

Bedbugs don't limit themselves to hanging out in beds. 7th Son Studio/Shutterstock

Bedbugs make me positively nauseous. I shudder just thinking about them. Bedbugs are my biggest fear about staying in hotels — so much so, in fact, that though I once used to enjoy sleeping in a luxurious hotel bed, I now avoid it whenever possible. For a while, I used to check this site before booking a hotel stay. Now I just don’t book a hotel stay at all. Just the very thought of those creepy-crawlies feasting on my blood while I sleep makes me never want to sleep anywhere but my own house again. But I will put my feelings aside for the sake of this article.

Bedbugs, tiny round copper-colored critters, feast on the blood of animals and humans (Interesting to note — they turn bright red while they are eating you). Once thought to have medicinal properties, bedbugs have been documented as early as the first century. Originating in tropical climates, bedbugs are excellent hitchhikers, stowing away in luggage, handbags or clothes, and can now be found almost everywhere in the world. Another reason that bedbugs are such good travelers? Though they prefer to go about a week between meals, they can actually go up to a year without eating.

They are called bedbugs because that is where they most often feed on their host, live and lay their eggs. Though it is common to find bedbugs in your bed, don’t let their name fool you. You can also find bedbugs almost anywhere in your home — in furniture, cracks in the walls, and ceiling holes.

A long-lasting history

bedbug on body
Bedbugs can be found almost everywhere in the world. Pavel Krasensky/Shutterstock

Bedbugs have been around nearly forever. When the asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, it didn't do a thing to bedbugs, according to a 2019 DNA analysis of 30 species of the tiny critters. U.K. researchers found that bedbugs have been around for at least 115 million years.

Bedbugs were almost wiped out in the United States in the 1940s with the widespread use of DDT on everything from mattresses to floors, but were never eradicated completely. Though they’ve been bothering Americans for years, bedbugs have recently made a comeback in the United States (kind of like wedge sandals, but not as cute). Why? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) credits the bedbug resurgence to an increase in domestic and international travel, as well as the bedbugs’ developed resistance to a variety of pesticides.

Another possible reason for their newfound proliferation? The fact that they like to mate with close relatives, even their own mothers. A study by entomologists at North Carolina State University showed that entire infestations of bedbugs can be started by just one or two founder insects. Most insects can’t withstand such close inbreeding, since as in humans, it can lead to genetic deformities. Bedbugs, like cockroaches, can.

Bedbugs are so hard to get rid of, in fact, that a bedbug conference was held in Chicago for entrepreneurs trying to launch the best way to rid a space of bedbugs. Some products bake the bedbugs, while other freeze them. While those gathered may have differed on the best approach to eradicate the bedbugs, they all agreed on one thing — bedbugs are here to stay and are not going to be eradicated.