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.]

18 thoughts on “A Plague of Bed Bugs”

  1. Pingback: Alex Wild’s bed bug photos

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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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