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How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food?

Bed bugs are very resilient creatures. They can live in a varied range of temperatures from the very cold to the very hot. They move quickly, mostly come out at night and they are flat shaped at the top which makes it easier to hide in crevices.

They are also very good at surviving without feeding. Many people wonder how long can bed bugs live without food? The answer may surprise you!

A full-grown bed bug can survive without feeding for up to a year. This makes it very difficult to get rid of them. They could be hiding in your attic, inside walls or under the bed, waiting for an opportunity to feed and quickly disappear without a trace.

Where Do Bed Bugs Live?

No matter where you live in the world, you are likely to find bed bugs somewhere close to your home. The creatures are very adaptable to temperature. They have been found in the coldest winters of Canada to the hottest summers of India and the Middle East.

The creatures can hide inside luggage, bags, and even clothing, making their way from place to place. Bed bugs breed quickly and they can start an infestation within a couple of months. This makes the bugs a very serious threat, especially in urban cities.

In most cases, bed bugs infest carpets and furniture without your knowledge. They always live in colonies. If you discover one or two in your home, there is a good chance that there are more.

Bed Bug Feeding Cycle

Bed bugs don’t feed on organic waste or food crumbs like most other home insects. Their mouths are shaped to only feed on blood. They can’t process the blood of other mammals and only feed on human blood.

That means if they are infesting your home, you and other members of the household are their primary source of food.

There is a general misconception about bed bug feeding times and many believe that the insects only come out to feed at night. While bed bugs are nocturnal creatures, they can go out to feed whenever they are hungry.

Many people who discover bed bugs in their homes try to starve them to death by limiting the bugs’ access to food. They get special beds and furniture to keep them away. Some people lock their homes and move out for a couple of weeks hoping that the bed bugs would die without food.

This doesn’t work. Research has shown that a full-grown bed bug can live up to 400 days without feeding. Since their mouths are not designed to eat anything else, this long durations without feeding seems hard to believe but it’s true.

Factors that Affect Bed Bug Survival without Food

There are several factors that determine how long bed bugs survive without food. The first one is the age of the bug.

The most obvious factor is the age of the insect. A bed bug lifecycle consists of five stages from new hatchling to a full-grown adult. The bug must feed at least once during each stage before it can molt and grow to the next stage of life. If a bed bug doesn’t feed for a couple of weeks during each stage of growth, it can die.

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The duration they can survive without feeding increases during each stage of life. Once they develop into full adults, they can survive for up to a year without feeding. One study even revealed that adult bed bugs can live for up to 18 months without feeding, as long as other living conditions are optimal.

Another factor that affects their survival is the bugs’ habitat and activity levels. Bed bugs that create a colony closer to bed or other furniture have to travel less to search for food. If the bugs don’t have to move too far, they can live longer without food. Bugs that need to travel longer to feed will need to get a bit more often.

The temperature also matters. In cold living conditions, bed bugs use less energy and remain dormant. In hot temperatures, their body consumes more energy and they must feed more often to stay alive.

There was a detailed study of bed bugs in 2009. Entomologists examined a variety of bed bug nymphs that were fed only once and allowed them to develop into the first instar stage. The bugs were not given any subsequent feeding. Their survival time at different temperatures varied significantly.

Researchers discovered that at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, bed bugs in their first instar-nymph stage lasted about 28 days on average. Bugs that were kept at a temperature of 98.6 degrees only lasted for an average of 17 days.

How Often Do Bed Bugs Feed?

People living with a bed bug infestation get bitten almost daily. They wrongly assume that the same bugs are feeding on them and removing access to food for the bugs, even for a few days, will help them get rid of the pests.

This is not true. An average adult bed bug only needs to feed once every ten or twelve days to stay functional. A nymph feeds once every week in order to molt and grow to the next stage. If you are getting bitten every day, then you probably have a sizable bugs’ infestation on your hands.

Growing bed bug nymphs generally take about 2 – 5 minutes to feed. Larger adults require more blood and may take up to 10 minutes to feed. The bug’s feeder is very small and the bite is generally sting-free.

Most people do not feel anything while the bug is feeding and the stinging sensation only registers a few minutes after the bed bug is finished. More sensitive people will have a greater reaction to the bite than others.

A nymph can suck all the blood it needs with a single bite while an adult usually needs to bite multiple times to get all the blood it requires. This is why you will see a trail of tiny bumps on the skin after a bed bug has fed on your arm, legs, or torso. Adult female bed bugs need to feed more often than male bugs because they lay eggs daily.

Generally, the bug is flat shaped. However, it becomes rounded and appears like a reddish, black bead after it has fed.

Bed Bug Population Growth

Bed bugs don’t grow as quickly as some of the other pests. An adult female bed bug lays one egg each day. It takes 10 days for the egg to hatch and takes another five to six weeks for the bugs to grow into full adults.

In comparison, a common housefly lays about five hundred eggs in three to four days. Female mosquitoes also lay dozens of eggs every day.

What makes bed bugs more dangerous is that they grow their numbers very quietly. You won’t even discover you have a problem until the colony becomes too big to control. A single female bed bug introduced into a house can grow into a colony of thousands of bugs within three months.

You may not be able to get rid of bed bugs completely even if you can somehow stop them from feeding. However, limiting their access to blood does reduce the spread of their infestation.

Newly hatched bugs and nymphs need to feed at least once a week to grow into the next stage. If these bugs don’t feed in time, they die and the colony eventually fails.

Female bed bugs that don’t feed also stop laying eggs after a couple of weeks without feeding.

Cleanliness Does Not Affect Bed Bug Growth but It Can Help In Early Detection

Bed bugs do not consume organic matter in dust or food crumbs. Even if you have the cleanest, sparkling home in the neighborhood, you can still get an infestation of bed bugs.

The amount of clutter in your home does make a difference, however. If you have a lot of furniture, carpets, wardrobes, or other areas where the bugs can hide and lay eggs while out of sight, you are more likely to develop a bed bug problem. If you clean them regularly, you are more likely to discover the problem sooner and take steps to correct it.

Conclusion

Research shows that the number of bed bug infestations is increasing due to rapid urbanization in large cities. Big cities have smaller houses and condos that are often close together which allow bed bugs to spread from place to place.

Bed bugs are also good at hiding within luggage and furniture. They can make their way inside your home and start spreading out of sight while only taking an occasional meal. Most people only realize that they have bed bugs when the insects have already grown to a dozen or more.

Limiting the bugs’ access to food can be useful in limiting growth. However, it is not guaranteed to eliminate them as a single adult bed bug can survive for months, even a year without feeding.