How long do bed bugs live?
They’re bed bugs. If they live even one day in your house, they’ve lived way too long already, right?
Seriously though, this is a good question. And when you combine the lifespan of the bed bug with the bed bug lifecycle, it can raise some unhappy implications about how quickly a bed bug infestation can spread. So let’s talk about the bed bug life cycle. The more you know about the little pests, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with them.
How long can bed bugs live in a room?
Before we talk about their lifecycle, the answer to the question “how long do bed bugs live?” is frustrating: it depends. It depends on when they last ate a blood meal, it depends on whether the bug is an adult or juvenile, it depends on the temperature of the habitat they’re living in and it even depends on how humid their habitat is.
In one laboratory study, mature bed bugs had a lifespan of almost one year. That may not sound impressive to you but, in the insect world, a year is actually quite a long life. Keep in mind that this is in a laboratory setting where most natural hazards were eliminated and the bugs were given the necessary elements of survival.
In the rustic wilderness of your bedroom on the other hand, the life cycle of a bed bug is a lot shorter.
It’s hard to come up with an average because the bugs are going to have conditions that vary wildly from house to house and region to region but the consensus is that the average lifetime of a bed bug is considerably less than one year in the wild. That being said, bed bugs don’t have to live that long to turn a small infestation into a big one.
Bed bug life cycle
As with all living things, bed bugs are not born mature adults. They go through different stages of maturation over the course of their lives.
The beginning of life: egg
Like all insects, bed bugs hatch from eggs. A bed bug egg is small, pearly white in color and has about the same shape as a grain of rice, just much smaller. While they can be seen with the naked eye, they are very easy to miss unless you know what you are looking for and are looking in the right place. You’ll usually find eggs in the same nesting region as adults and nymphs.
Growing Pains: The nymph cycles
When bed bugs are hatched, they start a process of growing, molting and growing again until they reach maturity. Bed bugs go through five nymph cycles until they reach adulthood.
During these cycles, called the nymph stage, the juvenile bed bug very much resembles a mature one, just smaller. A juvenile bed bug also has a slightly different color. Whereas adult bed bugs are reddish-brown, almost rust-like color, nymphs are more on the yellow side.
It is important to note that bed bugs become capable of taking blood meals almost as soon as they are hatched. In fact, a nymph requires a blood meal at each of their five nymph cycles to grow and molt. This means that any of the little pests who survive to maturity will feed on you, a family member, pet or other household mammal five times.
At a comfortable room temperature for humans, bed bugs can complete the process in as little as five weeks. Once adults, they’ll continue feeding until they die.
Adulthood: Eating food and reproducing
Once bed bugs reach adulthood, they will eat a blood meal about once a week if a food source is available. Note that the population of bed bugs in an infested room or building doesn’t necessarily eat at the same time. If you’re seeing bed bug bites on your body every day, you probably aren’t being fed upon by the same bugs. It’s most likely that different bugs are taking staggered blood meals. In other words, there isn’t a correlation between the number of bites you have and the number of bugs you’re living with.
(Important aside: even if no food source is available, bed bugs can still live quite a long time! As long as the temperatures and other atmospheric conditions are right for them, they can live several weeks and even up to one year without a blood meal.)
In order to reproduce a female bed bug will need to eat a blood meal. Once a female bed bug eats a blood meal, she can lay eggs completing the life cycle. Like their eating habits, bed bug females stagger their egg laying cycles so in a large enough population, there will be new eggs being laid and hatching every day.
Female bed bugs can lay as many as 120 eggs during her lifetime. Remember at the beginning when we were making unhappy implications about long lives and growing infestations? This is what we were driving at. Obviously, a female bed bug that is killed early in her life will produce fewer new bed bugs. On the other hand, a female bed bug that lives her whole natural life can reproduce many, many times.
If you have an infestation with several female bed bugs living several months to a year and reproducing 120 times each? That is explosive, exponential growth.
How do bed bugs spread?
Like any other species, once a bed bug population gets large enough, it will start to spread out. Bed bugs are well-traveled. They get around by stowing away on just about anything including people’s luggage or even their clothing.
If you stay in a place with an infestation, even a small one, there is a good chance that you’ll be leaving with a new insect companion or two. Or ten.
Culling the herd
In a previous entry, we talked about how to get rid of bed bugs. We won’t rehash that here and we invite you to read that post if you haven’t done so but we will say this: if you have bed bugs, we have solutions to help you get rid of them. Whether you want to try a DIY approach or prefer to have a trained, pest control professional assess and address the situation we have a solution to help make your home pest free.