Bed Bug Life Cycle A Guide to All Stages | PestSeek

Post date: January 13th, 2019

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Bed bugs, like most insects, have a complex life cycle with multiple stages. They begin their lives in an immature form and physically change in appearance and size as they grow. The life cycle of a bed bug is longer than most other parasites, which allows them to reproduce at alarming rates in great volumes.

Understanding how these pests grow and produce offspring can give us valuable insight into how severe an infestation is and how far along it is.


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As I’ve, the life cycle of a bed bug is similar to most insects and arthropods in general for that matter. They begin life as an egg laid by a female and grow to adults by passing through distinct life stages. During each of these life stages, their appearance and behavior change slightly until they reach adulthood.

Unlike mammals, birds, and even some species of reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates, bed bugs do not care for their offspring once the eggs have been lain. Their life cycle does not include a nurturing phase, so the bug is independent from birth. This lack of care increases the bed bugs’ mortality rate but allows for a single female to create a vast number of offspring relatively quickly.

A bed bug will hatch from its egg as a nymph. A nymph is an immature insect that closely resembles the adult form of its species. The nymph gradually undergoes a metamorphosis into its adult form by molting its exoskeleton. The nymph must go through several nymph stages, growing larger with every molting. Each stage lasts approximately a week. Nymphs are different from larvae, which are vastly different in their immature stage, and undergo radical metamorphosis into its adult form.

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A baby bed bugs, also known as an instar, can feed on blood immediately. It is smaller but no less dangerous than an adult. However, it cannot reproduce until (relatively) much later in its lifespan. It is similar to human children. They go through a younger version of adults until they reach an age at which they can reproduce.

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The adult stage of the bed bug is the longest, just like with mammals. Unlike butterflies or moths that are sexually active for brief periods of time, bed bugs continue to mate and produce offspring for a majority of their lifespan. The eggs that the females lay hatch and the cycle begins again.

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The insect world is enormous and varied in its species. Insects have their unique life cycles and stages within that cycle. The bed bug has seven distinct stages in its life.

CC Image courtesy ofBritish Pest Control Association

At each stage of the bed bug life cycle, the insect’s appearance is distinct and differentiated from the other stages. Close inspection can reveal what stage the bug is at in its lifespan.

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Bed bugs mate through an appropriately named procedure called traumatic insemination. The male bed bug, instead of going through the females sex organs, inserts its hypodermic penis into the abdomen of the female and ejaculates sperm into her body cavity.

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The sperm makes its way to the eggs within the female eventually, at which point the female is ready to lay fertilized eggs. She will arrange them together in a small group or simply lay them as she moves about her business.

Because the action is so traumatic, females require an extended recovery period before they can mate again. Each subsequent mating produces fewer eggs because the damage caused by mating never truly heals. Despite this, females can mate several times over the course of their lives.

Unfortunately for humans, bed bugs are mostly unaffected by inbreeding and incest. A female can mate with her male offspring and vice versa with virtually no complications. This resistance means that a single fertilized female can cause an entire infestation all on her own.

A female bed bug can lay 1-7 eggs a day for ten days after feeding. She can produce 5-20 eggs after one full meal. She is dependent upon sperm, however, and must mate again if she runs out. She can do this several times in her lifespan.

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Over the course of her entire life, a female bed bug can lay over 100 eggs. The eggs are split more or less down the middle by gender, meaning there are just as many females as there are males. Since these offspring can mate with each other with little consequences, each female can lay 100 eggs of her own and the females she creates can do the same and so on, causing an exponential growth in population.

Bed bugs enjoy a high success rate when it comes to eggs. Under the right temperature conditions, around 97% of the eggs will hatch. Higher temperatures and increased humidity positively affect the hatch rate as well as the lifespan and health of the bugs overall.

Bed bugs lay their eggs in and around the same area where they live. The female may even lay eggs as she moves from one place to another; leaving eggs on carpets and bed sheets, exposed and in the open. Most often, though, she will lay them in her shelter.

Bed bugs are nocturnal, hiding during the daylight hours to avoid being killed. The find shelter in the seams of mattresses, or in other creases and folds in fabrics. These enclosed spaces raise the ambient temperature and humidity, creating a favorable microclimate. That is where most eggs can be found. Wherever bed bugs hide, the eggs will not be far.

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Bed bugs do not live in hair on the human body, so this isn’t something you need to worry about.

The length of a bed bugs life is largely dependent on its access to food and the temperature and humidity of its environment. As stated above, higher temperatures in excess of 70 F and high humidity will help them to produce more offspring. These higher temperatures will increase bed bug activity, but they wont necessarily prolong their lives. Temperatures over 100 F prove to be too hot and cause lower life expectancy and fertility.

Bed Bugs collect moisture through their food and by breathing it in through their skin. More moisture in the air means more for them to drink. Colder temperatures and drier climates have an adverse effect on bed bug activity, but it also makes them live longer. Since they spend most of their time resting, their lives grow longer.

Since each nymph stage lasts about a week, an egg can reach maturity in about 37 weeks. From there, the bed bug can live in its adult stage for up to a year before it dies of old age. Depending on conditions and availability of food, a bed bug can live for anywhere from six months up to slightly over a year.

The upper limit of a year lifespan has only been observed in a laboratory. We can reasonably assume that bed bugs in “the wild” have drastically reduced lifespans stemming from human actions, non-optimal conditions and food scarcity. Without action, however, bedbugs will continue to reproduce and persist. Bed bugs likely live at least a few months in non-laboratory conditions; more than long enough to reach sexual maturity.

Bed bugs have quite a long life cycle and lifespan in comparison to similar blood-sucking parasites. This prolonged life makes them especially difficult to eradicate completely. It takes a bed bug around five weeks to go through each of its adolescent nymph stages and reach sexual maturity. Once it is an adult, however, it can continue to reproduce, even through incest, for months. Their highly evolved physiology makes them a threat not to be taken lightly.

Bed Bug Life Cycle A Guide to All Stages | PestSeek

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