What Do Bed Bugs Eat?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: October 12, 2022
© iStock.com/Matteo Lanciano
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If you wake up in the morning and feel itchy in areas such as your hands, ankles, neck, face, arms, or abdomen, and you notice that the bites do not have a red spot on the center like most insect bites, then you might be having a bed bug infestation. Bed bugs are tiny (about 7 millimeters) insects that live along cracks and crevices inside homes. Like most bugs and fleas, they bite, but their bite is far itchier than the others, and they are obviously much harder to remove.

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Bed bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of once they have started infesting an area. Most bed bug treatments are done with professional help especially when the infestation is bad. And what makes it worse is that bed bugs can also easily be carried through infested mattresses or even on comforters and pillows that are left unchecked. Most people believe that bed bugs can appear due to poor hygiene, but this isn’t exactly the case.

Bed bugs can appear randomly on any home when they hitch rides on furniture, clothing, backpacks, or even suitcases. Bed bugs bite humans in their sleep to suck blood, but what other food do bed bugs like to eat?

What Do Bed Bugs Eat?

What Do Bed Bugs Eat
Bed bugs are known to actively and directly suck blood from their hosts’ bodies.

©A-Z-Animals.com

Bed bugs are well-known to eat human blood, thus the notorious bed bug bites. However, bed bugs also feed on other warm-blooded animals such as cats, dogs, rodents, birds, and even bats.

Parasites can fall into two categories –those who actively and directly suck nutrients from their hosts’ bodies, and those who feed on their hosts’ leftovers. Cockroaches are a great example of the second type of parasite. Bed bugs, however, fall under the first category without a doubt.

There are around 90 species of bed bugs on the planet. All of these species love the taste of blood and depend on it to live, yet fortunately for us, only three of them prefer sucking human blood. The rest of the species prefer the blood of other mammals such as bats. For some species, specific mammal blood helps them lay healthy eggs. There are species of bed bugs who will feast on any type of blood though, depending on what is easily available to them. 

How Do Bed Bugs Eat?

Types of bed bugs - Cimex hemipterus
With the help of their straw-like suckers, bed bugs suck blood from their hosts.

©7th Son Studio/Shutterstock.com

Bed bugs do not have mouths. They have straw-like suckers to help them suck blood from their hosts. Bed bugs also do not have any tongue or teeth to chew food, so the only choice they have for food is blood. They are equipped with a sharp and elongated beak or proboscis which they insert into the human or mammal’s skin. They feed on their hosts for about 10 minutes, and the amount of blood taken in such feeding is enough to last them for days. 

These wingless insects are naturally reddish-brown in color with short, golden hairs, but as they fill themselves with blood, their bodies become redder and redder.

What Do Different Types of Bed Bugs Eat?

Of the 90 different types of bed bugs around, only three of them prefer human blood. However, that doesn’t mean that the remaining 87 species won’t touch blood. All bed bugs have the same mouth anatomy, which means all bed bugs feed only on blood. The only difference in their preferences is the host they love to feed on.

The three species of bed bugs that typically infest homes and feed on human blood are Cimex lectularius, which are the common bed bugs, Cimex hemipterus, which are the tropical bed bugs, and Leptocimex boueti.

As a European or American resident, you need to be careful about C. lectularius and C. hemipterus. For these species, human blood is the main energy source, and what’s more frightening is that they like to live in carpets, sofas, mattresses, or even behind heavy furniture and wallpapers. As they live inside houses, feed on human blood, and get necessary nutrients from their hosts’ bodies, they are able to mate, breed, and lay eggs. 

L. boueti, on the other hand, can be found in South American and West African regions.  L. boueti might feed on people, but they are more interested in the blood of bats. So these bugs are mostly seen in residential areas where bat populations are within proximity.

Do Bed Bugs Eat Each Other?

There are bed bugs who survive in abandoned houses for years, which means they wouldn’t have any host to feed on. But that doesn’t mean that bed bugs feed on each other. Since the populations of bed bugs are not decreasing, it is a sign that these creepy crawlies are not cannibals, because if they are, they will be placing their mating numbers in jeopardy and their species might eventually die out.

Contrary to what many people assume, bed bugs do not suck insect blood as well. In fact, insects do not have blood, they are filled with a liquid component called hemolymph that circulates throughout their body.

Are Bed Bug Bites Harmful to Humans?

bed bug bites
Bed bug bites sometimes cause allergic reactions which in turn may cause hives and severe itching.

©OttoPles/Shutterstock.com

Unlike mosquitoes who spread deadly diseases, the only harmful effects of bed bug bites are continuous itching and sometimes allergic reactions which may cause fever, hives, blisters, or severe itching. Worse, bed bug bites can sometimes cause some psychological concerns like insomnia and anxiety, and may also lead to bacterial infections such as ecthyma, impetigo, and lymphangitis.

Although feeding takes an average of 10 minutes, bed bug bites are initially painless due to an anesthetic they inject in the host’s skin during feeding. Feeding takes place for as short as four minutes and can last for a maximum of 12 minutes. Bed bug bites may appear like a red swollen bump about a centimeter wide and are mostly patterned in a zigzag. This is because bed bugs intentionally take numerous bites in search of large blood vessels just beneath the skin of their hosts.


The Featured Image

Get rid of bed bugs - bed bug with eggs
To get rid of Bed bugs, one first of all needs to clean out the infected area thoroughly.
© iStock.com/Matteo Lanciano

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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