Bug Blog

Bed Bugs and Bats

Warren Booth and his colleagues at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma have utilized genetics to unravel the origin of bed bugs. They discovered that there are two lineages in Europe. The lines are so diverse that they nearly split into two species. What’s more shocking is that their origin lies with bats. The new findings were published in the journal Molecular Ecology. They provide the first genetic evidence that bats were the ancestral hosts of the bed bugs that plague human residences today.

According to Exterminators, Americans spent around $446 million getting rid of bed bugs in 2013. The bed bug business increased 18% last year alone.  Bed bugs have been around for centuries. They have been involved with humans for about as long. Historic references to bedbugs in ancient Egyptian literature have been documented and archaeologists have also discovered fossilized bed bugs thought to be around 3,500 years old.

A single pregnant female can infest an entire apartment building. They can go through many rounds of inbreeding with no detrimental effects. All they need are human hosts to satisfy their thirst for blood. Bed bug infestations are difficult to treat. It is estimated that 90% of common bed bugs have developed a mutation that makes them resistant to the insecticides known as pyrethroids that had been previously used to kill them.

Booth’s team sampled hundreds of bed bugs from human and bat dwellings from 13 countries in and around Europe. An analysis of their DNA showed no sign of “gene flow occurring between the human and bat bed bugs, even though some bats lived in churches or attics and could therefore have come into human contact.” “The bat lineage probably dates back to when bats and humans once shared caves,” says Booth.

There are two types of people, Booth says. “The type that have had bed bugs and the people that will still get them. We’re living in a time where they’re becoming much more common.”