Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 487-A   March 31, 1973
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

The name "bug" frequently and carelessly applied to insects in general, really belongs only to certain special kinds. A true bug differs from other insects in having a beak with which it pierces the skin and sucks the juices from plants or animals, a characteristic odor, and peculiar wings. Further, instead of having four stages in its life history -- egg, larva, pupa and adult -- it has only three. The tiny young, or "nymphs", resemble their parents as soon as hatched from the egg. The water bugs, stink bugs, squash bug, chinch bug, boxelder bug -- and that hated blood-sucking parasite, the Bedbug -- are true bugs.

Bedbugs have been closely associated with man ever since our ancestors lived in caves. The Greeks and Romans were so well acquainted with them that they are mentioned in one of Aristophanes' plays and in Latin writings such as a Satire by Horace. Our scientific name for the bedbug, Cimex, was the Roman word for bug and apparently they used the loathsome pests in remedies for snakebite and certain diseases.

Bedbugs, unknown amongst the American Indians, were brought here by the early colonists. They quickly became widespread and plentiful. The common kind -- which cannot survive in temperatures much greater than 100 F, and goes into a sort of hibernation at about 50 F -- has been distributed throughout the temperate regions of the earth. In tropical and subtropical regions there is another species which has now become established in Florida.

The bedbug is reddish-brown in color. It has a flat oval body, about one-tenth inch long when adult, which enables it to creep through narrow crevices to places where it hides, breeds, and from which it emerges at night to feast on the blood of some human. Like the chinch bug and most plant bugs, it has an offensive odor produced by stink glands which secrete an oily volatile liquid. Fortunately, it cannot fly: the wings have degenerated into little useless pads.

The bedbug's beak has two pairs of stylets: one pair with barbs for piercing and sawing the skin of its victim, and an inner pair which form two tubes. Through one of these tubes it injects a saliva which prevents the blood from coagulating; through the other it sucks that blood. As in the case of a mosquito bite, it is the saliva which causes the bite to itch and become inflamed. Most people are very sensitive to bedbug bites but some seem to be immune, just as some are not bothered by mosquitoes.

It has never been proven that bedbugs transmit any disease but, among people who are sensitive, they may produce nervous and digestive disorders. In infected areas, such as crowded unsanitary slums, it is often possible to pick out children from "buggy" homes by their pasty blotched faces and listless ways.

Bedbugs may be carried from place to place in peoples' clothing, bedding, mattresses and furniture. Also, they frequently migrate from an empty house to an occupied one nearby. They multiply rapidly and have few enemies: chiefly cockroaches, a little red ant, and certain spiders. Under favorable conditions a female bedbug may live more than a year and lay as many as 500 eggs which will be responsible for from one to four generations per year.

Prior to World War II, the most effective method of control was fumigation by an expert using a dangerously poisonous gas, hydrocyanic acid. The modern method employs scientific use of a lindane spray.

There is nothing that a respectable housewife hates more than a bedbug.

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