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