This is a female Cimex lectularius. In the quiet of night, she crawls from her hiding
place toward the carbon dioxide gas and warmth emanating from your body. When she reaches
a patch of exposed flesh, she uses her small, sharp beak to pierce your skin and slurp up
six times her weight in blood, leaving behind an itchy welt. After returning home to the
underside of your mattress, a series of up to seven males violently mate with her.
If this sounds like a bad dream, count yourself lucky–for tens of thousands of people worldwide,
it’s a nightly reality. These tiny parasites, better known as bedbugs, have spread through
Los Angeles, New York and London over the past 20 years, infesting the homes and hotels
of rich and poor alike. They’ve crept into the cushions of movie theater seats and executive
offices, and hitched rides in library books and subway cars. In the world of pests, bedbugs
may be the greatest invaders in all of history.
Or, more specifically, the greatest re-invaders. Because bedbugs have actually been harassing
humans since the stone age. The problem worsened when we crowded into towns and cities, and
became terrible when we invented central heating, which helped bedbugs thrive year-round virtually
Until WWII, that is, when humans discovered a class of synthetic insecticides that were
ultimately strong enough to drive bedbugs from the US and Europe for half a century.
However, not only are many of those chemicals now banned, but hardy bedbug individuals also
survived and multiplied, meaning that now, bedbug populations are resistant to many of
our weapons against them. Meanwhile, increased global travel has made pretty much any bed
in the world just a short flight away, both for human jetsetters and their bedbug stowaways.
The one-two punch of insecticide resistance and global transport has allowed bedbugs go
from nightmare to modern reality – the ultimate comeback kid of the pest world.
Except that in a way, we’ve brought them back, and this time around, they won’t go down so
easily. So sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs b– actually, we’re kinda screwed.