The Full History of The Bed Bug

  • Written by: Killingsworth Environmental
  • June 25, 2019

The Timeline of Bed Bug History: Then and Now

The history of the bed bug is probably not something many of us take time to ponder but is actually pretty interesting. From ancient caves and civilizations to their journey across Europe and the Atlantic, these little blood sucking pests have tortured humankind for centuries.

The Early Bed Bug

Fossils and ancient scientific writings provide us with a look into the early history of bed bugs. With that said, scientists believe the history of the bed bug goes back even further than we have record of. The first bed bug-human interaction likely occurred in ancient Mediterranean caves, where civilization first began. The bed bug is believed to be a descendant of the bat bug, a bug that lived in caves and fed on bats.

The Ancient Bed Bug

The ancient Greeks first mentioned their experiences with bed bugs around 400 B.C. and archaeologists have found fossilized evidence that supports this. A common method of ridding bed bugs involved hanging a hare or stag at the foot of the bed.

The Roman Bed Bug

Pliny’s Natural History, an early encyclopedia, was first published by Pliny the Elder in 77 A.D. In it bed bugs were named Cimex Lectularius (Cimex, meaning bug, Lectularius, meaning couch or bed.) Pliny claimed that bed bugs had a medicinal value. We’ll spare you the details, but different bed bug mixtures were used as remedies for snake bites and other illnesses.

The European and Asian Bed Bugs

By 600 A.D. bed bugs had spread to Italy and China. In the 1200s they had reached Germany and in the 1400s–France. Bed bug infestations were not limited to lower classes and middle-class homes. They could be found in the dwellings of royalty! Sleeping and cooking fires allowed bed bugs to live comfortably in any of these homes. Then, sometime in the late 1600s bed bugs made their way to England. It’s possible they came with the supplies that were sent from mainland Europe to rebuild the city of London after The Great Fire of London in 1666.

The American Bed Bug

Once the bed bug had reached England it wasn’t long before it hitched a ride on a ship bound for North America. Bed bug encounters in European colonies were very common. From here, it was all downhill for Americans. Different extermination techniques were used throughout the 1700-1900s. Peat fires were recommended, but didn’t work and resulted in people dying from smoke inhalation. Cyanide fumigation was another technique used (which as you can imagine did more harm than good). In 1930, the use of electric heating became popular and bed bug numbers soared. It was reported that one in three homes in North American cities had bed bugs. In 1950, DDT was discovered and used to control diseases during WWII. By 1950, it was used for extermination purposes. DDT proved to be extremely effective in eliminating bed bugs–so much so that the population diminished almost entirely for a few decades!

The Comeback Bed Bug

In the 1970s, DDT was banned for health and environmental reasons. And by the 1990s the bed bug population had made a full comeback. The banning of DDT was a pretty big contributing factor to the bed bug resurgence. Increased travel both domestically and internationally and a lack of public awareness were also factors.

The Bed Bug Today

Today, one in five Americans has had an encounter with a bed bug. Pest management firms have reported an 81% increase in bed bug-related calls since 2002! Cities with largest infestations include New York City, Baltimore, Washington D.C, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, LA, and San Francisco. Taking precautionary measures against bed bugs is the best way to protect you and your home from an infestation. Know where you can find them and how to check for them in your bed.

We’re no stranger to bed bugs and the home extermination process. If you think you’ve detected even just a few bed bugs in your home, contact us! Stop these pests before they have the chance to infest your home.

Now that you’re familiar with the bed bug, what about all of the other pests that may be creeping around your home? Download our free Pest Encyclopedia to get to know all of the pests that you should be aware of.

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