Bed bugs seem to be everywhere these days. Twenty-five years ago, a bed bug infestation was a rare occasion. Now everyone from all walks of life find these pests in their homes and businesses. How did they spread so fast? Can bed bugs fly or jump like fleas?
Do bed bugs jump like fleas? No. Do they fly? Bed bugs do not have wings now, although they once did. Bed bugs spread so fast in the Western world because they used people to do the hard work for them. Bed bugs use human luggage, possessions and clothes to hitch lifts to new places.
Bed Bugs Used to Fly Like… Well, Like Flies
Once upon a time, about 115 million years ago, the ancestors of modern bed bugs sucked the blood of anything they could get a hold of, including dinosaurs. In order to do that, they needed wings. About 30 million years ago, they primarily drank the blood of bats. Since then, bed bugs discovered humans and for some reason preferred our blood to that of bats. Soon there was another cave-dweller with warm blood to taste – humans.
When bed bug tastes shifted to human blood, they no longer needed to fly. Crawling and hiding on people's clothes or possessions helped them get from one place to another. After millions of years, the wings became unnecessary and began to atrophy or shrivel up. Today's bed bug has tiny and useless wing muscles on its body, called vestigial wings.
Are Bed Bugs Attracted to Dirty Homes?
Since bed bugs are often found in filthy and cluttered homes, many wrongly conclude that bed bugs are attracted to dirt. Oh – if only it were that simple. It would make life so much easier to keep bed bugs away for good just by keeping a clean home. However, bed bugs thrive in all kinds of homes – including those cleaned every day.
Bed bugs are attracted to you body heat and to the gas you breathe out, carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, you can't stop producing body heat or stop exhaling without dire consequences. Keeping your home tidy and getting rid of any junk gives bed bugs fewer places to hide from you or exterminators.
Can You Get Bed Bugs From Visiting A Friend With Bed Bugs?
It's great to blame others for your problems, isn't it? In the case of how your home got bed bugs, this blame is entirely justified. You now have bed bugs because you went from someplace already crawling with them, accidentally picked some up and took them home with you. People are just taxis and 24-hour restaurants to bed bugs.
It is possible to be a bed bug taxi when visiting a friend (or complete stranger or a hotel or other business) who already has bed bugs in his or her home. Bed bugs do not hop or fly, but they do crawl quickly for such a little bug that leads a mostly sedentary life. It crawls and snuggles down in many things when you are visiting, including:
- Cell phones
- Suitcases, computer bags or totes
- Any gifts your friend may want to give you, especially used mattresses
- Boxes containing smaller gifts
- Clothing – usually just outer clothing and not underwear.
Do Bed Bugs Jump From Person to Person?
Unlike fleas, bed bugs do not jump from person to person. They lack the very long, powerful hind legs that fleas possess. So, if you are wondering, “Can you get bed bugs from hugging someone?” the answer is no. The good news is that bed bugs dislike living in your body or in your hair.
The bad news is that other bugs do. If you find bugs on your skin or in your hair, they are most likely not bed bugs but are:
If you have problems identifying the critter, kill one, place it in a plastic baggie and bring it to your doctor for identification. The good news is that killing these pests are much easier and less time-consuming than killing bed bugs.
Are There Any Good Bed Bug Repellants?
Unlike mosquitoes or flies, bed bugs remain stubbornly unrepelled by any kind of chemical that you can put on your skin or on your bed. Several studies have shown that bed bugs ignore any ultrasonic device that claims to repel bed bugs, such as this one from 2012 published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.
There has been limited success in using chemical repellants for your luggage. More studies are being done. This is great news for people who travel frequently and are forced to stay in hotels of questionable quality. According to a 2018 study done by the Connecticut Agricultural Experimental Station and Bedoukian Research, Inc. the most promising bed bug repellents were:
- DEET (which unfortunately has an odor that repels many people as well as bed bugs)
- delta dodecalactone at a five percent solution.
How Easily Do Bed Bugs Transfer From Person to Person?
Suppose you visit a relative or friend and unknown to everyone, that person's home has bed bugs. (Well, unknown to everyone but the bed bugs, that is.) Can you get bed bugs from walking in someone's house that already has bed bugs? If it's just a visit of a couple of minutes and you don't sit down or set any phones, purses or cases down, then you are fine.
Bed bugs crawl fast – but aren't that fast. You need to sit down and stay for more than a few minutes before the bugs become aware of your body heat and carbon dioxide emissions. They then crawl towards your direction and search for a good hiding place. Since their bodies are nearly flat, they can squeeze into amazingly tight places such as the dents in the screw heads of your cell phone or the seams of your trousers.
What Can You Do?
Suppose you visit a friend and during the conversation your friend lets slip that he thinks he may have bed bugs. Are you screwed? Not necessarily. Here are tips on what to do to prevent your friend's bed bugs from becoming your bed bugs:
- Immediately when you get home, take your clothes off and either place them in a resealable trash bag or put into your washing machine. Hot water and a hot dryer will kill most bed bugs. A trash bag will prevent the bugs from leaving your clothes and spreading out. If your shoes can go in the wash, put them in, too.
- Vacuum your car if you used it to get from your friend's home to your own. Vacuums are great bed bug killers.
- Get new friends. (Just kidding.)
In Summary: Bed Bugs Are Everywhere
So, what have we learned? Bed bugs cannot fly and cannot jump great distances in a single bound. If they do not fly or jump, how do you get them? From coming into contact with places already infested with bed bugs. Can someone who has bed bugs bring them to your house? Absolutely, although the hitchhikers will not be on the bod. or hair, but on the clothes and possessions of that someone.
You cannot 100 percent protect yourself from bed bugs because you would have to control the behaviors of every other person you ever come into contact with. However, getting bed bugs is not the end of the world. There are many ways to fight bed bugs if you do get them. It takes time, effort and plenty of patience, but these are foes that can be vanquished.