How Long Can Bed Bugs Live? - Life Span Guide
Bed bugs are both common and gross (to most people), but because they've left us alone for most of the last half-century, not everyone knows how to deal with them.
Where and how long bed bugs live, are common questions in part because getting rid of a bed bug infestation can feel like it takes an eternity.
Bed bugs are serious pests, but as far as household pests go, they’re not the worst thing that could happen to you. They reproduce slowly, only need to feed every once in a while, and don’t spread disease.
Really, they’re just a symptom of living close together in big cities and sometimes of having bad hygiene. (Yes, you should vacuum more.)
Think you have a bed bug infestation? Here’s what you need to know about where they live and how long they’ll hang around.
How Long Do Bed Bugs Live on Average?
After mating, a female will lay eggs (about 1/16” long) into hiding spots like cracks and crevices around a building. A single female will lay somewhere between 200 and 250 eggs during her lifetime, which is where the bed bug life cycle begins.
Fortunately, bed bugs reproduce slowly compared to other bugs.
Bed bug eggs hatch after six to ten days, and little bugs, known as bed bug nymphs, begin their first hunt.
(For reference: common houseflies lay 500 eggs across three or four days.)
These bugs live only on blood, meaning they can’t feed on bark, carpet, or bits of food like other bugs might.
If the bug nymphs get their first meal, they’ll shed their skin, or molt, five times as they grow into adults, which often takes five to six weeks.
It’s important to remember that they need to feed before they molt, so if you have an adult bed bug running around, then he’s bitten someone. Access to enough food will allow a nymph to transform into an adult in only three weeks.
As adults, bed bugs will live for between six to ten months, but they can live for up to 18 months (if no one catches them).
Bed bugs don’t segregate themselves by age. If you have a bed bug infestation, you could have many generations of bed bugs living in your house ranging in age from eggs to nymphs to various stages of adulthood.
How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Feeding?
Bed bugs only eat blood and in normal circumstances, an individual bug will try to feed at least every three to seven days. This, combined with their slow reproduction cycles, is a good thing if you’re dealing with an infestation. It means that while a few bed bugs may be hungry, the rest will still be digesting their last meal.
In other words, the whole flock won’t come for you at once.
As they have such limited diets, they’re able to go significant periods of time without eating.
If you were hoping that baby bed bugs would die of starvation if they hatch while you’re on vacation, you’re wrong. They’ll be there waiting for you when you get back.
An immature nymph (baby bed bug) can live anywhere from a few days up to a month without blood depending on other conditions.
Matured nymphs and full-grown adults can survive even longer. They're built to go without food, and can engage their survival mode for an average period of around 3-4 months, while some have even been documented to survive for over 6 months (although all other living conditions besides the lack of food source must be perfect for this to happen).
What Factors Affect the Lifespan of a Bed Bug?
Bed bugs can live for years under the right conditions.
Let’s break down the right conditions for bed bugs to thrive:
A bed bug's ideal environment is a place where the temperature hangs out between 65 and 85 degrees F. Think Aruba in December – it's the same climate most humans find most pleasing.
This is a sweet spot for them because bed bugs don’t like heat. Their aversion to hot climates is one of the reasons they’ll bite you to feed but won’t hang out in your hair or on your skin. Your body temperature and the ability of your hair to trap heat makes your body inhospitable (thank goodness).
That doesn’t mean you can raise the temperature in your house and kill them off. Their body temperature needs to reach 113 F for roughly 90 minutes before they die, which means the room or container they’re in needs to be even hotter (the general accepted range being 117 F - 122 F. In short, you’ll need specialist equipment to wipe them out of your home completely.
My Favorite Bed Bug Heater
My Favorite Bed Bug Heater
My favorite bed bug heater currently on the market is the ZappBug Oven Heater. The ZappBug Oven is non-toxic, compact, and kills 100% of bed bugs in all life stages, including eggs, nymphs and adults.
Simply place infested items into the ZappBug heater and it will automatically reach the all-important bed bug killing temperature over the next few hours, so you can be sure the items will come out all-clear once the process is complete.
The heater is extremely easy to use and configure, so don't worry about getting the temperature settings wrong.
Bed bugs don’t like the cold, but it won’t kill easily them either. If they encounter freezing temperatures for long periods of time, they're more likely to die. If you put an infested mattress out in a Minnesota winter, you might kill the bed bugs, but you'll also likely ruin your mattress.
Turning your thermostat down won't help either. A household freezer isn't even guaranteed to do the job (unless you leave the bed bugs and eggs in there for a very long time).
In short, bed bugs like cozy temperatures, and you'll struggle to steam or freeze them out successfully without some professional assistance.
Plus remember - bed bug eggs are even more robust when it comes to surviving extreme temperatures.
Bed bugs love an environment where food is always close by.
Bed bugs can’t fly and can only crawl a meter per minute, so they’re not exactly prime hunters. If food doesn’t come within reach, they’re not likely to get to it.
While they can live for many months without food, it’s best to assume they don’t necessarily want to.
Access to food (and comfortable temperatures) is why bedrooms make such great homes for bed bugs. Most bedrooms are kept at temperate conditions. Plus, you sleep there every night, so they can feed without having to search too hard, or travel too far.
Even if you go on vacation, bed bugs can hang out in your bedroom until you get back and remain mostly unfazed due to not needing to eat that often.
Bed bugs prefer to hide, and the messier your room is, the easier it is to go undetected.
They love cracks in the walls or floor, piles of laundry, stacks of junk, and anything else that makes a good nest or place to lay eggs.
Bed bugs can also live in your mattress, which again, is why bedrooms make such a great home for these pests, and why you should make a conscious effort to protect your mattress as best as possible.
My favorite mattress protector at the moment is the SureGuard Mattress Encasement. It's thick, strong, comes in many different sizes, and is certain to help stop bed bugs of all sizes from getting to, or from, your mattress.
To make sure you're covered from all angles, the SureGuard Box Spring Encasement and Pillow Protectors, along with the mattress protector, will go a long way in helping to combat the infestation, and to help you sleep a bit better at night.
With a good hiding place, a comfortable climate, and access to food, bed bugs can live for a year and leave a legacy of 250 more bed bugs in its wake.
If you have bed bugs, don’t reduce the clutter in your room by moving it to another room, you’ll probably move the bed bugs with it, helping them to spread throughout the house in the process.
Any infested items should be put directly into a trash bag. Once the bag is full, it should go to an outside bin – NOT the kitchen – to prevent inadvertently infecting another room.
Also, if you’re one of those people who leave piles of clothing you never wear around, you’ll need to get rid of the bed bugs before it goes anywhere else. The standard cycle in your washing machine will usually do the trick (while tumble-drying everything afterwards will make doubly-sure).
Don’t give the clothes away either – or worse, throw them in a charity bin where they’ll infest the rest of the contents.
This goes without saying, but if you don’t regularly wash your linens, vacuum your floors, and generally tidy up, your bed bugs will thrive.
Carefully vacuuming your floors, furniture, and all the hiding holes around the room will suck up the bed bugs hiding in them. You’ll be able to get rid of them if you empty the cavity in your vacuum cleaner into a plastic bag and remove it to the outside bin.
When it comes to choosing a vacuum in your fight against bed bugs, you need a product that can be reliable, and one that is powerful enough to create secure suction deep within fabric and carpet. And remember; it's imperative you choose a vacuum that's installed with a HEPA filter to ensure it's impossible for bed bugs to escape once captured.
My personal favorite is the medium-priced Shark Navigator Upright Vacuum, which easily ticks all of the boxes I've just mentioned, as well as being lightweight and easily manoeuvrable.
If you’re trying to get rid of bed bugs, you should change the vacuum bag every time you use it, so one rogue bug doesn’t escape and thwart your plans.
Regular laundry cycles help get rid of bed bugs. If you have a tumble dryer, it will help keep them at bay. Don’t just wash and dry your seats. Comforters, duvets, blankets, and shams should all be cleaned too – even if that means professional cleaning.
When we say bed bugs love mess and dirt, we mean it. You will need to clean everything that touches the floor or your laundry to get rid of them without professional treatment.
You’ll even need to clean your laundry basket while you do laundry. Otherwise, you could put your nice, clean sheets into a basket full of bed bug eggs.
Bed Bugs Live as Long as You Let Them
Bed bugs come with the territory if you live in a packed, urban space. Fortunately, they don’t live on our bodies, reproduce slowly, and don’t need to feed at the same time.
At the end of the day, bed bugs will live in your house as long as you let them. By tidying up regularly, stopping them before they reach full-blown infestation mode, preventing them from moving room to room, there’s no need to even let them reach adulthood.
You create the conditions for bed bugs to live in – and you can take them away. If you’re struggling to get rid of bed bugs, don’t let it balloon. Ask for professional help and send those pests packing once and for all.
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