MM Novato FAQ

A common issue when dealing with bed bugs is knowing when the coast is clear. If you can’t see every bed bug in the area, you can’t know when to declare victory. You may have steamed, sprayed, and encased every nook and cranny that you can reach, but you don’t know if it’s enough. Can bed bugs still reach you and your family? Are they still feeding and breeding? If not, how long can bed bugs live without a meal? Let’s talk about what it takes for bed bugs to starve to death:

How Bed Bug Feeding Works

Before we dig into bed bug survivability, it’s important that we understand how bed bug feeding works. After a bed bug egg hatches, the nymph goes through five instar stages before it becomes an adult. While nymphs still behave and feed like an adult bed bug, they are much smaller and weaker. This has an effect on their lifespan if they are unable to feed.

The bed bug life cycle

In ideal conditions, a nymph will feed about once a week. With a blood meal digested, they are able to molt into the next instar stage. They need to do this six times to become sexually mature. That means that each bed bug needs to feed at least six times before it is able to reproduce.

While reports on actual timing varies quite a bit (more on that soon), data shows that younger instar nymphs starve to death faster than adults. First instar nymphs will starve 30% to 50% faster than adults in the same environment. This is yet another benefit of cutting off the bed bug population’s food supply.

Unfortunately, bed bugs are a lot better at living without food than humans and other animals are. They have evolved to enter a hibernation-like state when a food source is unavailable. To help cope with this fasting period, the bugs will form a “hunger bubble” that fills their gut.

Conflicting Reports

So with all this information available, how long can bed bugs live without feeding? The bad news is that it’s difficult to give a single solid number to answer that. There are some very old studies that people like to cite as a source, while newer studies have conflicting results.

The most common figure we see online is 18 months for an adult bed bug to live without a meal. This comes from a commonly cited source from Lister Institute entomologist A. W. Bacot’s 1914 paper, “The Influence of Temperature, Submersion and Burial on the Survival of Eggs and Larvae of Cimex lectularius“. In the paper, Bacot describes how he studied starving bed bugs in various life stages. He kept a mixed population of adult and immature bed bugs in an outhouse (not the kind you’re thinking of) for 18 months. Some bed bugs in the mix reportedly survived fasting that long, and were allowed to feed after.

Bacot’s test is later cited by C. G. Johnson in 1941. Johnson published a paper that year in Cambridge’s Journal of Hygiene. In his experiment, he allowed 51 bed bugs to feed until they reached adulthood. They were then deprived of a food source and observed. On average, these bugs died only four and a half months later. The hardiest specimen made it to six months before expiring.

Other Variables

Bed bug lab research

Unfortunately, there’s more to bed bug starvation than basic timing. New strains of bed bugs may have different survival characteristics. In 2009, entomologists reported that a Virginia strain of bed bugs could only survive two months without feeding. These results also suggest that bed bugs from different strains may live shorter or longer than other bugs.

To complicate matters even further, the area temperature affects the bed bugs’ survivability. Researchers conducted a test of bed bug nymphs that were fed only once, allowing them to molt into the first instar stage. Their survival time without feeding varied drastically in different ambient temperatures.

At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the first instar nymphs lasted an average of 28 days after their meal. Turning the temperature up to 98.6 degrees dropped the average to just 17 days. For adults in the tests, the averages were 39 days at 80 degrees and only 33 days at 98.6 degrees.

Conclusion

If we were to focus our estimates on more recent studies, we could deduce that today’s bed bugs can be expected to live from two to six months without a meal. So what does all this have to do with your bed bug treatment efforts? Not a lot if you’re approaching your treatment appropriately. An effective treatment shouldn’t depend on isolating yourself from hungry bed bugs and then waiting for them to starve to death.

There is no debate about the importance of stopping bed bugs from biting you. They need to feed to reproduce, so it’s top priority that you stop that from happening as soon as possible. You also don’t want to keep itching and scratching. That’s the whole point of treating the infestation in the first place!

However, there’s more to a bed bug treatment than just cutting off their food supply. The truth is that bed bug survival time without a meal is mainly relevant only in a laboratory setting. In the real world, bed bugs will search for a meal until they find one. There isn’t a question of if they’ll starve to death, but when they’ll find a new host to feed on.

There’s also the concern of their dispersal making treatment harder. By cutting off their original path to a meal, you will likely cause the infestation to spread as they search for a new way to feed. That’s why it’s important that you cut the bed bug population down as much as possible while also preventing them from feeding. Learn how to kill bed bugs quickly and keep them from biting you with our recommended treatment solution.

FAQ: How Long can Bed Bugs Live Without a Meal?

A common issue when dealing with bed bugs is knowing when the coast is clear. If you can’t see every bed bug in the area, you can’t know when to declare victory. You may have steamed, sprayed, and encased every nook and cranny that you can reach, but you don’t know if it’s enough. Can bed bugs still reach you and your family? Are they still feeding and breeding? If not, how long can bed bugs live without a meal? Let’s talk about what it takes for bed bugs to starve to death:

How Bed Bug Feeding Works

Before we dig into bed bug survivability, it’s important that we understand how bed bug feeding works. After a bed bug egg hatches, the nymph goes through five instar stages before it becomes an adult. While nymphs still behave and feed like an adult bed bug, they are much smaller and weaker. This has an effect on their lifespan if they are unable to feed.

The bed bug life cycle

In ideal conditions, a nymph will feed about once a week. With a blood meal digested, they are able to molt into the next instar stage. They need to do this six times to become sexually mature. That means that each bed bug needs to feed at least six times before it is able to reproduce.

While reports on actual timing varies quite a bit (more on that soon), data shows that younger instar nymphs starve to death faster than adults. First instar nymphs will starve 30% to 50% faster than adults in the same environment. This is yet another benefit of cutting off the bed bug population’s food supply.

Unfortunately, bed bugs are a lot better at living without food than humans and other animals are. They have evolved to enter a hibernation-like state when a food source is unavailable. To help cope with this fasting period, the bugs will form a “hunger bubble” that fills their gut.

Conflicting Reports

So with all this information available, how long can bed bugs live without feeding? The bad news is that it’s difficult to give a single solid number to answer that. There are some very old studies that people like to cite as a source, while newer studies have conflicting results.

The most common figure we see online is 18 months for an adult bed bug to live without a meal. This comes from a commonly cited source from Lister Institute entomologist A. W. Bacot’s 1914 paper, “The Influence of Temperature, Submersion and Burial on the Survival of Eggs and Larvae of Cimex lectularius“. In the paper, Bacot describes how he studied starving bed bugs in various life stages. He kept a mixed population of adult and immature bed bugs in an outhouse (not the kind you’re thinking of) for 18 months. Some bed bugs in the mix reportedly survived fasting that long, and were allowed to feed after.

Bacot’s test is later cited by C. G. Johnson in 1941. Johnson published a paper that year in Cambridge’s Journal of Hygiene. In his experiment, he allowed 51 bed bugs to feed until they reached adulthood. They were then deprived of a food source and observed. On average, these bugs died only four and a half months later. The hardiest specimen made it to six months before expiring.

Other Variables

Bed bug lab research

Unfortunately, there’s more to bed bug starvation than basic timing. New strains of bed bugs may have different survival characteristics. In 2009, entomologists reported that a Virginia strain of bed bugs could only survive two months without feeding. These results also suggest that bed bugs from different strains may live shorter or longer than other bugs.

To complicate matters even further, the area temperature affects the bed bugs’ survivability. Researchers conducted a test of bed bug nymphs that were fed only once, allowing them to molt into the first instar stage. Their survival time without feeding varied drastically in different ambient temperatures.

At 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the first instar nymphs lasted an average of 28 days after their meal. Turning the temperature up to 98.6 degrees dropped the average to just 17 days. For adults in the tests, the averages were 39 days at 80 degrees and only 33 days at 98.6 degrees.

Conclusion

If we were to focus our estimates on more recent studies, we could deduce that today’s bed bugs can be expected to live from two to six months without a meal. So what does all this have to do with your bed bug treatment efforts? Not a lot if you’re approaching your treatment appropriately. An effective treatment shouldn’t depend on isolating yourself from hungry bed bugs and then waiting for them to starve to death.

There is no debate about the importance of stopping bed bugs from biting you. They need to feed to reproduce, so it’s top priority that you stop that from happening as soon as possible. You also don’t want to keep itching and scratching. That’s the whole point of treating the infestation in the first place!

However, there’s more to a bed bug treatment than just cutting off their food supply. The truth is that bed bug survival time without a meal is mainly relevant only in a laboratory setting. In the real world, bed bugs will search for a meal until they find one. There isn’t a question of if they’ll starve to death, but when they’ll find a new host to feed on.

There’s also the concern of their dispersal making treatment harder. By cutting off their original path to a meal, you will likely cause the infestation to spread as they search for a new way to feed. That’s why it’s important that you cut the bed bug population down as much as possible while also preventing them from feeding. Learn how to kill bed bugs quickly and keep them from biting you with our recommended treatment solution.

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