Feeding Habits of Bed Bugs

Dr. Harold Harlan © Armed Forces Pest Management Board (with permission)

All common bed bugs, males and females, adults and nymphs feed on blood. They prefer the blood of humans but will feed on other warm blooded mammals (including household pets) and birds. It is speculated that bed bugs find their hosts by detecting their body heat and the carbon dioxide they exhale when they breathe.

Bed bugs have piercing/sucking mouthparts or beaks that they keep tucked under their bodies when not feeding. They pierce their host’s skin with their beak and probe for a capillary. Their beaks contain two tubes: one for injecting saliva containing an anesthetic to numb the skin and an anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing; the other for sucking blood from the host. This allows bed bugs to feed on their hosts without being detected.
They are generally nocturnal but will come out to feed during the day if hungry. Bed bugs will typically harbor within 5 to 20 feet of their host’s nest (bed, sofa, etc.),  but will travel much greater distances to feed if necessary.

Bed bugs feed for 3 to 15 minutes and then quickly retreat into hiding. If a host is available, bed bugs and nymphs will feed every 3 to 7 days.
Bed bugs are capable of going into a kind of semi-hibernation if there is no blood supply. Adult bed bugs can live up to a year (sometimes more) without feeding and second through fifth stage nymphs can survive for at least three months. However nymphs cannot molt and develop to the next stage and adults cannot reproduce without a source of blood.
Note:  Newer research is suggesting that bed bugs may only be able to live 4 – 7 months without a blood meal.
It is ineffective to leave a room vacant to “wait out” the bed bugs. They can live a long time without food or may migrate to another location in the building in order to find a host.

Bed bugs prefer to feed on exposed skin (face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands), but will bite under looseclothing as well.