Bed Bug Dispersal, Infestation Dynamics


Hentley, W. T., B. Webster, S. E. F. Evison, and M. T. Siva-Jothy2017. Bed bug aggregation on dirty laundry: a mechanism for passive dispersal. Scientific Reports. 7(1): 11668. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-11850-5

“Bed bugs have shown a recent and rapid global expansion that has been suggested to be caused by cheap air travel. How a small, flightless and anachoretic insect that hides within its host’s sleeping area manages to travel long distances is not yet clear. Bed bugs are attracted to the odour of sleeping humans and we suggest that soiled clothing may present a similarly attractive cue, allowing bed bugs to ‘hitch-hike’ around the world after aggregating in the laundry bags of travellers. We show that (1) soiled clothing is significantly more attractive than clean clothing to active bed bugs moving within a bedroom sized arena and (2) elevation of CO2 to a level that simulates human occupancy in the same arena appears to initiate search behaviour rather than direct it. Our results show, for the first time, how leaving worn clothing exposed in sleeping areas when travelling can be exploited by bed bugs to facilitate passive dispersal.”

Wang, D., C. Wang, N. Singh, A. L. Eiden, R. Cooper, and C. Zha2017. Effect of feeding history and time elapsed from field collection on the movement behavior and response to stimulation in Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Economic Entomology. 110: 1719–1727. doi: 10.1093/jee/tox148

“The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius L.) (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) is an obligate blood-sucking insect that has been resurging in many countries. Researching this pest’s behavior will help design more effective control methods. In this study, we evaluated the effect of feeding history and time elapsed from field collection on bed bug movement behavior and response to chemical lure or carbon dioxide stimulation in the laboratory. After CO2 was released, bed bugs unfed for 3 d began to return to harborages; in contrast, the ones unfed for 2 and 4 wk spent significantly more time outside their harborages during the first 1 h after than the 1 h before CO2 release. After CO2 release, there was an increase in activity (time spent moving outside harborage) in all bed bugs with different feeding history or time elapsed from field collection. During the 8-h observation period when CO2 was present, bed bug males unfed for 4 wk spent significantly more time exploring outside harborages than the ones unfed for 3 d, 1 wk, and 2 wk. Nymphs collected 1–2 wk and 1 yr ago spent significantly more time exploring outside harborages than the ones collected 43 yr ago. Bed bug’s exploratory activity (the total percentage of bed bugs trapped in both baited and unbaited interceptors) was significantly affected by their time elapsed from field collection and their exploratory activity level was 1–2 wk > 6 mo > 5 and 43 yr. Both feeding history and time elapsed from field collection significantly affected bed bug movement, whereas bed bug’s response to chemical lure or CO2 (the percentage of bed bugs trapped in the baited interceptor, summarized as the number of bed bugs trapped in the baited interceptor divided by the total number of trapped bed bugs in both baited and unbaited interceptors) was unaffected by the time elapsed from field collection.”


Sivakoff, F. S., S. C. Jones, S. A. Machtley, and J. R. Hagler2016. Protein self-marking by ectoparasites: A case study using bed bugs (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology. 53: 1370–1377. doi: 10.1093/jme/tjw117

“The ability to mark individuals is a critical feature of many entomological investigations, including dispersal studies. Insect dispersal is generally investigated using mark–release–recapture techniques, whereby marked individuals are released at a known location and then captured at a measured distance. Ectoparasite dispersal has historically been challenging to study, in part because of the ethical concerns associated with releasing marked individuals. Here, we introduce the protein self-marking technique, whereby ectoparasites mark themselves in the field by feeding on the blood of an introduced host. We demonstrate the potential of this technique using laboratory-reared bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.) that marked themselves by feeding on either rabbit or chicken blood. We then used enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays to detect host-specific blood serum proteins in bed bugs. We assessed these protein markers’ ability to 1) distinctively identify marked individuals, 2) persist following multiple feedings on an alternate diet, 3) persist over time across a range of temperatures, and 4) transfer from marked to unmarked individuals. Protein markers were detectable in bed bugs before and after molting, remained detectible after multiple feedings on an alternate diet, persisted regardless of whether an individual was starved or fed on an alternate diet following original mark acquisition, and did not transfer between individuals. The duration of detectability depended on temperature. Our results suggest that protein self-marking is an effective technique for marking bed bugs and holds promise for use in dispersal studies of ectoparasitic insects.”


Cooper, R., C. Wang, and N. Singh. 2015. Mark-release-recapture reveals extensive movement of bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L) within and between apartments. PLoS One. 10(9): e0136462. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136462

“Understanding movement and dispersal of the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius L.) under field conditions is important in the control of infestations and for managing the spread of bed bugs to new locations. We investigated bed bug movement within and between apartments using mark-release-recapture (m-r-r) technique combined with apartment-wide monitoring using pitfall-style interceptors. Bed bugs were collected, marked, and released in six apartments. The distribution of marked and unmarked bed bugs in these apartments and their 24 neighboring units were monitored over 32 days. Extensive movement of marked bed bugs within and between apartments occurred regardless of the number of bed bugs released or presence/absence of a host. Comparison of marked and unmarked bed bug distributions confirms that the extensive bed bug activity observed was not an artifact of the m-r-r technique used. Marked bed bugs were recovered in apartments neighboring five of six m-r-r apartments. Their dispersal rates at 14 or 15 d were 0.0–5.0%. The estimated number of bed bugs per apartment in the six m-r-r apartments was 2,433–14,291 at 4–7 d after release. Longevity of bed bugs in the absence of a host was recorded in a vacant apartment. Marked large nymphs (3rd– 5th instar), adult females, and adult males continued to be recovered up to 57, 113, and 134 d after host absence, respectively. Among the naturally existing unmarked bed bugs, unfed small nymphs (1st– 2nd instar) were recovered up to 134 d; large nymphs and adults were still found at 155 d when the study ended. Our findings provide important insight into the behavioral ecology of bed bugs in infested apartments and have significant implications in regards to eradication programs and managing the spread of bed bugs within multi-occupancy dwellings.”

Goddard, J., M. Caprio, and I. Goddard Jerome2015. Diffusion rates and dispersal patterns of unfed versus recently fed bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.). Insects. 6(4): 792–804. doi: 10.3390/insects6040792

“Bed bug problems have been increasing since the 1980s, and accordingly, there have been intensive efforts to better understand their biology and behavior for control purposes. Understanding bed bug diffusion rates and dispersal patterns from one site to another (or lack thereof) is a key component in prevention and control campaigns. This study analyzed diffusion rates and dispersal patterns in a population of bed bugs, recently fed and unfed, in both one-dimensional and two-dimensional settings. When placed in the middle of a 71 cm × 2.7 cm artificial lane, approximately half of the bugs regardless of feeding status stayed at or near the release point during the 10 min observation periods, while about a fourth of them walked to the end of the lane. When placed in the middle of an arena measuring 51 cm × 76 cm and allowed to walk in any direction, approximately one-fourth of bed bugs, fed or unfed, still remained near their release point (no significant difference between fed or unfed). As for long-distance dispersal, 11/50 (22%) of recently fed bed bugs moved as far as possible in the arena during the 10 min replications, while only 2/50 (4%) unfed bed bugs moved to the maximum distance. This difference was significantly different (p < 0.0038), and indicates that unfed bed bugs did not move as far as recently fed ones. A mathematical diffusion model was used to quantify bed bug movements and an estimated diffusion rate range of 0.00006 cm2/s to 0.416 cm2/s was determined, which is almost no movement to a predicted root mean squared distance of approximately 19 cm per 10 min. The results of this study suggest that bed bugs, upon initial introduction into a new area, would have a difficult time traversing long distances when left alone to randomly disperse.”


Booth, W., V. L. Saenz, R. G. Santangelo, C. Wang, C. Schal, and E. L. Vargo. 2012. Molecular markers reveal infestation dynamics of the bed bug (Hemiptera : Cimicidae) within apartment buildings. Journal of Medical Entomology. 49(3): 535–546. doi: 10.1603/ME11256

“The bed bug, Cimex lectularius L. (Hemiptera: Cimicidae), has experienced an extraordinary global resurgence in recent years, the reasons for which remain poorly understood. Once considered a pest of lower socioeconomic classes, bed bugs are now found extensively across all residential settings, with widespread infestations established in multi-apartment buildings. Within such buildings, understanding the population genetic structure and patterns of dispersal may prove critical to the development of effective control strategies. Here, we describe the development of 24 high-resolution microsatellite markers through next generation 454 pyrosequencing and their application to elucidate infestation dynamics within three multistory apartment buildings in the United States. Results reveal contrasting characteristics potentially representative of geographic or locale differences. In Raleigh, NC, an infestation within an apartment building seemed to have started from a single introduction followed by extensive spread. In Jersey City, NJ, two or more introductions followed by spread are evident in two buildings. Populations within single apartments in all buildings were characterized by high levels of relatedness and low levels of diversity, indicative of foundation from small, genetically depauperate propagules. Regardless of the number of unique introductions, genetic data indicate that spread within buildings is extensive, supporting both active and human-mediated dispersal within and between adjacent rooms or apartments spanning multiple floors.”

Delaunay, P. 2012. Human travel and traveling bedbugs. Journal of Travel Medicine. 19(6): 373–379. doi: 10.1111/j.1708-8305.2012.00653.x

“Background: A dramatic increase of reported bedbug (Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus) infestations has been observed worldwide over the past decade. Bedbug infestations have also been detected across a wide range of travel accommodations, regardless of their comfort and hygiene levels. Travelers are increasingly exposed to the risks of bedbug bites, infestation of personal belongings, and subsequent contamination of newly visited accommodations and their homes. Methods: We searched Medline publications via the PubMed database. National bedbug recommendations, textbooks, newspapers, and Centers for Disease Control websites were also searched manually. Discussion: To detect infested sites, avoid or limit bedbug bites, and reduce the risk of contaminating one’s belongings and home, bedbug biology and ecology must be understood. A detailed search of their most classic hiding niches is a key to finding adult bedbugs, nymphs, eggs, and feces or traces of blood from crushed bedbugs. Locally, bedbugs move by active displacement to feed (bite) during the night. Bed, mattress, sofa, and/or curtains are the most frequently infested places. If you find bedbugs, change your room or, even better, the hotel. Otherwise, travelers should follow recommendations for avoiding bedbugs and their bites during the night and apply certain simple rules to avoid infesting other sites or their home. Conclusion: Travelers exposed to bedbugs can minimize the risks of bites and infestation of their belongings, and must also do their civic duty to avoid contributing to the subsequent contamination of other hotels and, finally, home.”


Feldlaufer, M. F. and C. Loudon. 2011. Undesirable dispersal of eggs and early-stage nymphs of the bed bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) by static electricity and air currents. Journal of Entomological Science. 46(2): 169-170. doi: 10.18474/0749-8004-46.2.169

Researchers found that bedbug eggs and nymphs can disperse via static electricity and air currents. Static electrical dispersal was observed on plastic and glass containers. In field determination of passive dispersal under field conditions via static electricity and/or airflow is still not determined, as this study focused under laboratory conditions.

Reis, M. D., and D. M. Miller. 2011. Host searching and aggregation activity of recently fed and unfed bed bugs (Cimex lectularius L.). Insects. 2: 186–194. doi: 10.3390/insects2020186

“Groups of starved, virgin adult male or female bed bugs were stimulated to search for a host by the presence of a heated artificial feeder. Some of the bed bug groups were allowed to obtain a blood meal and some were not. After the removal of the feeder, bed bugs were observed throughout the scotophase to record their searching and aggregation behavior. Groups of male and female bed bugs that were unable to obtain a blood meal continued to search in the arena for the majority of the scotophase. Bed bugs that were able to obtain a blood meal returned to their shelter to aggregate 30 min after feeding. Overall, the proportion of bed bugs aggregating in shelters during the scotophase was significantly greater for those that had fed successfully than those that had not. However, all bed bugs, regardless of feeding status, began to return to shelters to aggregate 2 h prior to the photophase.”

Suchy, J. T., and V. R. Lewis. 2011. Host-seeking behavior in the bed bug, Cimex lectularius. Insects. 2: 22–35. doi: 10.3390/insects2010022

“The reemergence of the bed bug, Cimex lectularius Linnaeus, has recently spawned a frenzy of public, media, and academic attention. In response to the growing rate of infestation, considerable work has been focused on identifying the various host cues utilized by the bed bug in search of a meal. Most of these behavioral studies examine movement within a confined environment, such as a Petri dish. This has prevented a more complete understanding of the insect’s host-seeking process. This work describes a novel method for studying host-seeking behavior, using various movement parameters, in a time-lapse photography system. With the use of human breath as an attractant, we qualitatively and quantitatively assessed how bed bugs navigate their environment between its harborage and the host. Levels of behavioral activity varied dramatically between bed bugs in the presence and absence of host odor. Bed bugs demonstrated not simply activation, but attraction to the chemical components of breath. Localized, stop-start host-seeking behavior or alternating periods of movement and pause were observed among bed bugs placed in the environment void of human breath, while those exposed to human breath demonstrated long range, stop-start host-seeking behavior. A more comprehensive understanding of bed bug host-seeking can lead to the development of traps and monitors that account for unique subtleties in their behavior. The time-lapse photography system uses a large, artificial environment and could also be employed to study other aspects of the insect’s behavioral patterns.”


Fuentes, M. V., S. Sainz-Elipe, S. Sáez-Durán, and M. T. Galán-Puchades. 2010. Bedbug infestations acquired whilst travelling in the European Union. Parasitology. 69: 204–209.

Three homes in València (Spain) with bed bug infestations were evaluated. The origins of the infestations were UK, Spain and Sweden. Control measures included washing and cleaning all affected belongings, throwing away infested belongings, and several insecticide applications.

Wang, C., K. Saltzmann, E. Chin, G. W. Bennett, and T. Gibb. 2010. Characteristics of Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae), infestation and dispersal in a high-rise apartment building. Journal of Economic Entomology. 103(1): 172–177. doi: 10.1603/EC09230

“Bed bugs, Cimex lectularius L. (Hemiptera: Cimicidae), are a fast-growing urban pest of significant public health importance in the United States and many other countries. Yet, there is very little field research on the ecology of this pest due to its near absence in the United States and most developed nations for several decades. We investigated characteristics of the bed bug infestation and dispersal in a 223-unit high-rise apartment building through visual inspections, intercepting devices, and resident and staff interviews between December 2008 and April 2009. The following results were obtained: 1) 101 apartments (45% of the high-rise building complex) experienced bed bug infestations (within 41 mo of the first confirmed introduction), 2) 78% of the bed bugs trapped were nymphs, 3) an average of six bed bugs were detected dispersing through apartment entry doors every 4 wk, 4) adult bed bugs were 9 times more likely to disperse than nymphs, 5) 53% of apartments adjacent to infested apartments also were infested, and 6) 50% of the interviewed residents who had infestations were unaware of the bed bugs in their apartments. In addition to active dispersal, several passive bed bug dispersal mechanisms were observed: bringing bed bug-infested furniture into the building, travel, resident turnover, resident visits, and use of a bed bug-infested wheelchair in building common areas. These findings validate an urgent need for public education, early detection, and adoption of more effective bed bug monitoring and intervention programs to curb the exploding problem of bed bug infestations.”


Pfiester, M., P. G. Koehler, and R. M. Pereira2009. Effect of population structure and size on aggregation behavior of Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology. 46(5): 1015–1020. doi: 10.1603/033.046.0506

“The bed bug, Cimex lectularius L. (Hemiptera: Cimicidae), occurs in aggregations until the conditions are no longer beneficial, leading to dispersal. Active and passive bed bug dispersal causes migrations from main aggregations either within a room, from room to room within a building, or from building to building. Because bed bug movement is an important factor in the spread of infestations, we wanted to determine how population structure and size affect bed bug aggregations. Engorged bed bugs were placed in glass petri dish arenas at varying densities, sex ratios, and population compositions. Nymphs had a high tendency to aggregate, varying between 94 and 98%, and therefore were not the likely dispersal stage of the bed bug. At densities of 10 and 40 adults at a 1:1 sex ratio, there were significantly more lone females than lone males. When the population composition was varied, the percentage of lone females was significantly higher than that of males and nymphs at population compositions of 40 and 80% adults. When the sex ratio of adults was varied, there were significantly more lone females than males in arenas with 20, 50, and 80% males. Females, being found away from aggregations significantly more often than any other life stage, are potentially the dispersal stage of the bed bug. Active female dispersal away from main aggregations can potentially lead to treatment failures and should be taken into account when using control methods.”