Bed Bug Evolution and Historical Records


Adams, M. E., and D. L. Jenkins2017. An early Holocene record of Cimex (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) from western North America. Journal of Medical Entomology. 54(4): 934–944. doi: 10.1093/jme/tjx057

“The subfossil remains of 14 cimicids (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) were recovered during archaeological investigations of the Paisley Five Mile Point Cave site (35LK3400), an exceptionally well-dated (n = 229 radiocarbon dates) late Pleistocene–early Holocene rock shelter site in south-central Oregon. Nine of the specimens have been assigned to three modern species of Nearctic Cimicidae—Cimex antennatus Usinger & Ueshima, Cimex latipennis Usinger & Ueshima, and Cimex pilosellus (Horváth)—whereas the remaining five individuals were too fragmentary to positively identify. The chronology of the insect assemblage puts one specimen at circa 5,100 calibrated years before present (cal. yr BP), and the remaining 13 range in age from 9,400 to almost 11,000 cal. yr BP. Although fossil and subfossil cimicid remains have been recovered at other archaeological sites, the fossil record for bed bugs is largely undocumented. The Paisley Caves specimens thus far represent the oldest remains of the genus in probable contact with humans on record.”

Mitchell, P. 2017. Human parasites in the Roman World: health consequences of conquering an empire. Parasitology. 144(1): 48–58. doi: 10.1017/S0031182015001651

“The archaeological evidence for parasites in the Roman era is presented in order to demonstrate the species present at that time, and highlight the health consequences for people living under Roman rule. Despite their large multi-seat public latrines with washing facilities, sewer systems, sanitation legislation, fountains and piped drinking water from aqueducts, we see the widespread presence of whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides) and Entamoeba histolytica that causes dysentery. This would suggest that the public sanitation measures were insufficient to protect the population from parasites spread by fecal contamination. Ectoparasites such as fleas, head lice, body lice, pubic lice and bed bugs were also present, and delousing combs have been found. The evidence fails to demonstrate that the Roman culture of regular bathing in the public baths reduced the prevalence of these parasites. Fish tapeworm was noted to be widely present, and was more common than in Bronze and Iron Age Europe. It is possible that the Roman enthusiasm for fermented, uncooked fish sauce (garum) may have facilitated the spread of this helminth. Roman medical practitioners such as Galen were aware of intestinal worms, explaining their existence and planning treatment using the humoural theory of the period.”


Balvín, O., P. Munclinger, L. Kratochvíl, and J. Vilímová2012. Mitochondrial DNA and morphology show independent evolutionary histories of bedbug Cimex lectularius (Heteroptera: Cimicidae) on bats and humans. Parasitology Research. 111(1): 457–469. doi: 10.1007/s00436-012-2862-5

“The bedbug, Cimex lectularius, is a well-known human ectoparasite that is reemerging after a long absence of several decades in developed countries of North America and Western Europe. Bedbugs’ original hosts were likely bats, and the bedbugs are still common in their roosts. Using morphometry and sequences of mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I and 16S genes, we showed that the populations on bats and humans are largely isolated and differ in morphology. The character of the morphological difference suggests it to be due to adaptation to different hosts, namely adaptations to different sensory, feeding, and dispersal needs. Using the molecular data, we estimated the time of splitting into bat- and human-parasitizing groups using the isolation-with-migration model. The estimate is surprisingly long ago and seems to predate the expansion of modern human from Africa. The gene flow between bat- and human-parasitizing bedbugs is limited and asymmetric with prevailing direction from human-parasitizing populations to bat-parasitizing populations. The differentiation of the populations fits the concept of host races and supports the idea of sympatric speciation. Furthermore, our findings contradict recently formulated hypotheses suggesting bat roosts as a source of bedbug’s resurgence as a human pest. Also, we extend the known host range of the bedbug by two bat species.”


Panagiotakopulu, E., and P. C. Buckland1999. Cimex lectularius L., the common bed bug from Pharaonic Egypt. Antiquity. 73(282): 908-911. doi: 10.1017/S0003598X00065674

“Bed bugs have been troubling humans for at least 3550 years, as shown by examples from Tell el-Amarna. Here we report on the bug’s habits and history, as revealed by archaeology.”