Bed Bug Life Cycle

[Updated for 2021]

bed bugs at all stages of development

Understanding bed bug reproduction

Your interest is in the bed bug reproductive cycle. It’s a race to kill them faster than they can reproduce. A race of attrition. Heat treatment is so popular because it speeds up that race to your advantage, often eliminating all bed bugs and eggs in one session.

I’ve covered the most important and basic bed bug life cycle information here. There is a wealth of facts and research available that goes into deeper detail about bed bug physiology, reproduction, etc., available at many universities and extensions.

How bed bugs act and reproduce doesn’t change so I’m giving you the critical information you need – their reproductive cycle. I’ve included links if you want to delve deeper. Ongoing bed bug research, and exciting new discoveries are being made that may result in more effective and less toxic treatment solutions.

Remember, they’re not seasonal. Once they have a meal source (you) they’re not going anywhere. They have to die, all of them. But you can do it.

I won the bed bug war, so I KNOW you can. I’m not a hero, just determined.

photo credit: stephen_ausmus_usda, bed bugs all stages

What do bed bugs look like?

parts of an adult bed bug

Bed bugs are small, but they are visible to the eye, especially after their second molting phase. In the first stage, you won’t be able to identify bed bugs without a lighted magnifier.

A first-stage nymph or just hatched bed bug is visible but very hard to see. After hatching the nymph is semi-translucent, almost clear. After its first blood meal it changes to dark red, or blood red.

Bed bugs do not have wings and cannot fly or jump. They can fall from a wall or ceiling.

Bed bugs have six hairless legs*, which makes it difficult for them to climb perfectly smooth metal, glass or plastic surfaces. They do not have wings and cannot fly. *A resurgence of the “tropical bed bug” found in warmer, wetter tropical climates including Florida and the Southern U.S., can climb smooth surfaces.

How fast do bed bugs reach adult egg-laying stage

Bed bugs develop from egg to adult via a process called “gradual metamorphosis.” This means the last larval stage develops directly into an adult without passing through a non-feeding pupal stage. There are five larval stages, and each one requires a blood meal before molting into the next life cycle stage. Both adult male and female bed bugs feed on blood and take repeated blood meals during their lives. Females require blood for the development of eggs.

https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/

Bed Bug Eggs

Can one bed bug lay eggs?

If the one bed bug is a fertilized or pregnant female, yes. Females can continue laying eggs for up to 6-10 weeks without feeding or mating. The male and female hatched eggs (nymphs) will begin mating and laying eggs after 5-8 weeks (approximately)

How often do bed bugs need to mate to lay eggs?

Female bed bugs must be fertilized by a male to lay eggs. The female only needs to be fertilized by a male once every 6-8 weeks. She will lay eggs every day after fertilization – for weeks, even without a meal. A female bed bug will eventually need a blood meal to continue to lay eggs.

Does temperature stop bed bugs from mating or laying eggs?

Temperature can affect how many eggs are laid and how frequently. Eggs can take from 7 to 15 days to hatch, depending on environmental conditions such as temperature. Unless it is hot enough to kill bed bug and eggs, they may slow down but not much. If it’s cold enough to stop bed bugs, you are probably also very cold.

How can one pregnant bed bug continue to lay eggs without a male?

A female bed bug will mate with her male offspring after a nymph has is mature, typically after four to five weeks of blood meals. Females will mate with any available male including siblings, children or parents. If you have a pregnant female she will mate with her male offspring as soon as they mature.

How often do bed bugs lay eggs?

A female bed bug begins laying eggs at approximately four to five weeks old, and will lay one to five eggs every day for the rest of her fertilized life. It is estimated that a female bed bug can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifetime. If a female bed bug can feed every week, she will produce many more eggs than if she is able to feed only once a month.

How quickly do bed bug eggs hatch?

Eggs can take approximately 7 to 15 days to hatch, depending on environmental conditions such as temperature. Nymphs (baby bed bugs) will immediately seek their first blood meal after hatching. After each blood meal the nymph will molt or shed their exoskeleton, which are sometimes referred to ask castings.

How long can baby bed bugs live without their first meal?

Newly hatched bed bugs can live for several months in ideal conditions without a first meal. Each meal (3-7 days apart) will be followed by a “molt” of their skin or exoskeleton. Each time they molt, they evolve to the next size, until they reach adulthood, when females will begin to lay eggs if she is impregnated.

How big do bed bugs get?

A typical size is described as around the size of an apple seed. A pregnant adult female may become elongated up to a half inch long.

How long can bed bugs live without feeding?

Bed bugs have been observed to live over a year without feeding. Temperature and other conditions can affect how long that is so there is no absolute number. All stages from nymph to adult can survive in dwellings for several months without a blood meal, but cannot lay eggs or molt to the next stage without a new blood meal. Bed bugs can lay eggs for several weeks after one meal, but will need to feed again to continue to lay eggs.

How does temperature affect bed bugs?

Bed bugs optimal temperature for reproducing is around 72° F. Bed bugs and eggs will die when frozen at 0° F, for over one hour. It is not advised to put bags of infested items outside in the snow with the intention of killing bed bugs. Temperatures must be the same consistently and that is not guaranteed using outdoor temperatures or hot car temperatures. Those temps are not maintained evenly, or consistently. An actual freezer at 0° F may be used to treat paper or fabric items but not electronics. See more on Freezing Bed Bugs Do’s and Don’ts here.

Bed bugs die at approximately 120° F when exposed for thirty minutes. Bed bug eggs however require an hour or more at the same temperature, or 1 hour at 125° F. to die. There are many ways to safely treat your possessions, craft supplies, books, toys, and even electronics without putting you and your family at risk. *Documented research and results about the temperature to kill bed bugs and eggs.

NEVER ATTEMPT TO HEAT YOUR HOME OR POSSESSIONS USING SPACE HEATERS, AN OVEN OR MICROWAVE OVEN.

From Purdue University Entomology Extension

Bed bugs develop from egg to adult via a process called “gradual metamorphosis.” This means the last larval stage develops directly into an adult without passing through a non-feeding pupal stage. There are five larval stages, and each one requires a blood meal before molting into the next life cycle stage. Both adult male and female bed bugs feed on blood and take repeated blood meals during their lives. Females require blood for the development of eggs.

The five larval stages are completed in about a month under suitable conditions of temperature, humidity, and availability of hosts for blood meals. All stages from nymph to adult can survive in dwellings for several months without a blood meal. but will not molt into the next life cycle stage until they engorge on blood. Adults can survive even longer under the same conditions, but, again, do not develop eggs unless they feed on blood.

Male and female adults usually feed every 3-4 days and become engorged with blood in about 10-15 minutes.

Bed bugs detect carbon dioxide emitted from warm-blooded animals and respond to warmth and moisture as they approach the potential host. On humans, they tend to feed on exposed surfaces such as the face, neck, arms, and hands. Again, the bites are painless, and the host typically is not disturbed while bed bugs feed.

Does temperature affect the bed bug life span

At 98.6 F (37° C), females live an average of 32 days while males live an average of 29 days (Johnson 1942, Usinger 1966)

At 50 F (10° C), females live an average of 425 days while males live an average of 401 days (Johnson 1942, Usinger 1966)

More effective pesticides have been and continue to be developed. Many like the fungus derived biopesticide. The biopesticide is a non-toxic, ready-to-use oil formula of fungal spores called Beauveria bassiana. One application will last three months making it an excellent choice for active and preventative bed-bug treatments. Pesticides labeled for bed bugs kill bed bug eggs, with the exception of Bedlam.

More deliciously nerdy bed bug facts from Cornell University Bed Bug FAQ

  • Life Stages: Eggs hatch into nymphs. Newly hatched nymphs are tiny—about 1/16th of an inch.
  • Nymphs—which look like small adults—become adults in 5 weeks. They go through 5 molts to reach adult size—meaning they shed their old, smaller skin 5 times. They must feed before each molt.
  • Females can produce 5-7 eggs per week, laying up to 500 in a lifetime.
  • Bed bugs grow fastest and lay most eggs at about 80°F.
  • They feed only on blood.
  • They feed when people are sleeping or sitting quietly, often when it’s dark.
  • They seek shelter in cracks and crevices when not feeding.
  • They poop out “blood spots.” Spots look like dots made by a fine felt-tipped marker. You’d see them near where they fed and near their hideouts.
  • Adults can live over a year without a meal.
  • Adults, nymphs and eggs can survive sustained heat and cold if given time to adjust.
  • Can be found in the cleanest of clean places. But clutter makes them harder to get rid of.
  • They have no “grooming behavior”—meaning that insecticides meant to be swallowed by roaches and flies won’t work on bed bugs.

3 Comments

  1. So if eggs are trapped in sealed plastic garbage bags, probably not absolutely oxygen suppressed, and when they hatch, can they live for several months as nymphs without food?

    Also – I have kept bed bug eggs in a glued shut plastic container for a month and a half and they still haven’t hatched. Is this because they are either already dead, or they are lying dormant or dead without oxygen?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi, sorry to be late in seeing this message. I’m not an entomologist so I’m not really sure, but…I “think” the eggs will either hatch or not. The nymphs (just hatched) can go some weeks without a first meal. How long is mostly moot. How is your infestation going?

      Reply
  2. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all folks you really realize what you’re speaking about!
    Bookmarked…

    Reply

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