Bedbugs are the worst creatures on earth.
Other animals might attack you, but that’s over quickly. Bedbugs, on the other hand, are a curse that can last for decades. They are a silent, relentless enemy that slowly, methodically shreds your sanity and destroys your life. Like the Terminator, they can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. They’re miniature vampires that live in your mattress, multiplying silently and drinking your blood every night. While their bite can’t harm you physically, infestations of bedbugs have resulted in social ostracization, madness, and even suicide.
A Brief History of Bedbugs
Known by a variety of colorful nicknames like crimson ramblers, nachtkrabblers, and bed goblins, Cimex lectularius have been in America about as long as Europeans have. They infested Aristotle, Anna Karenina, and revolutionary war soldiers alike. Bedbugs live anywhere where people live, in every country, on every continent. Even Antarctic research stations have reported the creatures.
For a golden period in the mid 20th Century, bedbugs were nearly eradicated by powerful insecticides like DDT. Since the 1980s, though, reports of infestations have steadily risen. No one is 100 percent sure why, but the most likely culprit is Evolution. Today’s bedbugs have developed a resistance to the pesticides that once killed their ancestors, leaving no known chemical treatment for infestations. Even the boric acid that is the bane to cockroaches doesn’t work on ‘em. When we find something that hurts them, they adapt to it. Nature is terrible.
The Terrible Lives of Bedbugs
The revolting creature pictured above is a bedbug in its “nymph” stage, one of the six states of bedbug life. Newly hatched bedbugs are nearly invisible. Their tiny bodies are translucent until they feed, when they take on the color of the fresh blood they consume.
Full-grown bedbugs basically look like a living blood splotch: Flat, rusty red and about the size of an apple seed. In adulthood, bedbugs spend most of their lives hiding, crawling into spaces as skinny as a credit card, and waiting. Though they most commonly make their homes in mattresses, bedbugs can be found just about anywhere, from inside laptop computers, to electrical outlets, to your child’s stuffed animals. Exterminators have reported bedbugs living in a prosthetic leg and in a casket with a deceased body.
Bedbugs feed about once every five to 10 days. They spend the rest of their time in their hidey-holes, dreaming terrible, unknowable bedbug dreams, until the thirst for human blood overwhelms them and they leave to hunt. They also make more bedbugs.
Bedbug Sex is Violent and Awful
Bedbugs reproduce through “traumatic insemination,” a process in which the male bedbug pierces the female’s abdomen with his penis, and inject his sperm directly into the wound in her abdominal cavity.
Male bedbugs love traumatic insemination. Sometimes, a gang of them will besiege a single unlucky female and inseminate her until she dies. They don’t even care if the abdomen they’re impaling belongs to a male or female. They’ll slam their sword-penises into other dudes, who often die from the resulting infections and wounds.
Once mama-bedbug has been knocked up, she’ll lay up to five eggs per day, depositing tiny, sticky little sacks full of nightmares on any handy surface.
“Night, Night, Don’t Let The Bedbugs Bite…”
Attracted by warmth and human breath, bedbugs can find you even in complete darkness. They crawl out from inside your mattress or drop from the ceiling onto your face or any other exposed flesh. Then the feeding begins.
First, bedbugs inject saliva into your skin. Their spit contains anesthetics so you won’t wake up, and anticoagulants to keep the blood flowing. Bedbugs spend minutes slowly sucking blood into their vile bellies. Once sated, the parasites wander off, usually stopping a few more times to feed in a new spot nearby. The distinctive triangle of red welts they leave behind is sometimes called “breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
They Spread Like Plague
You can pick up a bedbug just about anywhere. They hang out on theater seats, in airplanes and in hotel rooms. If you are unlucky, a bedbug will latch onto your clothing and hitch a ride into your home in order to destroy your life. You can’t reasonably prevent it. The bugs are indiscriminate, and don’t care if their hosts are rich or poor, clean or dirty. They are as likely to infest a Manhattan Abercrombie and Fitch store as a tenement building. All they want is blood.
There is Little Hope For the Infested
The first sign of bedbug infestation are the itchy welts their bites leave behind. “It’s probably nothing. A mosquito bite,” you’ll think, as your new roommates silently breed in your box spring, behind your wallpaper, or in your child’s My Little Pony stuffy.
The bites will become more frequent as the infestation grows, leading to a maddening, constant itch, a body full of crimson blotches, and friends and relatives who don’t want to hang out with “The Bug Guy.” Usually they bite the face, because that’s above the covers.
Before long, you’ll start to see your new roommate’s terrible leavings: Casings from their molting, and reddish brown splotches on your sheets. These marks are bedbug excrement made up of your own blood.
If you don’t do anything, you’ll soon find heavily infested “harborage areas” in your home. Your box-spring will start to look like a filthy graveyard of cast-off skin, dried blood, clumps of translucent egg sacs, and the corpses of insects who have been fucked to death by bedbug sword-penises. Eventually, it will start to stink, with a smell like rotting blackberries.
You’ll feel them crawl on you at night, so you’ll sleep less. Your once safe home will not seem safe any longer. You’ll most likely become obsessed with destroying the little monsters that torment you every night.
If you’re financially able, you’ll shell out thousands of dollars to professionals who may or may not actually be able to help you. If you’re poor, you’ll probably just have to live with your parasites. Either way: the lack of chemical treatment options means you’ll have to turn to physical measures to destroy your new enemies, but if they are good at nothing else, bedbugs are good at surviving.
But How Do I STOP It??
When confronted with a serious infestation, many people’s first response is something like, “burn the house down,” which is actually a fairly reasonable response to bedbugs; they’re that hard to kill. You can’t starve them: Under certain conditions, bedbugs can live without food for over a year. You can’t poison them: They’re immune. You can’t freeze them: Bedbugs can survive temperatures well below freezing. The only thing that hurts them is heat.
Bedbugs hate heat, so you’ll need to get the temperature above 122 degrees F to insure that they’ll die. Drying your clothes on “high” will work, but since bedbugs can live literally anywhere in your home, you’ll have to find a way to direct heat into every single space that’s accessible to a creature as thin as a few pieces of paper, and has evolved specifically to be great at hiding. If there’s some small crevice where the heat only gets up to 108? Sorry. If you miss a single, pregnant bedbug, you’ll have a brand new, thriving colony in a month or so.
Even if you do manage to rid your house and possessions of bedbugs, you’d better hope your neighbors in the adjoining condo are just as diligent as you are. Bedbugs don’t respect property lines at all.
Internet bedbug forums (yes, those exist) are lousy with stories of unfortunate people trying for the third, fourth and fifth time to rid their home of these miniature nocturnal vampires. They have done everything they can think of to rid their lives of the scourge, but nothing works. These heartbreaking tales of hopelessness are filled with such despair, it’s no wonder infested people often go insane.
Bedbugs Can Literally Drive You Mad
According to research published in the American Journal of Medicine the psychological effects of bedbug invasions can include “nightmares, flashbacks, hyper vigilance (to keep the bugs away), insomnia, anxiety, avoidance behaviors, and personal dysfunction.” Sometimes, the bugs worsen pre-existing psychological problems, and sometimes they seem to cause them. The psychosocial symptoms associated with bedbugs are so serious; they are comparable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Bedbug infestation’s psychological effects can continue even if you somehow manage to fully rid your home of these insects. According to research published in Pyschosomatics: The Journal of Consultation and Liaison Psychology, some people suffer psychotic and delusional disorders from the mere perception of bedbugs, with no actual bug present.
Bedbugs Can Actually Kill You
While their bites won’t harm you and their sword penises are far too small to damage you in a mating accident, in a sense bedbugs do kill people. There is at least one verified case of suicide due to bedbugs. According to a tragic case documented in The American Journal of Case Reports, a 62 year-old woman leaped to her death following repeated infestations of bedbugs, leaving a note reading, “I just saw a drop of blood on my dressing gown sleeve and I am sure that vampires are back and I cannot stand to live in fear of me being eaten alive… At the time of writing, I have swallowed a bottle of wine and two hundred pills and I feel nothing, I feel completely empty, it is unbearable…”