No, bed bugs do not eat food. Bed bugs have evolved to only consume the blood of humans and other mammals. Their mouths are straw-like beaks just like a mosquito’s proboscis. They do not have mouth parts that can bite or chew through food. Their beaks are so delicate that it can only really puncture through skin-like membranes. It would never be able to tear through solid material.
Bed bug mouth anatomy
Bed bugs, unlike other insects, do not have jaws, lips, or teeth. They have a straw-like beak akin to a mosquito’s located at the tip of their head. It is about as long as one of their legs. Because of its length, they keep it tucked under their bodies when not in use. Next to the long beak is a shorter beak. The shorter beak is to pierce through the host’s skin, while the longer beak is then inserted to the hole to search out a blood vessel. Because of their specialized mouthparts, they are incapable of feeding on any solid food. Their beaks cannot bite, chew, or swallow food even if the bed bug wanted to.
How do bed bugs eat?
When it finds a blood vessel, it will start sucking in the blood. The shorter beak also injects saliva with anesthetic properties to numb the bite area so the host does not become aware that it is being fed on. The longer beak releases an anticoagulant so the blood it is drinking does not clot so it can feed continuously.
A typical bed bug meal takes between 10 and 20 minutes. If you move around while they are feeding, they will scatter and run back to their hiding place. Bed bugs would rather run away from you than risk getting squashed when you roll over.
After a full meal, a bed bug will balloon up to three times its size. They will crawl back to their hiding place and digest their blood meal.
How often do bed bugs eat?
With a host close by to feed on regularly, bed bugs will feed every five to ten days. If they have a constant supply of food, the population grows quicker and the infestation grows larger.
If bed bugs all of a sudden find themselves without a host, they will adjust accordingly and survive up to a year without feeding.
Bed bugs start feeding the moment the eggs hatches. The baby bed bug, or nymph, will need to feed on a host in order to grow into the next four nymphal stages. Each nymphal stage requires a blood meal to help them grow and so they can shed their old exoskeleton. When the bed bug becomes a sexually mature adult, they will still need to feed regularly. Female bed bugs need to feed so they can produce healthy and viable eggs, while male bed bugs need to feed in order to produce healthy sperm.
Bed bugs have also been observed to feed more frequently during the summer months because higher environmental temperatures aid in their digestion. This also means they mature quicker than they would during the winter. This also means that they feed much more frequently. They will feed every two or three days as opposed to every five to ten days. During fall and winter, their digestion can become so slow that they feed only once a month even if there is a host nearby.
How much blood do bed bugs drink in a single meal?
Bed bugs remove about 0.0055 milliliters of blood every bite. Mosquitos consume about twice as much blood per feeding. In one feeding, bed bugs can drink up to six times their body weight in blood. This is why their normally flat bodies become round and rotund after feeding.
There have been cases, though few, of bed bugs causing anemia due to blood loss. These cases often happen to babies and small children, but adults can also be affected if your infestation becomes too severe.
Do bed bugs have any other food source?
No, bed bugs do not feed on anything other than blood. They do not even feed on each other even if there is no host close by. They are not designed to feed on any other body parts from their hosts, such as dead skin or hair. And as mentioned above, they are not able to bite or chew through any material that is thicker than skin-like membranes.
There are a variety of insects that are able to survive on multiple sources of food, but the bed bug is not one of them. Blood is their only source of nutrients and nothing else.
Bed bugs receive a multitude of vitamins and minerals from blood. It is so rich that bed bugs get everything they need to survive from it. This is why some bed bugs are able to live off of one blood meal for an entire year if they need to. Bed bugs can also retain moisture in their body because of the waxy outer layer of their shell. The trapped moisture is what keeps them alive up to a year without feeding.
Do bed bugs feed on other animals?
If bed bugs do not have access to human hosts, they will not hesitate to feed on other mammals nearby, such as dogs, cats, and even rats. Bed bugs prefer humans to animals because we are mostly hairless so we are easier to feed on. Bed bugs need to exert a lot of effort when traversing hair so they would much rather feed on humans.
No, bed bugs do not eat food because they do not have the necessary mouth parts to bite, chew, or swallow solid food. Bed bugs only consume blood for all of their dietary needs.
Since they get all that they need from blood, they no longer have to evolve past their straw-like beaks to be able to eat other kinds of food.
Image: istockphoto.com / John-Reynolds