Wondering how fast do bed bugs spread? If you’re searching online for clues on the bed bug infestation timeline, you’re probably in the unhappy position of having just found a bed bug in your home.
Depending on how old you are, you may remember a happier time when bed bugs were rare. So rare, in fact, that a lot of people began to doubt their existence.
But starting around 20 years ago, bed bugs made an astonishing comeback. These days, they are one of the most common and most feared pests in the world.
The reasons for this comeback are too complicated to get into here. But one factor that definitely helped the return of the bed bugs was their incredible reproductive rate.
And this is also a big part of the reason why bed bugs are so challenging to get rid of once they establish a home inside your home.
Let’s take a slightly closer look, shall we?
How do bed bugs mate?
Bed bugs aren’t like ants or wasps, with a hierarchical society in which only one queen produces babies. Any female bed bug that has mated can and will lay eggs, each and every day.
Female bed bugs are essentially babymaking machines. A single female can have up to 500 offspring in her lifetime, and her lifetime could be as short as four months.
Everything about bed bugs is gross, but their sex lives are especially so. Still, you asked.
To understand why bed bugs spread so quickly and so easily, it’s important to understand a little bit about how they breed.
For instance, bed bugs are not above incest. The 500 offspring of a single female have no need to go looking for other, non-related bugs to mate with.
Unlike most other animals, bed bugs can mate with closely related bugs, including siblings and parents, with no genetic defects. It’s for this reason that bed bug family reunions inevitably become extremely complicated.
But it also means that a single pregnant female bed bug – gravid is the correct term – can start a major infestation all by herself. Getting rid of bed bugs permanently is difficult because it is necessary to kill each and every single bug.
Or at least every female and every egg that could develop into a female. Women and children first, right?
How fast do bed bugs spread?
In short: exponentially fast…
Albert Einstein probably didn’t actually say that compound interest was the most powerful force in the universe. But whether he said it or not, there’s a ring of truth to it.
The bed bug reproductive cycle works in much the same way. Every new bed bug produced has the potential to create hundreds more. So over time, the number of bugs will climb substantially.
That’s exponentiality in action, folks.
Let’s imagine we start with one gravid female. And let’s say that she lays 200 eggs before she finally dies at the ripe old age of four months.
Depending on temperature, the eggs will hatch and the baby bed bugs will reach sexual maturity in around 100 days. Of those 200 eggs, around half will be female.
So by the end of her life, our initial female bed bug has given birth to 100 daughters. By bed bug standards, this family is on the small side.
Each of these 100 female bed bugs can and will lay hundreds of eggs of her own. Given our first gravid female had 100 daughters, it’s fair to assume that her hundred daughters would each have 100 daughters of their own.
That’s 10,000 female bedbugs in less than a year. And remember, there would be just as many males as females.
In any healthy bed bug population, there are always many times more bed bug eggs than there are adults – which is why it’s so important to kill off bed bug eggs as soon as you can. If left unchecked, bed bug populations will continue to climb.
And the bigger the population, the faster it will grow. Serious infestations become extremely difficult to treat because bed bugs breed faster than they can be killed.
If we stopped killing bed bugs tomorrow, we would probably be drowning in them within a decade. And that’s just no way to live.
How do bed bugs spread from house to house?
Bed bugs feed on people, for they don’t typically travel on people. While it’s not impossible, it’s far more common for bed bugs to travel on inanimate objects. Furniture. Clothes. Books.
Almost anything in your home could be a hiding place for bed bugs.
This becomes a problem where humans move things from one place to another. How many people step into a hotel room and place that bag on the bed right away?
Hotels are not immune to bed bugs. In fact, given how many people pass through a hotel room in a short space of time, it’s practically inevitable that the hotel will have bed bugs at some point.
And while it’s in the hotel’s best interest to deal with this problem as soon as they hear about it, they may not hear about it right away.
All it takes is for one bed bug to crawl into your suitcase and come home with you. If that bed bug is a gravid female, you now have a bed bug problem at home.
Used furniture is also a significant cause of bed bug spreading. When you consider that it’s possible to have bed bugs without knowing it, at least at a low level, that cheap dresser on Craigslist may no longer look like such a bargain.
Again, it only takes one gravid female bed bug to start an infestation all by herself. You can check furniture as carefully as you want, but can you be completely sure that there isn’t a single bed bug tucked away somewhere inside?
Planes. Trains. Buses. Libraries. Coffee shops. Hospitals. Hotels. All of these places can and do become infested with bed bugs. And from here, bed bugs spread like a virus.
Maybe you’ll get lucky, and the one bed bug you bring home will be a male. He’ll still bite you in order to feed, but with no females around, he’ll die a lonely death in a couple of months, and that will be the end of it.
But are you really that lucky? A lot of people aren’t. A lot of people pick up that first gravid female bed bug somewhere without even knowing it, and bring her home to start a disgusting family somewhere in the house.
This is how, from a declining population back in the 50s and 60s, bed bugs made a dramatic comeback on the world stage. While the efforts of humans greatly reduced their populations around the world, we didn’t kill them all.
And unless we someday make bed bugs completely extinct, their astonishing reproductive rate ensures that they will always be around. The best we can do is make damn sure that they’re not thriving within our homes.