As If Once Weren't Enough

Sunday January 15, 2012


Mr Pest Control


I have read conflicting opinions on pregnant adult female bedbugs and their ability to lay eggs throughout their life when blood meals are available, but after only a single traumatic insemination by an adult male bed bug. Do female adult bed bugs need to be inseminated each time they are ready to feed and lay eggs?

Richard, TX

Mr Pest Control


This serious topic would be so easy to have some fun with. I was tempted to title it "No Means NO!", but chose the one I did instead. For those who may not be schooled on it yet, bed bugs mate in a rather unusual manner that is referred to as Traumatic Insemination, whereby the male bed bug, which really gets amorous following blood meals, climbs on top of the female and plunges his harpoon-like penis into her abdomen. This is generally done at a location on the female called the Organ of Berlese on her right side, and at this point the male releases his sperm into the female. This is so different from normal copulation by insects where males and females attach at the, uhhhh..... "proper" place. Once within the female the sperm then move to her ovaries to fertilize her eggs. 

Now, you'd think that would be enough for the female, but unfortunately she may be subjected to multiple stabbings by multiple males, and these wounds actually do cause her harm, leaving a wound that needs to heal over. Female bed bugs with multiple wounds are known to move away from aggregations of other bugs to be alone for awhile just to heal, and those that have had repeated matings will produce as much as 25% fewer eggs. 

That single mating and introduction of sperm will last the female for awhile, but eventually she may run out of sperm while still producing eggs, and require a second mating to complete things. Just how many eggs a female bed bug will lay is highly dependent on her access to food - blood. If she feeds regularly about once each week she may produce up to 3 eggs each day, but more likely the average runs about 1 per day. The total eggs potential of females seems to be an argument, as one highly respected resource says it is 200 to 500 eggs in her lifetime of about 18-24 months, while another highly respected source says 113 eggs in a 1 year lifetime. However, to answer your question, she can produce a great many eggs, averaging 1 or 2 per day early on, from that single insemination by a male. As the months go by and the female ages she will produce fewer eggs and may even need a second mating to complete the job. 

Interestingly, and I know this could be fuel for fun too, male bed bugs have also been known to climb on top of other male bed bugs and attempt to mate with them, stabbing them in the same manner as they would a female bed bug. Virginia Tech and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service have an excellent Fact Sheet on The Common Bed Bug that updates some beliefs we have had on these parasites. One is that the expected life span of the adults in a natural setting may be only a few months, as under perfect conditions in a laboratory the best they could do was to survive for 1 year. Another myth that may be exploded is that of starvation keeping the bugs alive longer, a belief based on studies from over 80 years ago. The old belief was that a bed bug could live for more than 1 year if it could not find food. Current studies show that a bed bug deprived of food will die within 70 days. Maybe we can starve them to death after all. 

Mr. Pest Control

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