Bedbugs. Horrible, HORRIBLE little beasties that feast on human blood. Unlike many other parasites such as fleas, lice and mites, they don't live directly on their hosts; bedbugs make their homes in tiny crevices in, on, under and around the bed, emerging at night to feed. They're small and wingless (thank God for small mercies), reaching only about half a centimetre in length. They're a reddish brown in colour and remarkably flat, allowing them to squeeze into tiny crevices. There are actually several species of bedbug, some of which primarily infest bats or chickens, but the species Cimex lectularius specialises in the human habitat and pulls more than its own weight in horror in the home.
So let's find out a bit about these dispicable little blighters, shall we? You know what they say, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, so you can kill them.
Picture the scene: you are a bedbug. Not a huge human sized bedbug, not a bedbug who's woken up one morning and is shocked to discover you've turned into a bedbug, you're just a bedbug. You're relaxing in your warm, comfortable niche, perhaps under the mattress, surrounded by dozens of your kith and kin, or nestled in the corner of a bedside drawer. You might even be relaxing in an electric wall socket. Wherever you are, you're as snug as a bug in a rug. Are you in the rug?
Anyway, it's dark and you're hungry. You only eat once every few days, once a week even, you could go without for longer if you wanted to, you just don't want to. You can sense carbon dioxide in the air and that's all you need to know that something big nearby sleeps. Creeping out into the night air, you approach the source of the gas and as you reach 5 to 10 centimetres from it you begin to feel the warm glow of something juicy. Clambering up the mountainous body you select your spot and begin to prepare your picnic.
First, you pierce the skin and inject anticoagulants and anesthetics. One to ensure the Claret flows freely without clotting, the other to ensure your host slumbers on. You pierce again with your other tube, your favourite one, the one you use to suck the blood out of these lumbering Titans. And boy do you suck! In 10 minutes you can take in 7 times your own body weight of the red stuff. You feel yourself filling up, expanding in every direction. You become longer, thicker, rounder. You are now FAT with juice and it feels goooood. Once you've had your fill, and a touch more for luck, you return to your lair and put three or four feet up. You have disappeared into the darkness, like the curious incident of the bug in the night time. Safe, sound and sated. Until next week, you think to yourself. Until next week.
One day, hanging out with the guys and gals under the mattress, your casual musings on just how hungry you are today are rudely interrupted. Your world is turned upside down, literally. Light blazes down on you. You feel the usually welcome warmth and carbon dioxide of your host, but this time it's a shock! It's not on your own terms. Pandemonium strikes as your bed buddies scramble in alarm. You don't know where to run to, but still you run. Suddenly, you are engulfed in an unfamiliar smell. A terrible smell. You don't know what it is, but it doesn't smell good. It doesn't feel good. Your movements start to lose co-ordination. You can't properly control yourself. You frantically move your legs but they don't seem to be getting you anywhere. Around you, the smell of panic starts to shift to the stench of death. Death on a grand scale. A massacre. "Who's doing this? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?" Your final thoughts sink into the ground beneath you. You feel, so... tired...
Do you need some extra time to dry your eyes? Let's become humans again and embrace our hatred for bedbugs once more. The thing is, they aren't all that easy to kill. Some of them can go a year without feeding and survive a week in temperatures as low as −10 °C (14.0 °F). They can handle temperatures as high as 40 °C, even losing a third of their body weight without drying out, but they die pretty quick if it's much hotter than this. Quite distressing is the fact that bedbugs are becoming resistant to all sorts of insecticides, which is bad news. At least they don't pass on disease like mosquitos and the like.
Something else that's quite distressing is their method of reproduction, known as 'traumatic insemination'. You see, female bedbugs have no genital opening, so the male gets around this by going straight through it. He has hypodermic genitalia with which he pierces her abdomen and injects sperm. At least the female have what's known as a 'spermalage' to direct it to the ovaries and in some species, provide a target for the male to aim at. It's pretty bad really, it is actually an injury that the female bedbug has to heal. In laboratory conditions, where they're kept in confined spaces, females will actually die from too many such injuries. That's not the plan of course, rather she will lay 200 to 500 eggs at a rate of 3 or 4 per day to put a smile on her blood sucking little face.
They've come a long way, the bedbugs. Due to our globe-trotting travel and warm houses they've found themselves in parts of the world that they can't actually legitimately survive in. A toast to the bedbug perhaps? Maybe crack open a bottle of red? Maybe not.
Bedbugs and other sickos can be seen in exquisite and appalling detail in Life in the Undergrowth, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. I recommend it!
Other recommendations can be found here.