Are Bed Bugs Cannibals? (Unexpected Facts)

There are previous studies that actually stated that insects under laboratory conditions can be cannibals. However, recent studies show the opposite.

Cannibalistic behavior doesn’t occur in bed bugs. Generally, bed bugs feed exclusively on human blood, but not on each other or any other insects. Studies show that there are no signs of cannibalism behavior in bed bugs. We have several arguments to support and prove this assumption.

Also, there is a lack of research available about the behavior of bed bugs. This makes it much harder to actually know whether there are cannibalistic inclines or not. But with the knowledge of bed bugs at hand, we can come to the non-cannibalistic conclusion.

Why Don’t Bed Bugs Eat Other Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs usually live in cracks and crevices of walls, furniture, and floorboards. They emerge from there to take blood meals whenever they sense the host in the area.

Bed bugs feed on blood, and mostly they prefer human blood or animal blood. Other bed bugs don’t have blood and are simply not suitable as food for other bugs. (But for you, as you can read here) Bed bugs are ectoparasites, meaning they are external parasites.

Bed bugs are nocturnally active. The peak of their feeding activity usually occurs in the night, after midnight. They feed on blood once every 1–2 weeks, while their prey or host is inactive or sleeping, usually they feed during the night.

Here are all reasons why bed bugs don’t eat each other:

Bed bugs don’t have blood themselves

Bed bugs don’t have blood. They have hemolymph, which makes it impossible for them to eat each other, as they only feed on blood, and mostly, human blood. Hemolymph is a liquid found in insects that has similar functions as blood but different components.

It circulates freely in the interior of the body of the insect, while it remains in direct contact with the tissues of the body. Hemolymph is composed of a fluid plasma, where the cells are called hemocytes. They play a great role in the immune system of invertebrates.

Moreover, bed bugs produce certain secretions that can have some bacteria and fungi. Another interesting fact about bed bug biology is that they have some antibacterial components, which can be used against human pathogens.

Adult bed bugs have a hard shell

Bed bugs have a hard shell, which is harder to go through compared to human skin. Their exoskeleton is strong, and they are not able to pierce it like the skin to withdraw hemolymph through an elongated beak.

The bed bugs are bloodsuckers so that their mouthparts can saw through the skin, but not through hard shells. Bed bugs are able to inject their special saliva with painkillers and blood thinners. The bugs find their hosts through the carbon dioxide and warmth of their bodies.

It’s interesting that bed bugs have a mineral-rich exoskeleton filled with hemolymph, natural fats, protein, and pheromones. However, these elements are hidden behind a wall of chitin (and not suitable for a blood diet).

Baby bed bugs have a softer shell but smaller mouthparts

When it comes to baby bed bugs, their shell is a bit softer than adults, but still is too hard for the bed bugs to pierce it and go through it with their mouthparts. Ecdysis enables these bugs to shed skins during development since their cuticle forms a largely inelastic exoskeleton which can be shed and replaced with a new, larger covering.

Host bed bug wouldn’t play the game

If bed bugs find other insects (e.g. blood-filled bed bugs), it would be hard for them to get to the blood, as those move too fast, and their shell is hard. Bed bugs feed on prey that doesn’t move and usually during the night when people sleep.

Bed bugs are not made to hunt for their host instead they feed in incognito mode.

Sucking blood from other bed bugs is ineffective

The host animal releases temperature and carbon dioxide and these play as signals to the bed bug that there is a feeding opportunity close to them. Bed bugs feed on blood once every 1–2 weeks, while the host is sleeping.

This process requires 5–10 minutes to complete. They generally choose the open areas of the body that are exposed while sleeping, such as the face, neck, arms, and hands. Sucking blood from other bed bugs would be ineffective, as it’s not a big food source and will not provide enough nutrition for the bed bug.

After feeding, the insects can stay without food for several months and survive without another blood meal for up to 2 years, so even if bed bugs are hungry, they will not eat each other to fill up. Instead, they will find the host with a large source of blood.

Do Bed Bugs Then Feed On Other Bugs Or Roaches?

Bed bugs do not feed on other bugs or roaches. Their primary food source is blood. Mostly human, or other warm-blooded animals. Bed bugs can also feed on birds, but rarely in the situation where they are hungry and can’t find the right host for a long time.

These animals or birds are attacked only in an emergency—when human blood is not obtainable, and should a human being be available, the bugs would attack man rather than an animal.

Bed Bugs Do Sting Each Other: Here Is Why

The reproductive biology of bed bugs is a very unique process compared to other insects. It is characterized by traumatic insemination, or also known as hypodermic insemination. A male insect inseminates into the female’s body cavity by penetrating her abdominal wall with his external genitalia.

The male insect does not inject the sperm into the genital tract but rather into the paragenital system after piercing the female’s body wall. Then the sperm diffuses through the female’s hemolymph and reaches the ovaries, which results in fertilization.

The female genital pore has no role in the population, as it’s only responsible for laying eggs. The female bed bugs lay eggs on the rough surfaces where they hide.

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