How long can bed bugs live without biting a human?

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed exclusively on blood. They are a major nuisance pest that can lead to uncomfortable bites, loss of sleep, and anxiety. A common question many people have is how long bed bugs can survive without feeding on human blood.

Quick Answers

Here are some quick answers to how long bed bugs can live without biting humans:

  • Adult bed bugs can survive for several months without feeding.
  • Nymphs (immature bed bugs) cannot survive as long and may only live 1-2 months without a blood meal.
  • Under ideal conditions, adult bed bugs have been reported to survive up to 12 months without feeding.
  • Low temperatures and lower humidity can extend how long they can live without feeding.
  • Bed bugs can survive longer without feeding when in a dormant state.

How Bed Bugs Feed

Bed bugs are obligate hematophages, meaning they require blood meals to survive, develop, and reproduce. They typically feed every 5-10 days. Females must take a blood meal before they can produce eggs.

Bed bugs use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on sleeping humans, most often biting exposed skin on the face, neck, arms, and hands. They inject saliva while feeding, which contains anesthetics and anticoagulants, allowing them to feed undetected for around 5-10 minutes.

Bed bugs are stealthy and can feed without being noticed. They detect carbon dioxide, heat, and chemicals given off by a host to locate a blood meal.

Adult Bed Bugs Can Survive Months Without Feeding

Adult bed bugs can survive for surprisingly long periods without taking a blood meal, through a process called diapause. Diapause is similar to hibernation in other insects.

During diapause, bed bugs enter a dormant state where they reduce their activity and cease reproduction. Their peak time of dormancy is when temperatures are cooler and there is less daylight.

Under laboratory conditions with temperatures around 70°F, adult bed bugs have survived up to 12 months without feeding, according to one study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

In more normal conditions, adult bed bugs typically survive 2 to 6 months without a blood meal. But given ideal conditions like lower temperatures, low activity, and dormancy, they may persist even longer without feeding.

Factors That Impact Survival Without Feeding

There are several factors that impact how long bed bugs can live unfed:

  • Age – Adult bed bugs can survive longer without blood than younger nymphs.
  • Temperature – Colder temperatures allow bed bugs to survive longer without feeding.
  • Activity level – Bed bugs that are dormant and inactive use less energy.
  • Access to a host – Bed bugs with frequent access to hosts survive longer than those isolated from hosts.
  • Harborage conditions – Ideal harborage sites protect bed bugs from temperature extremes and allows longer survival.

While adult bed bugs can withstand long periods of starvation, nymphs and eggs are less resilient:

  • Nymphs may survive around 1-2 months without feeding.
  • Eggs typically hatch within a week, and nymphs require a blood meal soon after hatching.

Physiological Changes in Unfed Bed Bugs

When bed bugs are starved, their body goes through a number of physiological changes:

  • Their body size reduces as fat reserves deplete.
  • Vitamin levels decrease over time without blood meals.
  • They produce a stress hormone called corticosterone.
  • Digestive enzymes and genes related to digestion are suppressed.
  • Genes related to nutrient absorption, metabolization, and molting are activated.

These physiological adaptations allow bed bugs to conserve energy and resources when hosts are unavailable. By analyzing these changes, researchers are gaining insight into the survival mechanisms used by bed bugs.

Behavioral Changes in Unfed Bed Bugs

In addition to physiological changes, bed bugs exhibit altered behaviors when starved for extended periods:

  • They increase their activity levels and begin actively searching for a host once starving.
  • Unfed bed bugs wander further distances from their harborage sites looking for food.
  • They respond faster to host signals like carbon dioxide, heat, and chemicals.
  • Female bed bugs produce fewer eggs during periods of starvation.

These behavioral adaptations maximize their chance of finding a blood meal when faced with starvation. The bugs essentially enter “survival mode” after prolonged times without feeding.

Does Starvation Impact Bed Bug Control?

The ability of bed bugs to withstand months of starvation has important implications for control efforts. Some key considerations include:

  • Well-fed bed bugs are easier to control since they are not in a dormant, energy-conserving state.
  • Starved bed bugs may be more difficult to lure into traps and monitors.
  • Insects that haven’t fed recently may be less susceptible to insecticides.
  • Eliminating infestations requires killing bugs that have survived extended times without feeding.

These factors make it critical to combine non-chemical and chemical control tactics when battling stubborn infestations. Relying solely on insecticides often fails because hidings bugs are unaffected until they become active again.

Can Bed Bugs Starve in an Unoccupied Home?

Bed bugs can absolutely starve to death in an unoccupied home. This is contingent on two key factors:

  1. There must be no alternative food source available. Bed bugs cannot survive on crumbs or debris, they require human blood.
  2. The infestation must be confined completely within the abandoned home. Any bed bugs that spread to neighboring homes will continue thriving.

With no blood meal source available, an infestation inside a vacant home will gradually die off given enough time. How quickly this happens depends on the size of the original infestation and environmental conditions inside the home.

Unfortunately, most infestations are not neatly contained within a single home. Bed bugs easily spread via walls, utilities, and plumbing to neighboring units in apartments or condos. Relying on starvation alone often does not eliminate widespread infestations.

Can You “Starve Them Out” in an Occupied Home?

Attempting to starve out an infestation in an occupied home is difficult. As long as residents are present, the bugs have access to a regular blood meal source. And bed bugs can persist months between feedings.

Some tips that may accelerate starvation in an occupied home include:

  • Isolate beds by installing interceptor traps under the legs. This removes access to sleeping residents.
  • Vacuum diligently to remove dropped bugs and eggs.
  • Seal cracks and crevices where bugs harbor to limit access points and make them work harder to find a host.
  • Turn down the temperature at night to make conditions less hospitable.

However, with active residents present, total starvation is very hard to achieve. A more effective strategy is Integrated Pest Management, combining multiple mechanical, physical, and chemical treatments to control infestations.

How Quickly Do Bed Bugs Die Without Feeding?

When bed bugs are completely isolated from their food source, how long does it take for them to die? The timeline depends on their life stage:

  • Adults – Can survive more than 12 months without feeding in colder conditions. Will die after 2-6 months in normal environments.
  • Nymphs – May survive only 1-2 months without a blood meal.
  • Eggs – Typically hatch within a week. Newly hatched nymphs require feeding.

While adults can endure many months without blood, nymphs and eggs perish much more quickly. The most resilient stages are overwintering adults in diapause.

Higher temperatures, activity levels, and metabolism will reduce how long they can survive unfed. But cooling temperatures, inactivity, and dormancy preserve their energy and extend starvation tolerance.

Rare reports exist of adult bed bugs living up to a year under starvation conditions. But in most cases, they will die after several months without a feeding.

Key Takeaways

Here are some key points on how long bed bugs can survive without feeding:

  • Adult bed bugs can survive for many months, potentially up to a year given cool temperatures.
  • Nymphs and eggs die more quickly, within 1-2 months.
  • Dormancy and inactivity allows bed bugs to conserve energy when starved.
  • Warmer conditions and activity shorten how long they survive unfed.
  • Starvation alone often fails to eliminate infestations in occupied homes.
  • Integrated pest management gives better control by targeting bugs in all life stages.

The Bottom Line

Bed bugs are extremely resilient pests. Their ability to withstand months of starvation makes them a challenging foe for homeowners and pest management professionals.

But with persistence and an integrated approach, infestations can be defeated. Combining methods such as encasements, traps, steam, and insecticides provides comprehensive control by targeting bed bugs even in their most dormant state.

While bed bugs can survive surprisingly long without feeding, they cannot hold out forever. With diligence and thoroughness, you can safely eliminate bed bugs from your home.

Leave a Comment