Bed bugs were first introduced into the Americas by the early colonists. Colonial writings of the early 18th century documented severe bed bug problems in the English colonies and in Canada, but not in Indian villages. Old sailing ships were notoriously infested with bed bugs, some so much so that some ships forbade passengers and colonists from bringing bedding on board.
During the early 20th century, it was a rare American indeed who had never been bitten or at least seen a bed bug. Bed bugs were rated among the top three pests in and around structures. Surveys showed that as many as 1/3 of all residences were infested in some cities. In lower income areas, virtually all residences had bed bugs at one time or another. In these areas, bed bugs were “public enemy number one.”
The Impact of DDT and Other Insecticides
Then a surprising thing happened. The bed bugs disappeared; at least in developed countries. By the 1950’s, American entomologists (insect specialists) were hard put to find live bed bugs for laboratory work. What happened?
DDT happened. Bed bugs had finally met their match. DDT would be sprayed or dusted on and around the bed, and control would last for a year or more. Although, DDT resistance appeared within a few years, control remained effective with the other chlorinated hydrocarbons, particularly lindane, and eventually the organophosphate insecticide malathion. By the middle 1950’s, bed bugs had changed from a major household pest to an occasional pest in socially depressed settings or other unusual circumstances. A rare bed bug problem might show up in shelters, prisons, youth hostels, or cabins but almost never in homes or hotels.
Bed Bugs-From the Beginning
It is thought that C. lecturlarius may have actually originated in the Middle East, in caves that were inhabited by humans as well as bats. The lineages of the bed bug can be traced by their name as well. In ancient Rome, a bed bug was called Cimex, meaning ‘bug’, the species designation lecturlarius refers to a couch or bed. Bed bugs are ancient insects and they have lived off hosts since time began. Studies have suggested that they parasitized bats first and then moved on to humans. The bed bugs inhabited the same caves where civilization began.
With the Growth of Civilization, the Bed Bugs Multiplied
Fossilized bed bugs, dating back further than 3,500 years, have been found at archaeological sites. During that age, the bed bugs were used as a potion to try to cure common ailments. The bugs were burned by the Romans and Greeks to make leeches release their hold. To cure snakebite, Egyptians would drink the bed bugs. Bed bugs were thriving due to the formation of villages and then cities. Civilization grew and the bed bugs multiplied and spread all throughout Asia and Europe. By 100 A.D., they were a well-known presence in Italy, in 600 A.D. in China, in the 1200s in Germany and 1400s in France. Heat that was generated from cooking and sleeping fires afforded the bugs a comfortable life in the wealthiest families residing in castles and the less fortunate working class living in huts.
England and Ancient Greece
England first reported bed bugs in 1583. Shortly thereafter, they arrived in the Americas, stowing away with the European explorers and the settlers. In 400 BC, Ancient Greece mentioned bed bugs and they were mentioned again by Aristotle. According to Pliny’s Natural History that was first published in Rome around 77 AD, medicinal values for bed bugs included the treatment of ailments like ear infections and snake bites. This belief in bed bugs medicinal properties continued at least until the 18th century. That is when Guettard recommended using them to treat hysteria.
Bed Bugs in the 1800′s
The early colonists brought the bed bugs with them to the Americas in the 1700‘s. In the earlier part of the 18th century, colonial writings document severe problems with bed bugs in Canada and the English colonies. In the 1800s, bed bugs were abundant in North America following the arrival of the European settlers. In an attempt to deter the bed bugs, their beds were generally made out of sassafras wood and doused the crevices with boiling water, sulfur and arsenic.
However, there was not a problem with bed bugs in the Indian villages. It was known that old sailing ships were overrun with bed bugs. Many sailors had complained that bugs were attacking them while they were sleeping at night. They forbade colonists and passengers from bringing any bedding on board the ship.
Germany first mentioned bed bugs in the 11th century. They were first mentioned in France during the 13th century. England’s first mention of bed bugs was in the year 1583, until 1670 the bugs were rather rare in England. Some people in the 18th century thought that the bed bugs were brought to London in supplies purchased to rebuild London following the Great Fire in the year 1666. In the 18th century, Giovanni Antonio Scopoli made note of the presence of bed bugs in Carniola, which is generally equivalent to Slovenia in present-day. Railroads, hotels and ships were ideal accommodations for bed bugs. Travelers that were wise to the bed bug’s habits would pull their beds away from the walls and then immerse the legs in pans full of oil.
Old School Bed Bug Treatment
Over the years, there have been multitudes of formulas claiming they could assist in controlling bed bug infestations. If these formulas were used today, it could result in being incarcerated. By the middle of the 1800s, the poor were plagued with the bed bugs. These were overcrowded areas that had low cleanliness standards. The wealthier households that had excess domestic help discovered that vigorous housekeeping assisted in eliminating the pests. The larger benefit from these kinds of efforts was detecting the infestations during the bed bugs vulnerable initial stages. The greatest remedy is extreme cleaning and continuous care and examining all the joints and crevices to ensure there are no more bed bugs residing in those dark crevices.
Early 20th Century
In the early 20th century, the majority of Americans had seen a bed bug and most had been bitten. At that time, bed bugs were considered one of the top three pests concerning structures. Surveys taken at that time showed that almost 1/3 of all the residences in some of the cities were infested with bed bugs. In the lower income areas, nearly all the residences had been infested with bed bugs at some point. In the lower income areas, bed bugs were considered to be the #1 public enemy. Then something surprising happened. All of a sudden, the bed bugs were gone, at least in the countries that were developed. By the ‘50s, the American entomologists were having difficulty finding live bed bugs for their laboratory work. The question was what happened?
In the ‘50s, DDT was introduced to exterminate cockroaches and the bed bug population began to decrease rapidly. The bed bugs had met their match in DDT. The DDT would be dusted or sprayed all around and all over the bed. This bed bug control would last at least a year. In 1972, DDT being used as a pesticide was banned. It was thought that DDT as well as other pesticides could cause cancer and also endangered wildlife, especially the bird population. It is also believed that the vacuum cleaner and simplified furniture design also assisted in helping eliminate the bed bugs. Some believe that it may have been the organisms’ cyclical nature.