We've Been At War With Bed Bugs Since We Lived In Caves

Real History |

Ah, the dreaded bed bug. Bed bugs are probably the most feared, most despised pest that we commonly have to worry about. C. lecturlarius has seen a renaissance in recent years that have made them a potential risk for virtually every human on the planet. And the history of how we got here is actually more interesting than you'd think.

Bed bugs may have been our bedfellows from the very beginning of our species. They are believed to have originally evolved in the Middle East and originally preyed on bats. When people started sharing those same caves with the bats, they leapt to us.

Fossilized bed bugs have been uncovered that were dated to roughly 3,500 years ago. Our first encounters with the insect were, well, gross. We originally tried to use them as medicine. The ancient Romans believed that they had curative properties that could help with ear infections and snake bites, and the ancient Egyptians used to mix them into medicinal drinks.

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The rise of cities saw a commensurate rise in the proliferation of bed bugs. The written record shows accounts of the pests first in Greece, then Italy, then in China, and then Germany, France and England.

British immigrants carried bed bugs to the New World during the first wave of exploration and settlement. By the 1800's, they were a problem.

The bed bugs did not see class. They afflicted the wealthy almost as severely as they did the poor. The parasites thrived in areas of dense population and inadequate sanitation, but they also stormed private estates.

By the 20th Century, bed bugs were among the most ubiquitous pests in the country. Surveys suggested that roughly a third of all urban residences were infested with bed bugs. And in poorer neighborhoods, they posed a significant threat to public health.

But the introduction of DDT in the 1950's marked the beginning of bed bugs' sharp decline. While DDT was eventually outlawed, improved chemical pest control and better understanding of the insect led to a rapid reduction in bed bug outbreaks. They were eventually quiet enough to be considered a rare problem.

But the 1980's saw a resurgence. And by the late 1990's, the bed bug population boomed. We are still in the midst of that explosion, which has catapulted bed bugs to a historic high. There are more bed bug infestations today than at any other time in human history. Between 2004 and 2009, reported bed bug infestations in New York City alone leapt from 500 to 10,000.

Nobody knows for sure what caused the boom. Some people speculate that it's because of our increased mobility. It's much easier to cross oceans now, and take some stowaways along with you.

Progress is slow in coming and hard-won. So if you get a bed bug infestation, look at it this way: at least you're witnessing history in the making.


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