The following, while anthropomorphic, is an accurate depiction of bed bug mating behavior. Graphic scenes of traumatic insemination are depicted. Viewer discretion is advised.
Henrietta was used to the finer things in life. Hatched and raised in an upscale San Francisco hotel, she spent her days in Egyptian cotton and fine linens and feasted upon new and exotic meals every night. It was the type of life that other bed bugs only dreamed about. At 37 days old, Henrietta had finally become an adult. After a recent blood meal- a woman from Cheyenne in the city for a conference- Henrietta had been able to molt her 5th instar skin and finally reached the buxom adult size of 5mm. Her exoskeleton was a warm reddish brown color and her abdomen perfectly rounded; the perfect specimen of a female bed bug.
It had been a day just like any other for Henrietta. The previous guests had left, a couple from Cleveland on their honeymoon, and Henrietta lay tucked in in a flap of the dust ruffle, hidden away as housekeeping changed the sheets and vacuumed the carpet. It was just getting dark when the new guest appeared. He wasn’t in the room long. The click of the swipe card in the lock, the scent of Italian cologne and the soft thud as a leather satchel was tossed onto the bed and then he was gone again. It didn’t take Henrietta long to realize that something was different about this guest, that there was something different in her room but could not figure out exactly what it was until later.
The mysterious guest had come back around 1 am and went directly to sleep, not even bothering to remove his bag from the foot of the bed. Henrietta had waited until around 3 am to make her move. She shuffled across the crisp white sheets and across the human’s tanned skin, looking for a hairless spot on them man’s arm. And that’s when she saw him; a new bed bug.
Henrietta knew all the bed bugs in this hotel room- there were only 4 of them. Her mother had slipped through the wall voids between rooms, making this new space her own. She had managed to lay 4 eggs in the folds of the dust ruffle before being swept away in the sheets by housekeeping- surely meeting her death in a piping hot washing machine. Henrietta and her siblings had survived on instinct, following body heat and carbon dioxide to a meal and survival. But Henrietta’s siblings had dispersed to other parts of the sleeping human’s body and this bug now feeding on smooth hand of the stranger was not one of them.
Confused but intrigued, Henrietta quickly reminded herself of the task at hand- feeding. Feeling the warmth of the human beneath her, she slid her proboscis into his skin. Injecting anticoagulants and anesthetic into him, drawing blood from the man into herself. After filling her body with blood she scuttled back to her hiding spot, noticing she was being followed by the new bug.
Before long all of the bugs were back in their hiding spot, the air thick and acrid with the smell of freshly fed bed bugs lingered in the air. Henrietta knew the smell well, musty with just a hint of sweetness, it lingered in their hiding spot. But tonight something was different. Yes, they had fed many times before- they did so every few days, but they were adults now and while Henrietta couldn’t be sure of why, she knew that something had changed. Presumably this new bed bug, and her attraction to him, had something to do with it.
Sensing the charge in the air, the new bed bug moved towards her. Henrietta didn’t feel alarmed as the new bug embraced her. She felt his body wrap around hers, his exoskeleton against hers. But then there was something else; a sharp unexpected pain on the right side of her abdomen. Now, alarmed she was forced to hold still as this strange new bed bug inserted his knife-like penis through her exoskeleton. He released his sperm into her wound, where it would later travel through her bloodstream and fertilize her eggs.
He released her, Henrietta was wounded and alarmed. She looked up to find a mating frenzy in her small comfortable nook. She watched as the new bed bug crawled over to Henrietta’s brother and began to embrace him, although her brother released an alarm pheromone and the new bed bug released him.
Henrietta knew that she could no longer stay there. In time her wound would heal, but she feared future mating attempts would leave her more wounded. She needed a place to go to recover and to begin laying eggs. Her mother had died far too early, but if Henrietta protected herself and fed regularly she could produce eggs from this single mating for a month, laying about 5 eggs a day. Taking one last look at her plush surroundings, Henrietta crossed the bed to the leather satchel still laying at the foot of the bed. Maybe she’d switch bags in the cargo hold of the airplane or climb out in the trunk of a taxi cab, but where ever she ended up she and her eggs were off to a new home and new life.
Brittany is a licensed pest management professional.
Bay Area Bed Bugs is the official Bed Bug Blog of Pestec Integrated Pest Management.