How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food? Surprising Facts to Know

Bed bugs are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of people and animals while they sleep.

These pests are known for their resilience, which includes their ability to survive without a meal for an extended period of time.

Though bed bugs typically feed on blood every 5 to 10 days, they can withstand several months to a year without feeding.

This stark survival skill contributes to the continued presence of these pesky insects, making them an ongoing concern for homeowners and travelers alike.

How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food
Bed Bug

It is important to understand bed bugs’ ability to live without a blood meal so that proper prevention and control measures can be implemented.

To reduce the risk of bed bug infestations, be cautious when traveling, inspect any used furniture or clothing, and maintain a clean home environment.

Bed Bug Life Cycle

Eggs

Bed bugs begin their life cycle as eggs, which are tiny, measuring about 1mm in size1.

These eggs are laid by female bed bugs and are often found in sheltered locations.

A female bed bug can lay around five eggs per day and up to 500 throughout her adult life2.

Nymphs

After hatching, bed bugs enter the nymph stage. The nymph stage consists of five stages, with the bugs growing slightly larger at each stage.

Young bed bugs, or nymphs, require a blood meal to molt and progress through each stage of their life cycle.

Nymphs are generally smaller than adult bed bugs and appear lighter in color. Features of nymph stages include:

  • 1st stage nymph: 1.5mm in size3
  • 2nd stage nymph: 2mm3
  • 3rd stage nymph: 2.5mm3
  • 4th stage nymph: 3mm3

During each molt, the nymph sheds its exoskeleton to accommodate its growing size.

Bed Bug

Adult Bed Bugs

Once a bed bug completes all nymph stages and molts successfully, it becomes an adult. Adult bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, and flat1.

Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug species, measures approximately 7mm in size due to its flat and oval shape, making it similar in size to the head of a penny1.

Adult bed bugs need regular blood meals for survival and reproduction. However, they can live several months without a blood meal if necessary1.

How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food? Survival Without Food

Factors Affecting Starvation Period

Bed bugs can live several months without a blood meal, under certain conditions. Factors affecting their starvation period include:

  • Temperature: Higher temperatures cause bed bugs to be more active and consume energy faster, thus reducing survival time.
  • Life stage: Nymphs and adults have different survival times. Nymphs may starve sooner than adults.
  • Humidity: Bed bugs survive longer in higher humidity.

For example, in a cool environment with high humidity, bed bugs may survive up to a year without food.

Hibernation and Metabolism

Bed bugs don’t hibernate, but their metabolic rates decrease in colder temperatures.

This helps them conserve energy when food is scarce.

When temperatures are warmer, they seek food more actively, shortening their survival time without a meal.

Here’s a comparison table of bed bug survival under different conditions:

ConditionSurvival Time
High temperature, high humidityShorter survival
High temperature, low humidityShorter survival
Low temperature, high humidityLonger survival
Low temperature, low humidityModerate survival

In summary, bed bugs’ survival without food depends on various factors like temperature, life stage, and humidity.

Their ability to conserve energy by altering their metabolism helps them withstand periods of starvation, making extermination a challenging task.

Bed Bug

Infestation and Spreading

Hiding Places

Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown, wingless insects that feed on human and animal blood. They are excellent at hiding in various places, including:

  • Mattresses
  • Bed frames
  • Box springs
  • Furniture
  • Wallpaper
  • Electrical outlets
  • Baseboards

These pests find shelter in cracks and crevices, making it difficult for humans to spot them.

Transportation and Travel

One of the main factors contributing to the spread of bed bugs is increased global travel. They are known to hitchhike on:

  • Luggage
  • Clothing
  • Backpacks
  • Purses

Bed bugs can easily attach themselves to these items and be transported to new environments, leading to infestations in homes and hotels.

Bed Bug

Conclusion

Bed bugs are resilient pests known for their bites and ability to thrive in various environments.

One of their remarkable traits is their capacity to survive without feeding for extended periods.

While they typically feed every 5 to 10 days, they can endure several months to a year without a blood meal.

Factors such as temperature, life stage, and humidity influence their survival duration.

For instance, in cooler, high-humidity conditions, they might live up to a year without food.

Recognizing early signs of infestation, like fecal spots or their distinctive odor, and understanding their biology is crucial for effective prevention and control.

Footnotes

  1. CDC – Bed Bugs – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 2 3 4

  2. CDC – Bed Bugs – Biology

  3. Bed Bugs Appearance and Life Cycle | US EPA 2 3 4 5

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Bedbug Nymph, not Booklouse

Subject: Bug identification
Location: Bedroom
December 20, 2015 11:48 pm
Can you tell me what kind of bug this is thank you
Signature: Steve

Booklouse
Booklouse

Dear Steve,
This is a Booklouse, a common household inhabitant.  You can compare your image to this image on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide, they:  “are now nearly cosmopolitan or otherwise widely spread through agency of man, mostly with stored products.”  According to the Penn State Department of Entomology:  “Booklice, also called psocids, are not true lice. While they resemble lice in size and shape, booklice feed only on fungi or mold. If you find them in grain or other stored food products, it is an indication of high humidity which encourages mold growth. In addition to food products, psocids may be found under wallpaper, in furniture, along the sides of windows or on window sills around potted plants. Booklice do not bite, transmit disease, or damage food or fabric, but they can be very annoying when present in large numbers.”

Letter 2 – Masked Bed Bug Hunter


Kelly B. Pascoe
Minisink Valley Buildings & Grounds
Slate Hill, NY

Hi Kelly,
There was no question here. There was not even a greeting much less a thank you for our time. This is a Masked Bed Bug Hunter.

I very much apologize- it was one of those deals that you attach the picture, then automatically hit send. I apologize. Thank you very much for your information and your time.
Kelly

Letter 3 – Masked Bed Bug Hunter

Oh my…. please identify this bug!
I’m so happy I found your site! Could you please tell me what this is?! I just found it ON MY BED! It’s two o’clock in the morning and I don’t think I’ll sleep tonight because I’m refusing to set foot in my bedroom until I find out what this is… I wonder how long it’s been sleeping with me?? I’m so disgusted… Waiting for your reply, Sleeping with a bug
P.S. I kind of destroyed it’s back right leg (by accident) while capturing it.
Samantha,

Calm down Samantha, and rest easy.
The Masked Bed Bug Hunter is a type of Assassin Bug. It can bite, but is not a household pest. They actually prey upon Bed Bugs, the true vermin, and as Bed Bug populations are on the rise in big cities, you should welcome your Masked Hunter.

Letter 4 – More Information on Bed Bugs

Bed Bugs
I love your site. There’s an unbelievable amount of information there. I have a new bed bug site and was wondering if I could be included on your links page. Obviously, I would be happy to return the favor. http://www.bed-bug.org Thanks,
Rob

Letter 5 – Looking for people with bed bugs

Hi,
Thanks for your interesting and informative Web site. I saw that you have a few postings on your site about bed bugs. I am a reporter with The Baltimore Sun and I am writing a story about the increasing prevalence of bed bugs in Maryland. I have spoken with many exterminators and entomologists, but I would also like to speak with regular people who are dealing with bed bug problems. Could you please post my phone number (410-332-6129) and email (julie.scharper@baltsun.com) on your Web site and invited people to contact me with their bed bug stories? Thank you very much.
Julie Scharper
City Desk Reporter
The Baltimore Sun
(410) 332-6129

Letter 6 – Federal Bed Bug Work Group

Wonderful headline in the Washington Post
December 29, 2010
What a great headline in today’s online Washington Post:
U.S. and D.C. schedule bedbug summits
In keeping with the best of government traditions, the Federal Bed Bug Work Group is hosting its second national summit Feb. 1-2 in Washington to brainstorm about solutions to the resurgence of the tiny bloodsuckers that have made such an itch-inducing comeback in recent years.
And what a name for a task force: “the Federal Bed Bug Work Group”.  The mental images it conjures up ….  THIS is a committee I’d like to be on, although my money is on the bed bugs.
Happy New Year,
Lane

Thanks for the information Lane.

Letter 7 – Fear of Bed Bug Realized

Subject: Help! Fear of bed bug
Location: Milwaukee wi
December 17, 2014 3:48 pm
Please help me know what this is!! 6 legged. Was found crawling on my blanket. I fear it’s a bed bug. After I caught it I pierced it with a pin and it exploded with blood I’m afraid it’s a bed bug. What should I do? Is it possible to just have one or two and contain them without them spreading? I’m very concerned any help would be appreciated.
Signature: Joe

Bed Bug, probably
Bed Bug, probably

Dear Joe,
We cannot be certain due to the lack of clarity in your image, but in our opinion, this does appear to be a Bed Bug.

Letter 8 – Bug of the Month March 2016: Bed Bug

Ed. Note:  April 11, 2016
Bed Bug identification queries have increased greatly in the past five years, and though most of those have turned out to be Carpet Beetles or other Household Pests, actual Bed Bug sightings have also greatly increased, prompting us to add Bed Bugs to our Top 10 tag.

Subject: Tick?
Location: Chicago, IL USA
February 29, 2016 1:32 pm
I found this bug on my backpack today. Im not really sure what it is, but it sort of looks like a tick. I do not live in a heavily wooded area (I live in Chicago). This bug was very little and very flat. Im hoping you can tell me what it is.
Signature: Julia

Bed Bug
Bed Bug

Dear Julia,
The bad news is that this is a blood-sucking Bed Bug and if you found it in your home, you may have more.  Look for bites that occur while sleeping.  The good news is that we are featuring your submission as the Bug of the Month for March 2016.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

4 thoughts on “How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food? Surprising Facts to Know”

  1. Would it be possible to have picked up this bed bug during my daily commute? I take public transportation daily. I have searched my bedroom and mattress and have found no other signs of bed bugs.

    Reply
    • It is entirely possible that you picked up this Bed Bug on public transportation. Many folks on public transportation carry their bed clothes with them and some of those people might not wash their bedding very often. People with transient tendencies can pick up insect hitch-hikers in some of the sketchy locations where they must bed down for the night. You are lucky to have found this, presumably, solitary Bed Bug before it had a chance to reproduce in the comfort of your home.

      Reply

Leave a Comment