— This developing article by Jerry Cates (with thanks to Wyatt G., Heather H., Rick L., Melinda B., Julie P., Joe & Jeanette I., et al.), was first published on 20 September 2013, and revised last on 10 November 2013. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 14:09(01).
The information provided here covers some of the insects and arachnids that bite or otherwise cause bite-like lesions on humans and our companion pets. If you fall victim to any of these pests, it helps to know what you may be dealing with.
These days, the insect associated most often with human skin lesions is the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius). Most people who find newly-formed, itchy red welts — several days in a row, especially after waking from a long night’s sleep — naturally jump to the conclusion that they have bed bugs. Often that is the case. Sometimes, though, it isn’t.
It’s one thing to actually see bed bugs on the floor, on the mattress or sheets, or on the bed frame, and to be able to distinguish them from other insects. But, if the offending agent or organism cannot be seen, or the observer doesn’t possess the expertise needed to tell them apart from other organisms that bite people, it might help to read this article through and consider some of the other possibilities. What you learn may surprise you…
Chemical and biological allergens, not to mention localized bacterial and viral infections, sometimes produce skin lesions similar to those caused by insect and spider bites. Further, an ordinary insect or spider bite that normally would not be noticed will, if infected, produce painful, reddened wounds. Contrary to popular opinion, it is generally not possible to determine, merely by examining the wound itself, what actually caused it.
Often, the primary determinant of how one’s body reacts to an encounter with a foreign organism is the body’s immune response. Let’s say an insect bites you, or — alternatively — something as seemingly innocent as the barbed hair from an insect’s body embeds itself in your skin. What happens next depends on how you react, internally, to the bite. If you have a robust immune system, the bite or embedded hair may produce a large, reddened, itchy wheal, but — if your immune system is weak — the same bite or hair may leave little or no outward evidence of injury.
A number of organisms besides bed bugs bite humans and our pets while we’re asleep. Some of the organisms typically found in our environment have hairs or setae on their bodies that, in susceptible individuals, are capable of producing skin lesions similar to those produced by bed bug, kissing bug, mosquito, mite or flea bites. A few of these are briefly described below:
1. Dermestid beetles, also known as skin, hide, larder, leather, carpet, and khapra beetles, do not generally bite humans, and don’t feed on the blood of living animals. Their presence in homes or offices can cause skin wounds or lesions if an office worker or family member — who is sensitive to their setae — comes into contact with their live larval stages or the castings left behind when they molt. Immature stages, or larvae, of these insects are covered with varying lengths of setae, or hair-like, barbed and serrated spines that, for some species, are easily embedded in human skin. Sensitive individuals react to the embedded spines with an immune response that in many respects mimics the welts and wheals from bed bug, kissing bug, tick, flea, mite, and spider bites. In some cases the observed immune response is severe, particularly if a large number of the spines become embedded at a localized area of the skin. The result: dermestid beetle skin lesions, or DBSL.
- Something to think about: whenever DBSL is suspected, one possible way to relieve the sufferer’s symptoms is to successively apply and remove a length of adhesive tape to the lesion, in hopes of adhering to and withdrawing the suspected dermestid spines from the skin. That method, which works well for puss caterpillar encounters, may also work with DBSL. Of course, one should NEVER apply tape to delicate or sensitive skin, as skin tears may result.
Often DBSL afflicts only one office worker or family member, leaving others who occupy the same office or living space unaffected. The afflicted individual will present with a growing number of small to large lesions, ranging from light pink to dark red in color. As a result, a mistaken presumption is made that the afflicted person is being uniquely exposed to a mystery “no-see-um” bug that is concentrated specifically where that person works, sleeps, or studies. “So,” the thinking goes, “once the no-see-um is eliminated from the afflicted member’s living space…” i.e., their side of the bed, their bedroom, or the special place where they recline to watch television or study, “… the problem should be solved.” In general, however, the risk of recurring DBSL can only be resolved completely by removing all dermestid beetles, including their larvae and the castings from their molts, from all areas of the affected office or home.
As many as 700 distinct species of dermestid beetles have been described worldwide. They are common occupants of the environment, and some are beneficial scavengers that feed on decaying animals. In fact, their presence in cadavers provides an important tool to forensic entomologists examining bodies discovered days after decomposition has commenced. Like flies that feed on decomposing flesh, these beetles have an uncanny faculty for detecting and homing in on the carcasses of dead animals. But, while blowflies tend to arrive immediately after an animal dies, dermestid beetle adults don’t arrive until 5-11 days later, after the animal’s body has begun to dry out. On arriving, adult females lay eggs that soon hatch into larvae (tiny worm-like, spine-covered maggots). During the mid-to-late-stages of decomposition one species (the hide beetle Dermestes maculatus) is the predominant insect associated with carrion. Inasmuch as the life cycle of these beetles are well known, the stages of development observed in the D. maculatus larvae present in the remains provide an accurate estimate of the post-mortem interval, or time of death.
In human-occupied buildings such as offices or residential dwellings, accumulations of animal proteins and fats anywhere in that structure are capable of attracting dermestid beetles from the surrounding environment. Spilled food, vomitus, feces, balls of hair — even in small amounts — can result in dermestid beetle infestations in what would otherwise be considered unlikely places. Adult beetles are smaller than their larvae, are good fliers, and have little or no difficulty entering a man-made structure in search of food. The typical home and office building is, today, rather accessible to the insects and spiders in the surrounding environment, due to modern building codes that (wisely, I should add) avoid sealing such structures too tightly. Well-sealed buildings allow unhealthy accumulations of moisture that lead to molds and mildews, and of gaseous contaminants, many of which are known or suspected to cause chronic and acute illnesses in humans. Buildings that allow the outside air to be exchanged with the interior air at least twice a day are healthier, but are more open to incursions by organisms normally found outside, such as dermestid beetles.
Dermestid beetle infestations can, under certain circumstances, produce more than DBSL. Their associations with carrion open the possibility that they might be able to spread the spores or bacilli of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis), which the beetles may acquire from feeding on a dead animal previously killed by an anthrax infection. Other pathogens may also be spread by these beetles as well. Besides that, a number of human ailments, in addition to mimicking bed bug bites in susceptible individuals, have also been reported. For example, the warehouse beetle (Trogoderma variabile) is known to cause enteric illness — diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, etc. — in persons unlucky enough to consume foods the beetles have infested. The hairs on the beetle larvae irritate the lining of the person’s digestive tract, which, as an extension of the body’s skin, reacts the same way that person’s skin does to the beetle’s spines.
Photo 100 is of a dermestid beetle larva collected in the bedroom of a home in south Austin, Texas. The bedroom was confirmed, on inspection, to be heavily infested with bed bugs, and dermestid beetle larvae were found in close association with them. Two teen-aged boys sleeping in the room reported mild reactions from bed bug bites on the feet and legs. On examination the lesions were observed to present as small, pink wheals on the skin. It was not established if either of the boys was sensitive to dermestid beetle larvae. Several days after a treatment for bed bugs was performed, an inspection of the room found a large number of recently killed bed bugs, along with several dead dermestid beetle larvae.
Photos 101 and 102 show ventral and dorsal views of one dermestid beetle collected in the living room rug in an apartment in north central Austin, Texas. The apartment was occupied by a middle-aged male who complained of what he believed to be bed bug bites to the arms, legs, and torso that presented as angry, red lesions. A thorough inspection failed to find any evidence of bed bugs, but dermestidae castings were found in the jute backing of the bedroom carpet, and several live dermestid larvae were found in the underside of a rug in the living room. A treatment for dermestid beetles was performed throughout the apartment, concentrating on the use of low-toxicity insect growth regulators in the rugs, carpeting, and stuffed furnishings.
Treatment methods appropriate for dermestid beetle infestations linked to DBSL are complex. Like most complicated things in life, the subject is replete with controversy and misunderstandings. As mentioned earlier, whenever skin lesions are linked to these beetles, it is not the mature beetle but its larval form — both the live larvae and its molted castings — that produces the immune response in those afflicted. In some cases thoroughly vacuuming and/or commercially cleaning the carpeting and stuffed furnishings in the isolated areas frequented most by the afflicted family member is enough to bring the DBSL to a happy ending. In other situations, however, more strenuous measures, such as a thorough commercial cleansing of the entire premises, and/or the application of pesticides and insect growth regulators labeled for dermestid beetles and their larvae, are needed to bring DBSL to a halt.
Live dermestid larvae, buried deep in the carpet and furnishings of a home or office, as well as in other parts of the premises where the afflicted worker or family member does not frequent, may not be affected by vacuuming or commercial cleaning processes. If the beetles are capable of obtaining nourishment from their immediate environment, or anywhere else in the building, they may continue to multiply there, eventually spreading to other parts of the premises where — assuming the worker or family member previously afflicted remains sensitive to them — their live larvae or molted castings may later lead to another round of DBSL.
It is possible that some individuals are more or less permanently prone to DBSL due to their body’s naturally robust immune system. With others, however, DBSL sensitivity is probably a temporary condition brought on by unusual stresses of various kinds. In each of the examples described above, and in most of the other cases I’ve personally investigated, obvious stressors were involved that, in retrospect, may have predisposed the sufferers to atypical immune responses. In such cases, the possibility exists that once the triggering stress is relieved, the associated sensitivity to DBSL may cease altogether. Some individuals may continue to exhibit sensitivity to dermestid beetle larvae for some time after the underlying stress that triggered their immune response has been removed.
Though dermestid beetles cannot feed on synthetic fibers, practically all are able to survive in synthetic carpeting by eating the natural jute backing, cotton, and other fibers that have been contaminated with even small amounts of animal fats and proteins, animal food products, animal hair, excretia, and/or other materials containing animal proteins and fats. Such contaminants are not always evident to the naked eye, particularly after carpets have been commercially shampooed or steam cleaned. Shampooing or steam cleaning a carpet, even when done by a professional, does not automatically guarantee that all the contaminants listed above have been removed.
Carpets and rugs containing wool, hair, or similar natural fibers, and other articles made from natural keratin sources such as horn and feathers, provide perfect feeding media for dermestid beetles.
In homes where dermestid beetle infestations are suspected, a thorough inspection should be conducted. Specially constructed monitors containing dermestid beetle food attractants may also be placed in the areas where the afflicted individual is known to come into contact with carpet and furnishings in the home. Within a week or two, the beetle larvae within a few feet of the monitors should enter them and commence feeding on their contents. Once these are observed, they can be examined under the microscope as a first step toward formulating a suitable dermestid beetle eradication program.
2. Mites: This diverse grouping of tiny, almost microscopic organisms, is responsible for causing a wide variety of human annoyances and ills. Manifestations of their interactions with humans and our companion pets cover a broad, complicated terrain. Much of the popular press coverage related to mites borders on or actually constitutes overblown sensationalism, yet there is no questioning the fact that mites are capable of producing many of mankind’s most vexing irritants. Because they are so small, those afflicted by them often never see what is causing their discomfort. When they can be seen, their minuscule size makes it difficult to imagine how they can wreak such widespread havoc upon the human body.
To complicate matters it is common to mistakenly assign blame for chemical and allergic dermatological problems to mites. Sometimes even experienced medical personnel will misdiagnose mite infestations as body lice (pediculosis), based on the character of the lesions the mites produce.
It is questionable, however, if even experienced doctors can accurately diagnose the etiology of many ordinary skin lesions simply by observing their outward appearances. In general, the most important determinant of the visual appearance of a skin lesion — in an otherwise healthy individual — that results from bites from lice, bed bugs, spiders, triatomine bugs, or mites, or from embedded spines from the larvae of dermestid beetles, is less due to the nature of the causing organism than to the sufferer’s individual immune response. Unhealthy individuals respond differently, depending on their underlying health issues, and a host of health-related issues are capable of producing skin lesions that mimic those produced by bites and embedded insect setae. It is wise, therefore, to be skeptical of superficial diagnoses of the underlying causes of skin lesions, even by highly qualified medical personnel.
Photo 200 was taken at the site of a bird mite infestation in Round Rock, Texas. A resident of the home had suffered from recurring dermatological lesions for several months, and was undergoing treatment for pediculosis (lice infestation) without relief. The commode in the resident’s bathroom was positioned directly under the bathroom’s power vent, and an inspection of the commode revealed a number of mites covering its lid. Outside, the vent on the side wall to this bathroom was found to be stuffed with bird nesting material, and a pair of adult starlings, with a brood of young birds, was actively using the vent for nesting purposes. On removal of the nesting birds, their fledgling young, and the nesting materials in the vent, followed by a thorough cleansing of the vent cavity, vent fan, and associated surrounding structures in the subfloor, mite incursions ceased and the resident’s MBD cleared.
Photos 201 and 202 were taken at the site of a rat mite infestation in a home in south Austin, Texas. A resident of this home had suffered from recurring dermatological lesions for several weeks. A comforter that had been placed on the bed was suspected by the resident to be the cause. However, bites continued after the comforter was removed. On inspection it was discovered that the resident’s cell phone, which was being charged directly under the bedroom’s air-conditioning vent, was covered with mites that could easily be observed as they moved about on the face of the phone. Two of these mites were immediately examined under magnification (photos 201-2).
The vent to the affected room was the first vent from the home’s A/C plenum. Coincidentally, the home’s A/C closet was positioned immediately adjacent to the affected bedroom. Opening the door to the A/C enclosure revealed that the A/C closet was hosting at least one rat, as the closet was strewn with rodent nesting materials and rat excrement. A quantity of rat feces was observed directly in front of the system’s air filter. That filter, which had not been changed for some time, was loaded with contaminants, including mites. Further investigation revealed the presence of an open service conduit for the A/C freon lines from the service enclosure to the compressor on the outside of the home. This conduit was unsealed proximally and distally, and throughout its length provided sufficient room for large rodents to travel in and out of the building unimpeded.
While inspecting the service closet a rat was observed to leap from the home’s subfloor to the closet floor and disappear into the service conduit, presumably exiting from there to the outside yard. The service conduit was immediately sealed with galvanized hardware cloth at its distal end (at the compressor on the outside of the home’s foundation). The closet, plenum, A/C coils and A/C ductwork were then thoroughly vacuumed, cleansed, and treated with a miticidal agent, and a new, HEPA-certified A/C air filter was installed. Complaints of MBD (see below) ceased immediately and have not resumed at the time of this writing.
Mites are so small they have sometimes figured in what others — particularly those who are not being pestered by them — dismiss as imaginary episodes. The cases described above, however, were anything but imaginary and, the more I learn about them, the more I appreciate the importance of taking such complaints seriously. A good microscope, a set of specimen collection vials, and an open mind experienced in searching for and finding these not-so-obvious interlopers are, together, indispensable prerequisites for getting to the bottom of what is tormenting those afflicted by such creatures. If mites are present, they should be found and documented in the course of a careful, persistent search, followed by the microscopic examination of swabs taken of the skin, of objects believed by the sufferer to be infested by them, or from portions of the immediate environment.
3. Triatomine bugs, also known as kissing bugs and cone nose bugs, are relatively common in rural areas of Texas, the southern United States, and in Central and South America. Like bed bugs, they pierce the skins of warm-blooded animals, including humans, to feed on their blood. Like bed bugs, their saliva contains a numbing agent that anesthetizes the puncture site to avoid waking their victims during the feeding process. The reddened wheal that shows up later is caused by the body’s immune response to the bug’s saliva.
Triatomines are infamous for carrying and, under some circumstances, actually spreading Chagas disease. The Chagas pathogen is not carried in the bug’s saliva, but in its feces, so just getting bit isn’t sufficient to pass the pathogen on to the host. To become infected, the bug’s feces has to be rubbed or swept into the bite wound. In the past the risks to Americans north of Mexico (i.e., in the U.S. or Canada) were minimal, for at least two reasons. First, most species of triatomine bugs found in this area tend not to defecate while they are feeding, lessening the likelihood that their feces will come into contact with the bite wound. Second, at least in times past the Chagas disease pathogen was only rarely found in triatomines here. More recently, however, surveys of triatomine specimens collected in Texas and many of the other Gulf Coast states have shown an upward trend in Chagas disease infections.
Mature triatomine bugs are three to four times the length of a mature bed bug, and tend to infest older homes (built prior to the 1920’s), especially homes with interior walls that are covered with natural wood planking, or that have wide gaps in the walls around window and door frames. The preferred hosts of most species of triatomines found in North America are wood rats, but — like bed bugs — they are opportunists who will feed on any animal. Unlike bed bugs, they will also feed on cold blooded animals, including snakes and lizards. Once habituated to a particular host (such as a human sleeping night after night in the same bed) they congregate in the cracks and crevices of floors, walls, household furnishings, and bed frames nearby.
Photos 300 and 301 were taken at a rural home outside Coupland, Texas. That home, which was built in the 1880’s, has a pier and beam foundation with a spacious crawl space underneath that provides perfect habitat for wood rats and other rodents, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and snakes.
The purpose of the visit to this home was to investigate an infestation of kissing bugs that were biting the home owners. Every morning they found new bites on their skin, despite having taken strenuous steps to prevent the bugs from getting into their bed. The walls of their bedroom contained gaps where the bugs could hide, particularly around the windows and doors, at the baseboards, and in the wood floors. These bugs, which grow to 1-1.25 inch in length (photo 303, showing this specimen — which reclined on 1/4th inch quadrille paper — to be about 1.25 inches in length) use their sharp, three-segmented rostrum (photos 304-5) to tap the blood supply of mammals and reptiles and suck their blood. That’s bad enough, but they are notorious for spreading Trypanosoma cruzi, the flagellate protozoan responsible for a debilitating and sometimes fatal malady known as Chagas disease.
A variety of other wildlife was also in copious abundance. In fact, during the initial inspection of this home a large diamond-backed rattlesnake was discovered to be coiled up next to the foundation, hidden under a thick bed of clover and Jimson weed. That dangerous snake energized its rattles to warn me of its presence before turning about, slithering through a hole in the skirting, and disappearing under the home.
Ridding a home of triatomine bugs involves not only eradicating existing infestations using a pesticide, but conducting a thorough habitat modification program under and around the home and yard. Wherever rats, mice, opossums, raccoons, and snakes are present, triatomine bugs will be nigh unto impossible to eradicate using pesticides alone. The most practical long-term solution is to modify the habitat under and around an at-risk home so it does not attract or nurture the wild animals upon which these animals feed.
More to come…
Taxonomy of some of the mites, spiders, bugs, fleas, ticks, and beetles that bite humans and our companion pets:
- Kingdom Animalia — “animals”; multicellular, eukaryotic organisms whose body plans become fixed during development, some of which undergo additional processes of metamorphosis later in their lives; most are motile, and thus exhibit spontaneous and independent movements; all animals are heterotrophs that feed by ingesting other organisms or their products.
- Phylum Arthropoda (Linnaeus, 1758) — “arthropods”; invertebrate animals with external (exo) skeletons, segmented bodies, and jointed appendages; from the Greek words ἄρθρον (ARR-thrawn) = “joint” + ποδός (POH-dohs) = “leg,” thus “jointed leg”; comprised of insects, arachnids, crustaceans, among others;
- Subphylum Chelicerata (Heymons, 1901)
- Class Arachnida (Lamarck, 1801)
- Subclass Acari (Leach, 1817) — “mites and ticks”;
- Superorder Parasitiformes — “parasitic mites and ticks”;
- Order Ixodida — icks-oh-DEE-duh — “ticks”;
- Family Argasidae (C. L. Koch, 1844) — awr-GAH-suh-dee — “soft ticks”; these ticks lack the hard scutum of the hard ticks (Ixodidae); mouthparts (capitulum) of the head are positioned on the ventral body and are not visible in dorsal view; comprised of 193 species in five genera;
- Family Ixodidae (C. L. Koch, 1844) — icks-OH-dih-dee — “hard ticks”; distinguished from the Argasidae by a readily visible scutum, or hard shield, forming the head and mouthparts, positioned anteriorly and projecting outward from the tick’s body; comprised of more than 700 species in 14 genera, many of which are well-known vectors of bacterial pathogens such as Rickettsia and Borrelia;
- Order Mesostigmata — meh-so-stigg-MAH-tuh — “free-living predatory mites”; 100 families divided into 900 genera containing more than 8,000 species;
- Superfamily Dermanyssoidea (Kolenati, 1859) — durr-mah-nee-SOY-dee-uh — “parasitic mites of vertebrates”; 21 families of mites, including most of those known to parasitize vertebrates;
- Family Macronyssidae (Oudemans, 1936) — “parasitic mites”;
- Genus Ornithonyssus (Sambon, 1928) — 32 species of mites, including the tropical rat mite (O. bacoti), a common bird or tropical fowl mite (O. bursa), a bat mite (O. pipistrelli), and the northern fowl mite (O. sylviarum);
- Species O. bacoti (Hirst, 1913) — “tropical rat mite”;
- Species O. bursa — “tropical fowl mite”;
- Species O. pipistrelli — “bat mite”;
- Species O. sylviarum — “northern fowl mite”;
- Order Araneae (Clerck, 1757) — “spiders”;
- Suborder Araneomorphae — “true spiders”; distinguished from the Mygalomorphae by having opposing fangs arranged like pincers rather than (as in the mygalomorphs) in parallel alignment;
- Division Entelegynae —
- Superfamily Araneoidea — ; 15 families comprised of over 11,100 species of mostly eight-eyed spiders;
- Family Theridiidae (Sundevall, 1833) — “tangle-web, cobweb, and comb-footed spiders”; 2,295 species in 109 genera;
- Genus Latrodectus (Walckenaer, 1805) — “widow spiders”; about 31 species distributed worldwide; four species are native to North America; nine are native to Central and South America; six are native to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia; eight are native to sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar; three are native to South, East, and Southeast Asia, and two are native to Australia and Oceania; one species, L. geometricus, commonly known as the brown widow, grey widow, or brown button spider, is distributed throughout Africa, Australia, and the Americas;
- Division Haplogynae —
- Superfamily Scytodoidea — “six eyed spiders”; over 300 species in four families of spiders; (1) spiders in the Drymusidae (Simon, 1893) family are known as false violin or leaf-litter spiders, and resemble violin or recluse spiders but unlike the latter build webs and appear not to be harmful to humans; (2) spiders in the Periegopidae (Simon, 1893) family are confined to Australia and New Zealand, comprised of one genus (Periegops) and three described species; (3) spiders in the Scytodidae (Blackwall, 1864) family are known as spitting spiders and comprise 5 genera and 169 species; (4) spiders in the Sicariidae (Keyserling, 1880) family is divided into two genera; the 100 species in the genus Loxosceles are known as recluse or violin spiders, while the 21 species in the genus Sicarius (Walckenaer, 1847) are commonly known as assassin spiders; the venom of both genera contains the potent tissue necrotizing agent sphingomyelinase D, which in susceptible individuals is capable of producing open lesions that do not heal quickly and may require skin grafts;
- Family Sicariidae (Keyserling, 1880) — “violin and assassin spiders”; a family of approx. 120 species, including the brown recluse and assassin spiders;
- Genus Loxosceles (Heineken & Lowe, 1832) — “recluse spiders”;
- Species L. reclusa (Gertsch & Mulaik, 1940) — “brown recluse spider”;
- Class Insecta (Linnaeus, 1758) — enn-SEK-tuh — “insects”; named using the Latin word insectum, a calque of the Greek word ἔντομον (ENN-toh-mawn) = “(that which is) cut into sections”; comprised of arthropods with chitinous external (exo-) skeletons, a three part body composed of a distinct head, thorax, and abdomen, the midmost part having three pairs of jointed legs, and the foremost part having a pair of compound eyes and antenna;
- Order Coleoptera (Linnaeus, 1758) — koh-lee-OPP-tur-uh — “beetles”;
- Suborder Polyphaga (Emery, 1886) — polly-FAY-guh — a catch-all group, the largest and most diverse suborder in the Coleoptera, presently divided into 16 superfamilies, 144 families, and over 300,000 species (about 90% of all known beetles);
- Infraorder Bostrichiformia (Forbes, 1926) — bah-strikk-uh-FOHR-mee-uh — a division of the polyphagan beetles containing the two superfamilies Bostrichoidea and Derodontoidea;
- Superfamily Bostrichoidea (Latrielle, 1802) — bah-strikk-OY-dee-uh — comprised of five families: (1) Anobiidae, commonly referred to as deathwatch beetles, (2) Bostrichidae, which includes the horned powderpost beetles, branch and trig borers, (3) Dermestidae, known collectively as hide, skin, and carpet beetles, (4) Jacobsoniidae, a family of beetles found primarily under bark, in plant litter, rotted wood, and fungi, and (5) Nosodendridae, known as wounded-tree beetles;
- Family Dermestidae (Latrielle, 1807) — duhr-MESS-tuh-dee — “skin beetles”; divided into six subfamilies: (1) Attageninae, consisting of seven genera, (2) Dermestinae, consisting of four genera, (3) Megatominae, containing many well-known stored-product pests, (4) Orphilinae, containing two genera, (5) Thorictinae, containing four genera, and (6) Trinodinae, containing eight genera;
- Order Hemiptera (Linnaeus, 1758) — hemm-IPP-tur-uh — “true bugs”; from the Greek roots ἡμι- (HEM-ee) = ”half”, and πτερόν (TARE-awn) = ”wing”, a reference to the fact that the forewings of many true bugs are hardened near the base, but membranous at the ends; the mandibles and maxillae of true bugs are sheathed in such a way that they form a piercing, sucking proboscis; most true bugs use this proboscis to pierce plant tissue to suck out the plant’s sap, but others utilize that structure to feed on animals, by piercing their skin and suck out the animal’s blood;
- Suborder Heteroptera (Latrielle, 1810) — heh-tur-OPP-tour-uh — “typical bugs”; from the Greek ετερο- (ETT-er-oh) = “the other, different, one of two”, and πτερόν (TARE-awn) = ”wing”, thus “different wings” in reference to the fact that most species have forewings with both membranous and hardened portions called hemelytra;
- Infraorder Cimicomorpha — sem-uh-coh-MOHR-fuh; from the Latin cimex (SEM-eks) = “bug” + ob-, signifying direction “to, toward, upon,” + the Greek μορφη (MOHR-fawn) = ”form, shape, figure,” a reference to bugs with similar morphological structures, specifically with respect to their mouthparts; the rostrum and other components of the mouthparts of most bugs included in this infraorder are particularly adapted to preying on or parasitizing animals instead of plants, and thus includes the bed bugs, bat bugs, assassin bugs, and pirate bugs; note however that this infraorder also includes lace bugs and royal palm bugs, both of which parasitize plants;
- Superfamily Cimicoidea — sem-uh-COY-dee-uh — a subdivision of the infraorder Cimicomorpha comprised of those members whose mandibles have the form of a straw-like rostrum, specifically adapted for sucking the blood of warm-blooded animals;
- Family Cimicidae (Latrielle, 1802) — sem-ISS-uh-dee — “cimicids” (SEM-iss-ids); named using the Latin noun cimex (SEM-eks), meaning “bug”, and the Greek patronymic suffix -ιδες (EE-deez), used in zoological nomenclature to designate a family name; members of this family are diminutive parasitic insects that feed exclusively on the blood of warm-blooded animals; some taxonomists divide this family into six subfamilies;
- Subfamily Cimicinae — sem-iss-SEE-nee — a subfamily of Cimicidae, presently comprised of five recognized genera;
- Genus Cimex (Latrielle, 1802) — SEM-eks — a genus of the Cimicinae family, presently comprised of ten recognized species, including bat bugs that favor bats as hosts, and bed bugs that favor humans as hosts;
- Species Cimex lectularius (Linnaeus, 1758) — SEM-eks leck-chu-LAW-ree-us — “bed bugs”; these bugs favor humans as hosts, but will feed on the blood of any warm-blooded animal near its place of habitation, being vectored to the host by detecting the carbon dioxide exhaled by the animal, and by the animal’s warmth;
- Family Reduviidae (Latrielle, 1807) — reh-DEW-vee-id-ee — “assassin bugs, ambush bugs, and thread-legged bugs”; named from the contained genus Reduvius, a derivative of the Latin noun reduvia (reh-DEW-vee-uh), meaning “a hangnail,” and the Greek patronymic suffix -ιδες (EE-deez), used in zoological nomenclature to designate a family name; members of this family are small to large (4-40 mm long) predatory insects, some of which feed exclusively on the blood of warm-blooded animals; presently divided into 25 subfamilies comprising more than 7.000 species;
- Subfamily Triatominae (Jeannel, 1919) — try-uh-TOM-uh-nee — “conenose bugs, kissing bugs, assassin bugs, or triatomines”; named from the Greek τριας- (TRY-as-) = three/a triad + τομις (-TOH-miss) = a knife, in reference to the three-segmented rostrum possessed by these bugs, which they employ to pierce the skin and suck the blood of their hosts;
- Order Siphonaptera (Latrielle, 1825) — sye-fone-APP-tur-uh — wingless ectoparasites of mammals and birds with laterally compressed bodies fitted with backward-facing setae that facilitate rapid movement through hair and feathers and under clothing, mouthparts adapted to pierce skin and suck blood, and long hind legs specially adapted for jumping; subdivided into four suborders containing over 2,000 species, including (1) the Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) known as the primary flea infesting domestic cats and dogs worldwide, and infamous for transmitting parasites and microbial pathogens such as the facultative intracellular bacterial parasite Bartonella (Bartonella spp., of which eight species or subspecies known to infect humans) associated with cat-scratch disease, murine or endemic typhus (Rickettsia typhi), apedermatitus (a rash), and tapeworm, (2) the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) , (3) human flea (Pulex irritans), (4) Moorhen flea (Dasypsyllus gallinulae), (5) Northern rat flea (Nosopsyllus fasciatus), and (6) Oriental rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis);
- AP News. 2013. July 16: Bedbug and Lice Remedy Makers Settle with FTC. Bloomberg Businessweek News.
- Borror, Donald J., and Richard E. White. 1970. A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Carayon, J. 1966. Chapter 7. Traumatic insemmination and the paragenital system. pp. 81-166 in Usinger, R.L. (ed.). Monograph of Cimicidae (Hemiptera—Heteroptera). Baltimore : Horn-Shafer.
- Cooper, Richard A. 2011. Ectoparasites, Part Three: Bedbugs & Kissing Bugs. Mallis Handbook of Pest Control, Tenth Ed.
- Davis, N.T. 1966. Chapter 8. Reproductive Physiology. pp. 167-178 in Usinger, R.L. (ed.). Monograph of Cimicidae (Hemiptera: Heteroptera). Baltimore : Horn-Shafer.
- Ford, L.J. 1979. The Phylogeny and Biogeography of the Cimicoidea (Insecta: Hemiptera). Unpubl. Masters thesis. Storrs : University of Connecticut vii 138 pp.
- Lent, H., and Pedro Wygodzinsky. 1979. Revision of the Triatominae (Hemiptera, Reduviidae), and their significance as hosts of Chagas disease. AMNH 163:3.
- Panagiotakopulu, E., and P. C. Buckland. 1999. Cimex lectularius L., the common bed bug from Pharaonic Egypt. Antiquity 73:908-911.
- Potter, Michael F., et al. 2013. Bed Bug Research: Mapping Bed Bug Mobility. Pest Control Technology, 25 June 2013.
- Potter, Michael F. 2011. The History of Bedbug Management — with Lessons from the Past. ESA: American Entomologist, Spring 2011.
- Pratt, Harry D., et al. Undated. Pictorial Key: Bugs that Bite Man. CDC.
- Sailer, R.I. 1952. The bedbug. An old bedfellow that’s still with us. Pest Control 20: 22, 24, 70, 7
- Schuh, R.T. & Štys, P. 1991. Phylogenetic analysis of Cimicomorphan family relationships (Heteroptera). Journal of the New York Entomological Society 99: 298-350
Feel free to call Jerry at 512-331-1111, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org regarding your experiences with, or concerns about, bedbugs, kissing bugs, dermestid beetles, fleas, mites, and ticks. You may also register, log in, and leave a detailed comment in the space provided below.