Most people have heard of bed bugs and how widespread they are. In fact, there are over 90 different types of the Cimex genus worldwide and there are two different types of bed bugs you should know about: the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) and the tropical bed bug (Cimex hemipterus) as both these “human bugs” feed primarily on our blood.
Both species are similar in appearance and behavior and hide away in cracks and crevices. Their life cycles are also the same and begin as an egg and include five molts to adulthood.
There are other species of Cimex that feed on bats and birds and will also feed on our blood if their preferred host is unavailable.
Common Bed Bugs (C. lectularius)
When we hear about bed bug infestations, we think about the common bed bug Cimex lectularius because this is the type we are familiar with. This pest lives in temperate climates and is found throughout the USA, Canada, the UK, Europe, and most other countries.
This species of the bed bug is well known to the pest control industry because of its resurgence due to insecticide resistance. Another reason we are seeing an increase in infestations is that we now travel much more and unknowingly bring them home in our luggage.
They are also often brought into our homes in used items of furniture where they will hide in tiny cracks and come out when they need to feed.
Bed bugs feed by taking a blood meal from you usually when you’re asleep in bed. Some of us react to their bites by developing itchy red welts on the skin, but lots have no reaction at all.
There is a lot of information on this site about this kind of bed bug, so we won’t go into too much detail on this page. Now we’re going to move on to another kind of bed bug that has also seen a resurgence over the last couple of decades, and that is the tropical bed bug.
Tropical Bed Bugs (C. hemipterus)
Tropical bed bugs also bite us to take a blood meal and they have a fondness for biting you in particular if you live in the tropical climate regions within the 30° latitude lines north and south, such as Asia and South America where it is reported to be the dominant species.
Tropical bed bugs are also reported to be established in Honolulu, Hawaii as they were detected in 2009 and further samples of this species were again collected in 2019.
Central and northern Australia has seen an increase in C. hemipterus infestations, again thought to be brought into the country in luggage.
As well as the above regions, this species of bed bug was found in subtropical and temperate regions such as Florida, but it’s still unclear how well they’ve established themselves in this area.
What Do Tropical Bed Bugs Look Like?
To the naked eye, tropical bed bugs look identical to common bed bugs, as you can see in the photo above. It takes a microscopic examination by a pest control professional or entomologist to tell the difference between the species, which is in the pronotum (the neck area).
A tropical bed bug’s pronotum is narrower and less u-shaped than a common bed bug’s. Apart from that they are identical, as the adult C. hemipterus also grows to 5-7mm in length and has the same apple seed, oval-shaped reddish-brown body with tiny wing pads, but they cannot fly.
Not only is their appearance the same but so is their behavior. Just like its close relative the common bed bug, tropical bed bugs also infest wherever you sleep or rest (and that includes the couch), so the usual bed bug signs, such as dark-colored fecal spots on your bed sheets and mattress are just some of the indicators to look out for.
Their bites and your reaction to them will also look the same. However, not everyone has an allergic reaction to bed bug bites.
Although common bed bugs are the dominant species in areas such as Florida, it is possible that an infestation caused by tropical bed bugs could be mistaken for the common species because they look almost identical.
Another problem is that a tropical bed bug infestation might not be found in the early stages if interceptor traps are used to detect or monitor their presence. The Journal of Economic Entomology published a study carried out by the Universiti Sains Malaysia and found that the tropical bed bug can climb out of the pitfall traps.
The four traps tested successfully trapped the adult common bed bugs but not the adult tropical bed bugs. This was because this species has more hair on its legs, especially on the tibial foot pad, which has a gland that secretes a substance that enables them to grip the smooth inner wall of the trap and climb up.
This isn’t good news if you live in one of these areas and suspect you’ve got a Cimex hemipterus infestation. However, these traps should never be used as your only way to control bed bugs, and a pest control professional will discuss the appropriate methods to eradicate either type of bed bug.
Are There Other Types of Bed Bugs?
Apart from the two main bed bug types mentioned above, there are other closely related species that resemble bed bugs in both appearance and behavior but don’t primarily feed on human blood, but they will if their preferred blood source is unavailable.
Bat Bug (Cimex pilosellus)
As you’ve no doubt guessed, bat bugs feed on bat blood. You’ll find bat bugs living alongside bats inside an attic, a chimney, and other dark places wherever bats are found.
In homes where bats have left, bat bugs search for other food sources, which can be human blood.
This ectoparasite is native to North America and looks almost identical to the common bed bug with its flat body, except that it has longer hairs on its thorax.
Swallow Bug (Oeciacus vicarius)
Swallow bugs are found infesting the nest of barn and cliff swallows in the Continental US and Canada. This parasitic insect can also be found in homes looking for another blood source when the swallows have left their nest, so they will bite and feed on your blood instead.
As with the bat bug, it’s also nearly impossible to tell the difference between a swallow bug and a bed bug, except that swallow bugs are slightly smaller and have long, fine hairs covering their bodies.
Mexican Chicken Bug or Poultry Bug (Haematosiphon inodora)
This ectoparasite is found in North America and looks like the common household bed bug, except that it has a longer beak.
Mexican chicken bugs (and also common bed bugs) are found infesting poultry farms so they feed on chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks. They are also known to feed on other species of bird, such as the Golden Eagle.
They have the same behaviors as common bed bugs as they like to stay hidden in cracks and crevices of the poultry farm, and the good news is that it’s rare that they are found inside our homes or other human environments.
What Else Looks Like a Bed Bug?
I’ve found various other bugs that people get confused with bed bugs, such as German cockroaches, carpet beetles, and fleas. These are different bugs and have to be treated differently from bed bugs in terms of pest control.
You now know there are different types of bed bugs that will bite and feed on your blood if their preferred food source is no longer around.
Although the common bed bug (C. lectularius) is responsible for the massive surge in infestations, it is always worthwhile considering that it might not be this species infesting your home especially if you have a swallow’s nest or bats living in your attic, or you live in the tropical regions mentioned above.
For those reasons, try and get a specimen of the bug and get it identified as the monitoring and treatment of one of the species listed will be different from the monitoring and treatment of the common bed bug.
There is lots of information about this type of bed bug on this site, such as:
- Getting rid of bed bugs on your own
- Warning signs of a bed bug infestation
- What do common bed bugs look like?
- How to choose the right pest control company
Click on any of these pages above to find out more.