Beautifying Bedbugs

By Carl Zimmer | September 17, 2009 9:50 pm

bedbug600I’ve been thinking a lot about bedbugs recently, because…well, because that’s part of my job description. I was asked to be on a radio show a couple weeks ago to talk about the rising tide of bedbugs in the United States (note to self: don’t pick up old mattresses left out on trash day). But I also think they’re pretty interesting. (Traumatic insemination, for starters…) And, thanks to Alex Wild, Annie Liebowitz to the arthropods, I now also think they’re rather lovely. If you haven’t checked out his blog, do.

[Note: To all the professional exterminators who are trying to post crypto-ads for their companies in the comments, please don’t bother. I’ll delete it. Why not buy a real ad from Discover and support the site?]


Comments (17)

Links to this Post

  1. Annie Liebowitz to the arthropods | Archetype | September 18, 2009
  1. Wrong in so many ways…

  2. The trouble with the bedbug assignment (these shots are the leftovers from a shoot for a pesticide company) was that I was supposed to make the little guys look evil and menacing. Didn’t happen.

    Bed bugs turn out to be rather cute under high magnification, all pudgy and bug-eyed. Good-natured, too. They were reluctant to bite- it took half an hour to find one that could be coaxed into feeding. And on top of all that, the bite didn’t even hurt. Not that I’d even want bed bugs, of course, but I was prepared for worse.

    Anyway, thanks for the props, Carl. The Annie Liebovitz of arthropods? Wow.

  3. Frank

    I also read recently that many bed bugs and other bugs have developed resistant to commonly used pesticides by professional exterminators.
    This study was conducted by UMAS. Do a google search for bed bug resistant study by UMAS or login here

  4. Well there goes one plan. Now to apologize to my dog about why she won’t be getting her own mattress.

  5. David B. Benson

    How about a household Praying Mantis?

  6. NewEnglandBob

    Is that a finger that the bedbug is standing on?

  7. AdamK

    Day after day I come to see if there’s a new post on your blog.
    Day after day that godawful bedbug picture is all I get.

  8. Based on the title, I assume Carl has never had bedbugs. I’ve occasionally have problems with bedbugs. I think I was picking them up at the library (where the homeless people like to hang-out during the day). Over the past two years, I think I picked up a single bedbug three different times. It was awful. I’d get itchy red welts from their bites. They’re much, much worse than mosquito bites and they last longer. One time, I got some bites on my inner thigh, and it was painful to walk because fabric rubbing against the bite hurt so much. And then there’s the paranoia of laying in bed, knowing that you’d probably get another bite that night, and thinking that any minor sensation on your skin was the bedbug. I lost sleep because of that. I managed to catch them on two occasions, so I can confirm that they were bedbugs. Keep in mind that I only had a single bed bug each time, and it was awful. I wanted to take a flamethrower to my bedroom. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have an infestation. They are awful, evil little creatures.

  9. Gustaf

    So bed bugs are not the kind of microscopic animals you can also find in beds? I had a look at Wikipedia and saw they are called mites, and learned there are lots and lots of species. I wonder how bed bugs find their way to beds in the first place, and how they find each other in an ocean of sheets.

  10. AdamK

    It’s still there! Auggh!

  11. @AdamK- I’ve got the image in high-resolution if you’d like to have it as your desktop wallpaper ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. AdamK

    Biology is icky. Fascinating, but much too icky.

  13. skinman

    Bedbugs are bad for library books. Very expensive library books:


    So don’t assume it was the homeless folks, tinyfrog.

  14. I think you’re thinking of dust mites there, Gustaf. Bed bugs are true bugs, of the family Cimicidae. And they find you because of the CO2 etc you pump out. And they find each other because they retreat to the same sort of places during the day – mattress seams, joints in furniture, under the edges of the carpet…

    We’ve only just had them start to turn up again over here in Perth after decades of nothing – my employers had never even seen one – so the first couple that got brought in for ID got passed around with considerable interest, and then went straight into my collection. ๐Ÿ˜€

  15. It is really hard to get rid of bed bugs. i also had this problem and the best solution is to replace all your bed room.

  16. I studied quite a bit of entomology in college, so I certainly see where you’re coming from with the “lovely” bit. We used to go out and do water quality testing just by collecting and analyzing insect life in rivers and lakes, and you really get to the point where you feel like you’re identifying with the insect.

    That said, in an ironic twist of fate, I now run a website called, and I have to say that I don’t feel the same sense of connection. Experiencing bed bugs is just about enough to drive a person crazy, and I secretly long for the days of DDT.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The Loom.ย He is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which isย Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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