The Origins of Bed Bugs
After 15 years of analyzing the DNA of 34 bed bug species collected from 62 different locations, a team of researchers managed to corroborate a 2008 finding by Dr. Michel Engel, an Entomologist at University of Kansas, in which an early ancestor of the modern bed bug was found encased in a prehistoric sample of amber tree sap.
This discovery, in tandem with the new findings from the 15-year study, confirms that bed bugs have existed for over 100 million years!
Previously, it was believed that the specific genus of bed bugs that feed on humans evolved several million years ago from a version of the bed bug that fed on bats. As early humans shared the caves with these bats, it was assumed that the bugs adapted to also feeding off humans as a secondary source of blood. However, this newly discovered evidence proves that Cimicidaes – the family of insect that bed bugs belong within – existed 80 million years before bats even came into existence. “This fossil was the first direct evidence that the family Cimicidae predated the origin of bats,” states Dr. Engel.
The findings from the research team were published in the May 2019 edition of Current Biology and also cited evidence that the types of bed bugs that feed on humans may have evolved roughly 47 million years ago. “Whereas most bed bugs specialize on one host species, the lineages linked to humans are generalists that seek new hosts while maintaining the ability to switch back to old favorites.” This makes it difficult to figure out an exact timeframe and formulate a progression of lineage leading to the variety of bed bug that plague us today. However, these new findings have “culminated in a sprawling Cimicidae family tree with roots deep in the Cretaceous period.”
So while this new data confirms that the formation of bed bugs is linked to neither the emergence of bats nor Homo sapiens… it appears as though bed bugs may have originally had a preference for dinosaur blood…
Ferreira, B. (2019) “Bed Bugs Menaced the Dinosaur Age Before Moving into Our Mattresses,” The New York Times, 16 May. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/16/science/bedbugs-dinosaurs-evolution.html