World exclusive: bitten by bed bugs on purpose (part 1)

by S on April 18, 2007 · 32 comments

in bed bug bites, bed bug research, bed bugs, photos, photos of bed bugs, signs and symptoms of bed bugs

Editor’s note from Nobugsonme: this is an exciting story.

I must confess, I thought S and G were mad when they decided to beg their PCO/entomologist friend to let them be bitten by bed bugs. He must have too: he made them sign a waiver, but he let them experiment.

I am really amazed at the story you’re about to read, and while I think it’s a bit crazy, it also provides a certain kind of scientific evidence that has been lacking. Look, this is not a controlled research study, and research needs to be done in order to draw any major conclusions. If we know one thing, it’s that we don’t all react the same to being bitten by bed bugs. Bed bug bites can look different, feel different, and take longer to appear (or, in fact, never appear) depending on who is bitten.

S and G each wanted to know if they would react differently to adults vs. nymphs, whether G would react at all, since he assumed he wasn’t being bitten at home, and whether S would react to having a dead bed bug on her skin. What I do think is safe to say is that S and G learned something very interesting about they way they react to being bitten by bed bugs. It may or may not correspond to your experience, but it probably does mirror lots of peoples’ experiences.

For some background on bed bug bites, here’s an article from last October about doctors (not) diagnosing them, which links to a number of photos of bed bug bites that do, and don’t, look typical. You may also be interested in S’s two photos from our “bite photos” page, which is a reminder that bites do not always look the same on the same person.

One final disclaimer: please do NOT try this at home. While bed bugs are not known to spread disease, that can always change, and it probably isn’t a good idea to get bitten on purpose or to share bed bugs with others.

So without further ado, here’s the first of two installments (the second is coming on Thursday morning). Thanks to S and G for taking it on the arm, in the name of research! And my super-special thanks to S for writing the article below.

Bite Fest 2007

By S.

I decided to get bitten because I really need to know if my bedbugs are gone. The infestation began in early December 06 and after 4 months, we really, really, really think they are gone. Our PCO does too. There’s been no evidence in months. But I am still waking up with little, mildly itchy bumps on my skin, maybe 3-4 a week, and nobody has been able to give me a satisfying explanation.

Are my bumps a reaction to the chemical? I don’t think so. I spoke with the makers of Demand, and no, it would not cause single, itchy bumps. Are they pimples? Well, a lot are on my face, but they look and feel different to pimples. Are they a skin hypersensitivity? Maybe. But could that account for ALL of them? The ones on my face look different than the ones on my chest, which look different than the ones on my arms or back. And what would I be having a hypersensitivity TO? Are they old bites flaring back up? Maybe, but some of them, I’m fairly certain, are in new places. Are they nymph bites? Maybe, although by now, wouldn’t the nymphs have grown up, and the bites gotten bigger? Are nymph bites smaller than adult bites? Finally, might these be regular bedbug bites, but I’m not reacting as much as I used to? Can you become immune?

All these questions have been plaguing me for months. I felt that at this point, after consulting two dermatologists, many PCOs online and in person, and gleaning everything I could from other peoples’ stories, I just had to try it out for myself. The only way to know if these are new bedbug bites, is to see what actual, confirmed bedbug bites look like. Not four months ago, but now. And not photos of other people’s bites, but my bites, on my skin.

So my PCO raises colonies of bedbugs because, well, he is crazy. But also brilliant. He feeds them on himself and keeps them in vials. He has adults, nymphs of every instar, including first instars. There was fecal matter, cast skins and a crumpled-up piece of paper in the vials – just a little jar of goodies! Ugh, it was SO GROSS. And something else, that I knew but was still gross to see for myself, was basically how LAZY they are. In the vial, they don’t crawl around. They just sit there, in the folds of the paper.

My lovely boyfriend (we’ll call him G) said he’d do this with me, because he wasn’t scared, and he knew it would help me to be braver. I am not brave. I had nightmares about this for weeks – mostly that the bug would somehow run up my arm and into my shirt. Also, in my nightmares they were humongous. The one dead one, that we found on a glue mat when our infestation began, had grown larger in my memory. So while my boyfriend was like “THEY’RE HUGE!” I was like “Oh, they’re actually not as big as I remember.”

The other reason for G to do this, was that he’s never found a single bite. So we hoped to answer the question “Do they just prefer me? Or do they bite him, and he doesn’t react?” We knew that if G DID react, then they have actually been choosing me over him all this time.

Andy (the PCO) was well-prepared when we arrived at his office, on the south side of Chicago. He had us sign waivers saying that we wouldn’t blame him or his company for any damages. Sure, no problem. Then, here’s what he did. He’d take the bug we wanted to test out of the main vial, with tweezers. He’d place it in a clean, empty vial. Then, he’d tip the vial sideways, until it was pressing against my arm. Then he’d turn it over, and just hold it down. This way, the bug had about a one-inch circle of skin, and couldn’t run away. We’d press the vial down firmly the entire time. When the bug was done biting, I’d gently tip my arm until the bug fell back into the vial, and then Andy would cover it with a lid. It was all very controlled.


So, here’s how it went. First, G did a first instar nymph.

This is the nymph on G:


This is G’s immediate reaction to the first instar nymph:


As you can see, his reaction was basically nothing. No itch, no red dot, no evidence that a bug was ever there. (We made a circle where the vial was, and a smaller circle where the actual bite took place).

While he was doing that, I did a cast skin. (We just placed it on my skin). I have read from multiple sources that chitin hypersensitivity could possibly elicit a bite-like skin response from a dead bug, or even a skin. (Their skin contains chitin).

This is the cast skin on S:


And S. right after the cast skin:


The skin sat on my arm for about 5 minutes. It fell off once, so we put it back in a different place (hence the two circles). No immediate reaction to the skin.

Meanwhile, the nymph was biting G, but he couldn’t feel a thing. They are really tiny. We watched it go from clear to red.

Then, G did an adult, while I did a first instar nymph. His adult was oh so gross. It landed on its back, then turned itself over, stood there, and started biting. It was really quick. Again, he didn’t feel a thing.

This is the adult after it fed on G:


As you can see, it’s huge. The adult grew fatter as well as longer, during the 5 minutes it was feeding.

I had the teeniest little first instar nymph that latched onto me quickly, and when I saw the little red spot form, I looked away. It was done after maybe 2 or 3 minutes. We took it off and circled the spot with pen.

This is S’s arm after the nymph:


There was the tiniest whitish flat swelling on my skin by the nymph bite, and that was all. G was showing no reaction to either bite. It seemed like we weren’t gonna learn anything from him about the difference between nymph and adult bites.

So he said, “I think you should do an adult.” I was not mentally prepared for this. They are just so much bigger, and grosser, to me. But I knew he was right, that would be a true experiment, and we’d learn so much more this way.

Adult biting S.


Andy brought it over in a vial, and I covered my face with my hands. He pressed that vial down so hard, and during the entire time, I kept telling him to press it harder! I did not feel the adult biting me. But I did start to feel an itch, about halfway through! And that freaking bug sat there for ten minutes. It felt like ten hours. I never looked. G held my hand and we tried to talk about other things. Finally, it was done and I knew it was done because right away, I felt it walk. I practically screamed, and Andy came over and took it away. It clung to my skin at first, it didn’t want to fall off and into the vial, he apparently had to move the vial a little, and I was trying hard not to cry. I never looked. And then it was off, and it was done.

S’s skin immediately after the adult bed bug bit her:


Editor’s note:
What happened the next day?

Did G develop a reaction to the bites? Did S?
If so, did the nymph and adult bites look different?
Did S develop a reaction to the cast shell?
And what does it all mean?

Tomorrow (Thursday) @ 9am EST, come back for Part 2 of S’s story.

1 lieutenantdan April 18, 2007 at 10:26 am

This is great! You people are true HEROES. If medals could be awarded you both would get my vote. Please give us as much information as you can about your experiment.

What has always puzzled me is with all of our great entomologists in this world the entomologist will not provide us with more information. Last I checked which was about two weeks ago Harvard’s site as well as many others have not changed at all in months. You would think that the great institutions of the world would have a site that they all would contribute to which would keep us informed of the latest news and the research that is going on, they know that people are suffering. I am assuming that the group that does discover the answer will make a substantial amount of money, maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe a government gag order exists as not to panic the public. I can only speculate.

Again I must congratulate these two brave people for taking the war a step closer to our final victory so we may someday get back to life without bbs. Thank you.

2 wantmyskinback April 18, 2007 at 10:53 am

Lt.Dan: I believe there is a link to Lou Sorkin’s photos of bugs and bites, etc. He’s at the Museum of Natural History. If you click around on this site here, you’ll find it. It may be on the flickr photos of bites…. keep checking the different links.

3 buggedinbrooklyn April 18, 2007 at 11:50 am

I was just saying yesterday night, that I was wondering if people would want to talk about thier bites and reactions to them…

well this is so much better.
after the story is done, we all could talk about it, and our bites too.

great work S and G


4 nobugsonme April 18, 2007 at 12:31 pm

Lt Dan,

Lou Sorkin and other entomologists are trying to learn about bed bugs. In fact, S’s PCO is one of many people who keeps a bed bug colony (and feeds it on himself, normally) in order to study them. Lou does this too. Many news stories feature a shot of the journalist talking to a PCO “feeding their bed bugs” and the CBC journalist in the CBC video (see links) did it herself.

As I’ve said before, I am pretty sure the reason researchers aren’t studying bite reactions is that the entomologists have not got time (since they’re working on killing the little monsters). Since most dermatologists can’t recognize bites, they obviously haven”t caught on yet to the need to study this. (Search for dermatologists in our search button and you’ll find a post about an entomologist who tested whether a room full of dermatologists could recognize pictures of bed bug bites; they could not.)

Anyway, I agree that we need more research, but people are working on it.
However, I don’t doubt that we could use a lot more people working on it, and a lot more government funding for them to do so.

Bugged–yes, good idea. After tomorrow, we can do another bite conversation.

5 S April 18, 2007 at 12:40 pm

Incidentally, the CBC reporter was a huge inspiration for me. That woman got bit for the story, and I remember her joking, “It’s all for the sake of research.” I feel the same way. Her bravery was pretty inspiring.

The other motivator was when I asked the yahoo group if anybody knew – FOR SURE – that nymph bites were smaller than adult bites. Sean from The Bed Bug Resource responded that he let his bedbugs feed on him, and that he reacted the same to adult bites as nymph bites. He then added, “I’d love to do a nationwide study, but the challenge is finding the participants.” That’s when the idea hit me. Sean’s in Canada, so I couldn’t go up there, but I knew my PCO had his own bedbugs.

So thanks Sean, and thanks CBC reporter. 🙂

6 nobugsonme April 18, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Oh, in response to WMSB’s reminder on the other comments thread about the old bite article, I added this paragraph above:

For some background on bed bug bites, here’s an article from last October about doctors (not) diagnosing them, which links to a number of photos of bed bug bites that do, and don’t, look typical. You may also be interested in S’s two photos from our “bite photos” page, which is a reminder that bites do not always look the same on the same person.

7 G. April 18, 2007 at 2:01 pm

I’d like to also thank S. for being brave and crazily inventive. I just went along for the ride.

Somewhere in the months of conversation that S. and I had, we talked about the inherent, skin crawling, irrational fear that she has for bugs. In contrast, I’ve never been all that fussed about bugs, but rather had a fear, deep seated fear of completely different things. Furry plants and country music fall into that category.

So when S. told me that she was planning on this, up close and personal test, I was happy to volunteer and go through each step with her, since on a primitive level, I wasn’t that afraid of them.

But if the test was to have Chesney Hawkes on my arm for ten minutes… then I’m not so sure I would have put my hand up so fast.

8 nobugsonme April 18, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Hey G!
You’re a star.

9 willow-the-wisp April 18, 2007 at 2:24 pm

Oh LOL—G!!!
Thanks G and S!!!

It is brave not crazy and the ultimate inspiration for us all!
I’d not want to meet anybody in a dark alley who’d allow a controlled
Bed bug bite! … My way of saying you’re so fearless to do it!
Especially interesting too … is the cast shell and the chemical in it experiment…

10 LMK Entomologist April 18, 2007 at 2:35 pm

Fascinating! Way to take one for the team!

11 April 18, 2007 at 2:37 pm

Ugh im im such suspense!! I think if i had someone with me i would donate my arm to this as well! I think if its controlled, yes its still gross, but in a controlled setting it could be easier to handle…was it??
i want to know more!

12 Fedupandparanoid April 18, 2007 at 2:41 pm

It’s fantastic that you were both prepared to do this. There seem to be loads of theories about the difference between adult and nymph bites but no hard evidence. I think that is something we are all searching for an answer to and you have started the ball rolling with a real example.

13 S April 18, 2007 at 2:41 pm

Haha! You guys are hilarious. I wouldn’t say that I am fearless – by no means. I was fear-FULL throughout this entire hour-long ordeal. However, my need to know was stronger than my fear. It was like my need to know, and my fear, were arm-wrestling the entire time. My need to know, won.

I also think it’s hilarious that Nobugs has chosen to make this a two-part series. Sorry for the suspense!! It’ll be over soon, I promise. 🙂

14 willow-the-wisp April 18, 2007 at 2:54 pm

I thought the two part saga was funny and extremly creative too!

15 G. April 18, 2007 at 3:14 pm

The two-parter was genius.

I’m dying to know what happens next!

16 S April 18, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Ha, ha. Very funny, G.

17 wantmyskinback April 18, 2007 at 3:58 pm

The two parter IS genius. First of all, it draws attention. And we cliff hangers love a good sequel. So if more web surfers tune in tomorrow, the best we can hope for is that we have alerted THAT many more folks out there who have been wondering, the same as you…. about their bites. As I said before: BRAVO WOMAN.

18 hopelessnomo April 18, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Brava S.

19 nobugsonme April 18, 2007 at 5:02 pm

Well, you’ll all be thrilled to know it’s now a three-parter, since S and G have provided a day three update with additional information and new photos.

Yes, that’s right, these little spots on S’s arms are going to be carefully monitored for some time. (Keep redrawing those circles S and G!)

20 James Buggles April 18, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Hard to believe they feed for so long. And yet 10 minutes versus 8 hours or even 4 hours of sleep — I guess the odds are you’ll never catch them in the act. I still think time lapse photography could be a useful tool for detection. Anyway, just to be clear, you guys are indeed bedbug stars, but not instars.

21 nobugsonme April 19, 2007 at 2:51 am

Ha!! James!

22 Edgie April 19, 2007 at 5:00 am

S & G, This is the most creative and meaningful stories I’ve seen ever. I cannot tell you how long I’ve had these little dot’s spots-in rows or not. Very similiar. Even now that I’ve had this apartment treated many, many times. CAN’T WAIT for the sequel! Edgie

23 Edgie April 19, 2007 at 5:38 am

Hi, Sorry I forgot YEAH! Edgie

24 Edgie April 19, 2007 at 5:56 am

Edgie here, James, I was told by a friend who I worked with-who said to have BB’s years ago, that the way to catch them is to get up in the middle of the night and flip on the lights and look at your mattress. This person had a pretty bad infestation. Just an idea.
Also, I forgot to say, S, GOOD JOB! YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!Edgie

25 willow-the-wisp April 19, 2007 at 8:04 am

I’ve got a 3 hour time difference … so I get this 3 part saga early at 6 am … but the suspense … it’s only 5 am …. come on come on come on!

26 jon April 19, 2007 at 12:10 pm

great work S and G. can’t wait for the results.

27 Karen August 25, 2007 at 9:21 am

I woke up this morning to some rashes on my face. I have two bites on my hand that I just put the thought away. The bed I have I got from my mom, it was safe when I got it. recently stupid me bought used sheets from a consighnment shop, I washed them first but, do you think that I have bug bites because of these sheets? These bites itches like crazy, like I wanna claw to dig the bits out of my hand. My Face doesn’t itch, just very rashy in 3 spots and not hurts but you can tell my face is rashy for a reason. What do I do, and is it possable that these are not bed bug bites? Please Help, I could even get my dig cam to take some pics. HELP Please. Thanks.

28 nobugsonme August 25, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Please read the FAQS.

Start with “Think you have bed bugs? Some do’s and don’ts”. Then read the others under treatment and protecting the bed.

I think you will learn a lot from them!

It is possible you have bed bugs, but you could also have another condition. The FAQs will help. You might need to see a doctor and rule out scabies which you can also get from used sheets. I am sure second hand stores often have bed bugs.

Also don’t rule out the possibility that the mattress had bed bugs. As the FAQs explain, your mother may have them and not be allergic (no signs, no bites). They can be hard to catch in the act and she may not have seen one.

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