Bed bugs don’t actually need to stand on your skin to feed.
These images from entomologist Lou Sorkin (who feeds a colony of bed bugs kept for research purposes) show bed bugs can “reach out and bite someone,” so to speak.
Lou Sorkin describes this photo as follows:
1. Cimex in a vial
Bed bugs being attracted to the warmth of my skin. The vial is horizontally situated on the top of my hand so as not to use gravity as a variable. The photo series moves from top left to lower left to right. Note that the feeding bed bugs are basically standing on the paper and from that position extending their proboscis in order to push the stylets (the stylet fascicle) into the skin and finally into a small blood vessel in order to suck blood. The red mark on the skin is a birthmark, a nevus flammeus, and not a result of bed bug feeding. The next image is a close-up of the feeding bugs.
And Lou’s description of this image:
2. Cimex in a vial, close-up
A close-up view of feeding bed bugs to show that they basically crawled along the paper and when arrived at the skin surface began to feed by extending the proboscis and pushing the stylet fascicle in to locate a small blood vessel. They don’t bother to crawl onto the skin in order to feed…. This behavior creates a curved row of feeding due to the shape of the paper touching my skin. Bed bugs will stay on bed coverings next to your skin and depending on the shaping of the fabric against your skin, the shape of a series of bites will be left. This behavior is one reason for finding bed bug bites in clusters or lines.
Although keep in mind, as Lou often reminds us, bed bug bites can appear as singles or in pairs, lines or clusters. There’s no single “bed bug bite pattern” as is commonly thought.
And then there’s this image:
And Lou’s description of it:
Jar & feeding, mostly nymphs, labium straight
Not the typical position, bed bugs stretching and feeding and basically feeding while lying down on their backs. See close-up insert of whole bug, front legs not holding onto substrate. They haven’t used their front legs to hold onto the skin so stylet fascicle not deeply inserted into skin and labium is not bent. Red skin color is basically a birthmark, a nevus, but small red dots are from previous feedings by other bed bugs.
This feeding posture does not fit that described by Usinger (1966) Monograph of Cimicidae, Chapter 3- Bites, page 34 and figure 3-1 on page 35.
And the description from Lou:
Jar & feeding, mostly adults, labium straight
Atypical feeding position. Bed bugs stayed on the cardboard and when moved away from skin, would not move forward onto skin but back up and retreat into corrugations. Front legs not used to assist in pushing stylet fascicle into skin, labium not bent, so feeding here must be shallow. See close-up insert.
(Lou notes this feeding posture also doesn’t fit Usinger’s description; see previous image description.)
Click the photos above for the option to see a larger size image.
Many thanks to Lou for sharing his wonderful photos and knowledge of bed bugs with us!