The bed bug family has been around for a very, very long time. Before they were hitching rides in travelers’ luggage, the ancestors of bed bugs were cave-dwellers, feeding on sleeping bats and cavemen. When primitive humans left their caves to hunt and gather in the plains, some of these bed bug grandparents moved out with them, while the others stayed behind to continue biting bats. Over time, this separation caused the bugs to evolve into separate species, commonly known today as bed bugs and bat bugs.
What is a Bat Bug?
Instead of wandering into the sunlight on the backs of Homo Erectus, bat bugs (as their name implies) opted to stay in their caves, thriving by feeding on sleeping bats. In today’s world, bat bugs can be found just about anywhere a nest of bats are (which is to say, pretty much anywhere in the known world). They don’t nest on the bats themselves, but they are known to ride on them from place to place.
Unfortunately, if the bats leave the area for any amount of time, a hungry bat bug will settle for a human meal that’s close by. Their bites and behavior are identical to those of a bed bug, making them just as annoying when they start feeding.
What’s the Difference?
Bat bugs and bed bugs are extremely similar. At first, second, and nineteenth glance, they look exactly the same. They both crawl, feed, and reproduce in the same ways. So how are they different?
To get the obvious out of the way, they have different food preferences. A bed bug prefers a human host, while bat bugs prefer bats. Surprise of the century, I’m sure. While bat bugs will settle for human blood in a pinch, it’s believed that they are unable to reproduce without a bat host.
Photo credit: N. T. Gallagher
The main visual difference is extremely hard to see without a microscope: bat bugs have longer hair on the upper covering of their thorax. Most of us wouldn’t even know that either bug have hairs at all without straining our eyes with a magnifier.
How do I get rid of Bat Bugs?
If you suspect that the little brown critters biting you in your sleep are bat bugs, there are some specific things you need to do to get rid of them. First off, you need to cut off their food source: you. Start by elevating your bed with some bed bug traps. Just like bed bugs, bat bugs cannot jump or fly, and must crawl up the legs of your bed to reach you. A talcum-lined pitfall, like the ones in ClimbUp’s Insect Interceptors, will keep them from getting to you.
Next, it’s time to get rid of the bats that brought the bugs to you in the first place. You might be thinking, “I’ve never seen a bat in my home.” That may be true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a bat problem at all. Bats like to sleep in attics, barns, basements, cellars, and inside walls – anywhere that they can fly in and out of, and provides shelter for their nest.
It is illegal in most states and many countries to kill bats, so please don’t try to solve your bat problem with poisons or chemicals. Bats are generally not harmful to humans, and are extremely handy as they eat a lot of mosquitos and other flying insects. Many Americans are so appreciative of their neighborhood bats’ bug control efforts that they build bat houses for them to nest in.
If you have bats in your property, the best course of action is to seal off any access points from your living spaces to where the bats are roosting. Then, once they’ve left your home to feed or hibernate, you should perform an exclusion. An exclusion is like weatherproofing – by caulking small openings and screening vents, you can ensure that the bats that left your home can’t get back in.
After you’ve evicted your winged tenants, the remaining bat bugs will grow hungry and desperate, and will begin searching for a blood meal. Apply some residual sprays and powders to any cracks and crevices leading into your living spaces, like in the walls or floorboards, to kill any bat bugs that try to reach you from their old feeding ground. Bat bugs and bed bugs can live for up to a year without a meal – however, they will most likely leave your home in search of new hosts by then.