Bed bugs are one nightmare of an insect pest that no one wants to ever have to deal with. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t that lucky. However, understanding the everyday life of a bed bug can actually help humans find better ways to manage them.

The life of a bed bug is one devoid of privacy. One of the most prominent behaviors of bed bugs that experts have endeavoured to understand is their habit of congregating in dense, tightly packed groups in certain areas inside a home. These aggregations bed bugs form can  be packed inside a crevice the width and depth of a toothpick, with scores of them sharing the tiny space. From the moment they hatch they are surrounded by scores of other bed bugs in these massive aggregations. They spend their entire lives outside of feeding on humans growing, mating, and even defecating amongst each other, all while clustered together tightly in their tiny, hidden crevice.

This very behavior gives bed bugs a significant advantage in their parasitic dealings with humans that almost always sleep in the same place. So what exactly are they gaining through this behavior? Recent studies have revealed that bed bugs avoid dehydration more effectively in these aggregations than on their own, and nymphs develop faster in these groups. This explains how bed bugs can go an incredible length of time, months and even a year or more if they’re in a cooler environment, without consuming blood. This may seem small, but they make a big difference to bed bugs’ ability to survive when a host or hosts get wise to their presence and their source of food becomes scarce. These aggregations also likely increase their opportunities to mate and produce more bed bugs, as well as help with taking better care of offspring. These aggregations clearly have their benefits.

Bed bugs are able to form these aggregations quickly by leaving chemical messages for other bed bugs that might be out there through the use of pheromones. When a bed bug finds a spot that they deem suitable to settle down in, they will release pheromones that will communicate to other bed bugs in the area that an aggregation site has been established. They will also leave these same pheromones calling bed bugs to aggregate in the chosen spot directly on surfaces of the spot and other areas they travel, leaving behind aggregation pheromones in their shed skins and feces.

Have you ever found an aggregation of bed bugs in your home?