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You are here: Home > History of Bed Bugs
Bed Bug History - Cimex Lectularius HistoryBed Bugs (Cimex lectularius) may have originated in the Middle East in caves inhabited by bats and humans.  They are likely descendant from bat bugs.
Bed bugs were mentioned in ancient Greece as early as 400 BC, and were later mentioned by Aristotle.  Pliny's Natural History, first published circa 77 AD in Rome, claimed bed bugs had medicinal value in treating ailments such as snake bites and ear infections.  Belief in the medicinal use of bed bugs persisted until at least the 18th century when Guettard recommended their use in the treatment of hysteria.  Bed bugs were first mentioned in Germany in the 11th century, in France in the 13th century, and in England in 1583 though they remained rare in England until 1670. Some in the 18th century believed bed bugs had been brought to London with supplies of wood to rebuild the city after the Great Fire of London (1666).  Giovanni Antonio Scopoli noted their presence in Carniola (roughly equivalent to present-day Slovenia) in the 18th century.

With the use of potent pesticides, such as DDT, bed bugs almost disappeared.
Due to pesticide resistance, chemical bans, and increased travel, bed bug infestations have resurged.
Traditional methods of repelling and/or killing bed bugs include the use of plants, fungi, and insects (or their extracts), such as black pepper, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), Pseudarthria hookeri, Laggera alata (Chinese yángmáo cao), Eucalyptus saligna oil, henna (Lawsonia inermis or camphire), "infused oil of Melolontha vulgaris", fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), Actaea spp. (e.g. black cohosh), tobacco, "heated oil of Terebinthina" (i.e. true turpentine), wild mint (Mentha arvensis), narrow-leaved pepperwort (Lepidium ruderale), Myrica spp. (e.g. bayberry), Robert geranium (Geranium robertianum), bugbane (Cimicifuga spp.), "herb and seeds of Cannabis", "opulus" berries (possibly maple or European cranberrybush), masked hunter bugs (Reduvius personatus), and many others.  In the mid-19th century, smoke from peat fires was recommended.
Dusts have been used to ward off insects from grain storage for centuries including plant ash, lime, dolomite, certain types of soil, and diatomaceous earth (DE) or Kieselguhr.  Of these, diatomaceous earth in particular has seen a revival as a nontoxic (when in amorphous form) residual pesticide for bed bug abatement.  Insects exposed to diatomaceous earth may take several days to die.  Basket-work panels were put around beds and shaken out in the morning in the UK and in France in the 19th century.  Scattering leaves of plants with microscopic hooked hairs around a bed at night, then sweeping them up in the morning and burning them, was a technique reportedly used in southern Rhodesia and in the Balkans.
Prior to the mid-twentieth century bed bugs were very common.  According to a report by the UK Ministry of Health, in 1933 there were many areas where all the houses had some degree of bed bug infestation.  Bed bugs were a serious problem during World War II.  General MacArthur commented that bed bugs are the "greatest nuisance insect problem ... at bases in the U.S."
With the arrival of potent pesticides, famously DDT in the 1940s, bed bugs almost disappeared in Western countries. However, bed bug infestations have resurged in recent years, for reasons which are not clear.  Contributing factors may be complacency, increased resistance, bans on pesticides, and increased international travel. The current wave of bed bug infestations across America has spawned an industry for bed bug prevention, eradication, and the reporting of infestations.