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Bat bugs are blood-sucking insect parasites that feed primarily on the blood of bats. The name has been applied to members of the family Cimicidae (e.g. Cimex lectularius, Afrocimex constrictus) and also to members of the family Polyctenidae. Bat bugs are closely related to bed bugs, and are so similar in appearance that they are often mistaken for bed bugs. Microscopic examination is needed to distinguish them. Bat bugs will also bite humans if given the opportunity.
A key physiological distinction between the common bedbug and the bat bug is the fringe hairs on the pronotum (the upper covering of the thorax), which are at least as long as the width of the bat bug's eye, but shorter in the bedbug.
Bat bugs are moderately common in the midwest US and have been recorded in Scotland, and are found in houses and buildings that harbor bats. Infestations in human dwellings are usually introduced by bats carrying the bugs on their skin. Bat bugs usually remain in close proximity to the roosting locations of bats (attics, chimneys, etc.) but explore the rest of the building if the bats leave or are eliminated. In some cases, they move into harborages that are more typical of bedbugs, such as mattresses and bed frames.
Development from egg to adult ranges from 2 weeks in ideal conditions (warm temperature and abundant food supply) to more than 15 weeks, averaging about 1.5 months. An adult may survive more than one year without feeding. As with the common bedbug, a nymph requires a blood meal to molt, and an adult female requires a blood meal to lay eggs.
Bat bugs feed on blood from bats, but when they wander away from the bat roost area, they will feed on other warm-blooded animals, including people. This feeding is an annoyance but is not dangerous. Bat bugs have not been found to transmit any diseases.
Bat bugs, like all members of Cimcidae, are also known for their unique form of reproduction. Males inseminate the female by piercing the female's abdomen and depositing sperm directly into her bloodstream. In response to this traumatic insemination, female bat bugs have evolved a spermalege, a paragenital structure on their abdomen that limits the damage by guiding the male's sharp penile prong into a spongy area full of immune cells.
Controlling bat bugs requires the elimination of any bats that are present in the home or building. This is accomplished by exclusion techniques also known as "building them out" (i.e., sealing entrance cracks and holes). Residual sprays such as deltamethrin sprayed into all cracks and crevices, especially light fixtures and window casings, may help to control the bugs.
Killing bats is illegal in some jurisdictions.
- David R. Horton, USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Yakima, WA, USA. John L. Capinera, ed. "Minute Pirate Bugs (Hemiptera: Anthocoridae)" (PDF). Encyclopedia of Entomology (Springer Science+Business Media). Retrieved 20 December 2011.
- Jones, Susan C.; Kyle K. Jordan. "Bat Bugs". Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. Ohio State University. Archived from the original on 1 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
- Whyte, A.S., Garnett, P.A. & Whittington, A.E. 2001. Bats in the bellfry, bugs in the bed? Lancet 357: 604.
- "Gender-bending bugs take battle of sexes to new heights". AFP (via Yahoo! News). 19 September 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-09-22.