Cambridge Pest Control : The History of Bedbugs

history of bedbugs

When the first reports of bed bug infestations in North American cities made headlines in the 1990s, people were shocked. How could an insect no one had seen since the 1950s suddenly make a worldwide comeback? Bed bugs and humans have been together for a long time, and this new epidemic is just the latest chapter of their story. Here is a brief history of the bed bug and an explanation of why so many people must now rely on bed bug control services in Cambridge to keep these insects out of their beds.

Ancient History

The first relatives of the common bedbug evolved 115 million years ago, somewhere in the Middle East, with an unknown host species. By 11,000 years ago, the modern bedbug, Cimex lectularius, inhabited caves and pursued the same lifestyle it does today: hiding in crevices while its victims are awake and creeping out to suck their blood while they sleep. However, because they parasitized bats at their daytime roosts, bed bugs were diurnal rather than nocturnal as they are now.

Once humans began sharing the caves, the bed bugs found an easy meal. With long arms and legs covered in far less hair than a bat’s extremities, a person’s body allowed many more individual bugs to feed at the same time. Because humans slept at night, the insects were able to emerge from their hiding places under the protective cover of darkness. It is here in the caves where the close relationship between insect predators and human prey began.

Expansion and Decline

The year 1583 is the first time someone in England complained in writing about bugs in the bed, and the sentiments became more common throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Much of Europe suffered infestations, and the insects tagged along to infect new areas as people migrated and travelled for commerce. Although already living in the northwestern part of North America, bed bugs were able to colonize the east by tagging along with European colonists.

A turn-of-the-century invention that helped bed bugs succeed in North American cities was indoor heating. Once physiologically limited to being active during the warmer months, bed bugs could now enjoy feasting and breeding all year long. This situation caused infestations to increase dramatically through the 1930s. In the 1940s, however, scientists introduced the game-changing chemical DDT. Insects worldwide eventually evolved resistance to this pesticide, but not before it decimated the bed bug population and gave humans a temporary reprieve. 


From the end of World War II to the 1990s, modern pesticides caused bed bugs to lose their status as the nemesis of a good night’s sleep. In the minds of older adults, they became only a distant memory; to the young, they were nothing but an old wives’ tale. Some exterminating companies no longer trained their technicians on how to kill them, and average people would not even recognize one if they saw it on their pillows.

Something changed in the 1990s. The first few sightings of bed bugs in North American cities made headlines but the public regarded them only as bizarre, isolated cases. However, over the next decade, as reports continued to come in from 135 countries on five continents, it became clear that everyone again was at risk from this old enemy. Bed bugs were back.

Truly Nolen of Cambridge

Truly Nolen of Cambridge is doing our part to combat Canada’s epidemic of bed bug infestations. Our pest control methods are similar to those used throughout history, but with some modern upgrades and better chemicals that are safer for you and your pets. Start the process of relegating your family’s experience with bed bugs to ancient history by contacting us today for a home inspection.