By Brittany Campbell
Bed bugs have been resurging worldwide since the late 1990s and 2000s. Their bites can cause moderate to severe allergic skin reactions, and their propensity to hide in human beds and suck blood can cause several psychological problems. In the United States, there is one bed bug species that has spread nationwide into every state, the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius). Until recently, this species was the only one thought to be found in the U.S., is the one species that has been widely studied.
Common bed bugs thrive in more temperate climates, but there is another bed bug species that feeds on humans that is restricted to more tropical and sub-tropical climates, the tropical bed bug (Cimex hemipterus). The tropical bed bug had been documented in several counties in Florida in the late 1930s and early 1940s. However, there have been no documentations of this species in Florida in over 60 years until a recent documentation that was published in Florida Entomologist.
My colleagues and I received a bed bug sample in October 2015 that did not look similar to the common bed bug that we were so accustomed to seeing. Upon closer examination, we realized that this species, although very similar to the common bed bug, had a different shaped pronotum, or “neck region.” The common bed bug has a pronotum that forms a U-shape, with wing-like extensions on either side, but the tropical bed bug doesn’t have this characteristic U-shape.
We then contacted the homeowners and collected several other specimens for identification. All of them were found to be tropical bed bugs. The homeowners had not traveled outside of the state of Florida, so it is likely that this species had been picked up in the state and had established itself elsewhere in the state of Florida. We are not currently sure of how widespread these tropical bed bugs are. They could have potentially already been present in Florida, but without identification under a microscope, they were either over-looked or simply not detected because they are so few in number.
Tropical bed bugs have been documented in other tropical regions in the world, but there is still not a lot known about this species. Only time will tell what impact tropical bed bugs may have on the state of Florida. This species could potentially require different control measures, and its spread may not be limited to only Florida. Potential subtropical areas in other southern states could harbor this species as well, and modern human homes with temperature-controlled climates inside could also help this species spread beyond its normal tropical distribution range.
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Brittany Campbell graduated with her master’s degree in urban entomology from Virginia Tech, where she studied insecticide resistance in bed bug eggs. She is currently a PhD student in the Urban Entomology Laboratory at the University of Florida, where she is continuing her bed bug research.