Tropical Bed Bug Species Not Seen in the US in Decades Found in Florida

A tropical species of bed bugs has made a surprise appearance in Florida, according to a team of state entomologists, raising questions and concerns about a possible outbreak

Bed bugs are a particularly unwelcome parasite that have rebounded in recent years after half a century on the decline. Now, researchers in Florida have discovered the presence of a tropical bed bug species in the state that has not been seen there in decades.

Health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stress that common bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are parasitic insects, but do not transmit any diseases. The small, reddish-brown bed bugs tend to dwell in and around areas where people sleep, emerging at night to feed on blood. Previously considered a problem in mostly developing countries, today, bed bugs have made a resurgence in North America and Europe. They’re typically found hiding by day in areas within eight feet of where people sleep, such as mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices of furniture, behind wallpaper, or underneath objects near beds. People usually discover that they have bed bugs after finding small bite marks from the insects on their face, neck, arms, hands, or body, or from rusty-colored blood marks left by the insects’ excretions on their mattresses. While they may not pose any major health risks, bed bug infestations are inconvenient and create added expense as well as property loss.

In a recent paper published in the journal Florida Entomologist, a team of researchers reported on their findings of the tropical bed bug species Cimex hemipterus in a Florida case. While the behavioral and biological similarities between the common C. lectularius and the tropical C. hemipterus bug species may not initially appear to be alarming, the researchers noted that their discovery raises many questions as this is the first reported sighting of tropical bed bugs in the state since the 1940’s. The recent finding was made after researchers at University of Florida’s Insect Identification Laboratory received a bed bug sample taken from a home in Brevard County, which is on the state’s Atlantic coast. The researchers contacted the homeowners and were able to obtain additional samples of both males and female bed bugs from their home, confirming that the insects were, indeed, the tropical C. hemipterus species.

The origin of the tropical bed bugs in this case are still unknown, according to the research team. “Bed bugs are easily carried on personal belongings,” study author and University of Florida researcher Philip G. Koehler, PhD, told Contagion. “They maybe were brought to Florida on either ships or planes from Asia or Africa. The tropical bed bug has been reported in South America, but is not a prevalent problem there. It is an important problem in Asia. It is possible that the tropical bed bug has been in Florida since it was first reported in the 1930’s. However, it is interesting that no one had seen one since 1943. We do not know definitively whether this is a new population or just a carry-over from years ago.”

Outbreaks of common bed bugs in the United States have had a resurgence since the 1990’s, noted the authors, which they attributed to increased international travel, an uptick in used furniture sales, changes in pest management, and what researchers have found to be a notable resistance to insecticides. For now, the issue of tropical bed bugs in Florida appears to be isolated and contained — with the study authors noting that the species appears to be contained within the 30 degree lines of north and south latitude – but, nonetheless, entomologists in Florida remain on the lookout for a potential outbreak of C. hemipterus.

“We have not seen any additional cases of tropical bed bugs in Florida,” noted Dr. Koehler. “Also, few people have turned in specimens for us to identify. Insecticide resistance has been found in tropical bed bugs, so we expect that they will be just as difficult to control as our common bed bugs.”