Bat bugs (Leptocimex Boueti or Cimex Adjunctus), as their name suggests, are parasites that feed mainly on bat blood. However, in absence of bats as hosts, they are more than willing to take on human hosts. Like bed bugs (Cimex lectularius), bat bugs belong to the Cimicidae family. They are predominantly seen in countries like Africa where bats are abundant. However, recently, many mid-western states in the USA, including Ohio, are known to have reported bat bugs in residential areas though not as major pests.
Identifying Bat bugs
Identifying and differentiating between Leptocimex Boueti and bed bugs is essential so that one can use control and management techniques that also include elimination of the primary hosts, viz., bats, rodents, birds etc.
Like other members of the Cimicidae family, bat bugs have oval shaped, flattened bodies, small stubby wing pads and distinct mouthparts which they use for sucking and piercing. Thus, there is practically no difference between the common bed bug and the bat bug at least to the naked eye. However, closer (microscopic) observation shows differences such as distinguishing fringe hairs on the upper thorax which is longer in bat bugs than that in bed bugs.
Life cycle and habits of the Leptocimex Boueti
Female bat bugs need blood meals to lay hundreds of eggs. Otherwise, under favorable conditions, most adult Leptocimex Boueti can survive for up to a year without feeding.
The eggs, which hatch in a couple of weeks, are typically laid in cracks and crevices where adult bugs hide. The larvae (nymph) that develop from the eggs need several blood meals to molt and develop darker exoskeletons typical of adult bat bugs.
Leptocimex Boueti travel to the host when hungry and pierce the host’s skin to acquire a blood meal, typically at nighttime. They are capable of feeding nearly 10-15 minutes each time. Once they are sated, they return to their hiding places to digest the meal, or lay eggs etc.
Leptocimex Boueti feed on all kinds of bats as hosts but they prefer large and small brown bats that live in colonies. In absence of bats, bat bugs might feed on rodents, mice or birds. In absence of all these primary hosts, Leptocimex Boueti can bite humans. They hide in cracks and tight areas frequented by bats and may travel several feet each night to reach their hosts.
Effects of bat bug bites on humans
Fortunately, bat bugs are not known vectors of any harmful pathogens. However, their bites can be annoying physically and psychologically.
Many humans do not even realize they have been bitten by bat bugs. However, compared to bed bug bites, the bites of Leptocimex Boueti are much more painful. Different reactions have been reported depending on individual cases; the most common ones are red welts or bumps that are painful and extremely itchy. Sometimes the welts may be present in linear groups or clusters in close proximity to one another. The pain and itchiness may last for a few days or up to a week. Scratching the bite site intensely can lead to secondary skin infections that are difficult to treat.
What to do in case of home invasion with bat bugs
Bat bugs enter human dwellings typically through a process called phoresy, which means they hitch a ride on the fur of their primary hosts. Bats living in chimneys, unused lofts or attics, and cracks or openings in the roofs can all be responsible for bringing in the Leptocimex Boueti into residential areas.
Effective control of bat bugs thus includes eliminating primary hosts like bats, birds and rodents from the structures. Following this, one must also make use of insecticides in all probable harborage areas including cracks and crevices in furniture, under the carpets, along the edges of mattresses, headboards and box springs etc.
In many states, it is illegal to kill bats; hence one must contact the local wildlife organization or a reputed pest management company to get specific questions answered.
Apart from removal and exclusion of primary hosts, one must ensure prevention of recurrence of bats by sealing and caulking bat entry and exit points. A professional may be hired to replace meshes in vents and roofs to weatherproof the house.