Bed bugs go back thousands of generation and this means our ancestors had to deal with them. One is left to wonder how our ancestors were getting rid of bedbugs considering that they had limited treatment options. This question may seem like one that is not answering from a narrow point of view.

The truth, however, is that some ancient bed bug treatment methods are still applicable in modern day society. Learning about early bed bug treatment opens your mind to less costly yet, effective ways to get rid of bed bugs. Since the USA and the rest of the world is knee deep in infestations, reading this post is worth your time.

Did our ancestors have the bed bug problem?

When talking about ‘bed bug’ we think of the last 20 years. While it’s true that bed bugs resurfaced two decades ago, they’ve been around for thousands of generations. This means that our ancestors had to deal with bed bugs at one point or another.

A recent study on bed bugs reveals that these pesky bugs date back to 115 million years ago before Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction. The Cretaceous-Paleogene species walked the earth 30 million years before the first fossils of bats. Most entomologist, however, assume that the human-bed bug parasitic relationship evolved from ectoparasites of bats.

It is largely assumed that our ancestors were first exposed to bed bugs via bats in the Middle East. As the human civilization expanded and spread, human brought bed bugs to new regions of the world. Sightings of bed bugs were recorded in Greece in 400 BC, Rome in 77AD, China in 600 AD, and Germany in the 11th Century. Other civilizations that dealt with bed bugs during ancestral times include England in 1583 and the Americas in the early 1800s.

Evolution of bed bugs from the time of our ancestors

If you live in a major city such as New York, you are likely too familiar with bed bugs. A lot of things regarding human life have changed from the time of our ancestors yet, bed bugs continue to thrive. This must leave you wondering how bed bugs have evolved to live up to changing times.

In the ‘Origin of Species’, Charles Darwin marvels at the beauty of evolution of simple creatures. I doubt that anyone, in their right frame of mind, can describe bed bugs as beautiful critters. These pesky bugs, however, present a unique opportunity of observing Darwin’s theory of evolution. Here are some ways bed bugs have evolved from the time of our ancestors;

Exoskeleton defenses

Our cave dwelling ancestors got along relatively well with bed bugs. These pesky critters were not as terrifying as they are today. In fact, one would argue that modern bed bugs are entirely different from the ones our ancestors dealt with.

Compared to ancient Bed bugs, modern ones have thicker and waxier exoskeletons. This evolution in the structure of exoskeletons gives modern bed bugs better resistance to heat and insecticides. In her book, infested, Brooke notes this evolutionary change and observed that bed bugs evolved to live with us.

Physical and genetic mutations

Since the time of our ancestors, bed bugs have developed and carried some mutations that allow them to survive various assaults. Modern bed bugs have, for instance, developed kdr genetic mutations that are responsible for pyrethroid resistance. This form of mutation is largely responsible for insecticide resistance in modern-day bed bugs. It is also worth noting that bed bugs have developed faster metabolism over the years thus, enhancing chemical resistance.

On the physical aspect, bed bugs have developed longer and thinner legs overtime. This enables modern bugs to crawl away faster than they used to during the time of our ancestors. Modern bed bugs are also more active at night when humans are asleep compared to ancient bed bugs.

Ancestral Bed bug treatment methods

Over the years, our ancestors adopted various techniques to treat bed bug infestations. Some of the treatment methods they used are still applicable today and some of them are not. Here is a comprehensive outline and discussion of various ancestral bed bug treatment methods;

Heat treatment

Bed bugs are vulnerable to extreme high and low temperatures. If you’ve gone through our previous posts, you can attest to our advocacy for heat as a safe, reliable treatment method. You will be surprised to learn that heat treatment was used as early as the 1800s.

Our ancestors did not have modern heat technologies such as the heat box and steamer. They, however, used basic heat treatment methods such as boiling water manually and pouring it into joints and crevices. It is important to note that boiled water came in handy up to World War 1 when soldiers had to fight infestations in their barracks.

Diatomaceous earth

Our ancestors used different inorganic materials such as diatomaceous earth and amorphous silica gel to treat bed bugs. Diatomaceous earth was recently revived as a viable bed bug treatment option because of its non-hazardous nature.

A sample of food-grade diatomaceous earth used for bed bug treatment

The waxy outer layer of the exoskeleton is disrupted upon coming in contact with diatomaceous earth, causing it to dehydrate.

Bean leaves

Our ancestors used bean leaves to trap bed bugs by spreading them in infested areas. The leaves’ trichomes pierce the tarsi joints of the bug’s arthropod legs thus, trapping them. As the bed bug’s scuffle for freedom, they stab themselves deeper into the trichomes. Humans can then, collect and destroy them.

Essential oils

Essential oils are plant extracts including peppermint, lemongrass, cloves, and lavender oil, to name a few. In the old days, our ancestors used them to repel or kill bed bugs. It is, however, to note that some of these plant extracts are still applicable in modern-day society.

Ancestral Bed bug prevention methods

In the old days, our ancestors did not have access to technology-led bed bug monitoring tools. They, however, employed some basic prevention methods namely;

Regular thorough clean

Regular thorough cleaning helped to keep bed bugs away during the time of our ancestors. Even though bed bugs are not attracted to filth, thorough cleaning reduced potential hiding spots and helped in early infestation identification. It is worth noting that in the 1800s, both the rich and the poor were dealing with bed bug infestations. The rich were, however, more successful than the poor in preventing infestations due to extensive housekeeping efforts.

Placing basketwork panels around the bed

In the 19th century the French and the English used basketwork panels. Individuals would place basketwork panels around their beds and shake them out in the morning. This would prevent bed bugs from reaching their beds.

Effectiveness of ancient bed bug treatment methods

Most people living in modern-day society have a deep mistrust towards ancient treatment methods. The truth, however, is that they are more effective in killing bed bugs than the insecticides we’ve come to trust. A recent study involving the use of Diatomaceous earth found that this traditional treatment method can reduce bed bug counts by 99.9%.

Heat treatment, is a method used by our ancestors that can guarantee a 100% success rate when done properly. Bed bugs can die within 90 minutes at temperatures of 118°F (48°C) for adults, and 122°F (50°C) for eggs. Essential oils and bean leaves treatments are also effective when used properly and combined with proven methods like heat treatment.

Final thoughts

Bed bugs can resist up to 1,000 times the dose of pesticides that would usually be lethal. This means that you will have to use a staggering amount of money on pesticides with no guarantee of success. Apart from that, pesticides pose serious hazards to your health and that of your loved ones.

The treatment methods used by our ancestors are less costly and do not pose any health risks. It would be wise to consider using them in your bed bug extermination efforts. There is no better way to safe your money and get desirable results.


When did the bed bug problem start?

Bed bugs have been around for millions of years. Bed bug historical records, put them in different parts of the world during different periods. They were almost eradicated in the 1950s-1990s but they have emerged and spread across the world in the last 20 years.

Did our ancestors use pesticides?

No, the earliest used pesticide was DDT in the 1940s. It was however banned in 1972 because it posed several health risks.

How costly was the bed bug problem for our ancestors?

It was not as costly as it is today. Our ancestors mostly used home remedies that did not require any expense.

Is it possible to make bed bugs extinct?

Bed bugs survived the extinction of dinosaurs, meaning making them exist is next to impossible. A consolidated, global effort to get rid of bed bugs can, however, take us back to the good old days between 1950s and the 1990s.