How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food or a Host? Life Cycle of Bed Bugs 

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Pest Control | January 4, 2024

Man with a calendar wonders how long can bed bugs live without food, how long do bed bugs live, what is the bed bug life cycle, where do bed bugs come from, and how do bed bugs die naturally?

When dealing with a bed bug infestation, one of the first things many people ask is how long can bed bugs live without food or how long can bed bugs live without a host?

While there are many misconceptions surrounding these biting pests, understanding the life cycle of bed bugs can help you control and remove them.

One myth out there is that you can starve bed bugs to death.

Unfortunately, bed bugs hey have some of the highest lifespans among insects and they can go for months without food or a host.

The following guide answers the question, just how long can bed bugs live without food or hosts and explains the life cycle of bed bugs…and why leaving them to die may not be the best idea.

How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food or a Host?

Since bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, many people believe they can just let them starve to death by leaving their apartment or house vacant for a while.

However, these starving attempts are fraught with difficulty and fail most of the time because bed bugs can go without food for very long stretches of time.

How long can bed bugs live without food or a host? The time amount varies greatly based on several factors but it can be anywhere from 20 to 400 days.4

Graphics with text that shows the factors that influence how long bed bugs can live without feeding such as temperature and energy exertion, humidity, and age.

These factors that influence how long bed bugs can live without feeding include:2

  • Energy exertion
  • Humidity
  • Temperature
  • Age

For instance, young bed bugs, especially those that are in the first nymph period, cannot survive as long as mature bed bugs without a meal. This makes sense because children cannot live as long as adults without food.

Second, bed bugs are very sensitive to humidity and temperature. So, how long can bed bugs live without food in hot weather? Though they can live in high temperatures of 122 degrees Fahrenheit, their ideal growth and development temperature is much closer to room temperature, about 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

In contrast, when temperatures cool, bed bugs exert less energy and usually end up living longer than normal without a meal.

Experts and researchers alike have discovered that adult bed bugs in laboratory conditions can go without food for up to 400 days. Survivorship during starvation is extremely prevalent in bed bugs.8

The optimal conditions include situations where adult bed bug specimens are living in cool temperatures where they are using very little energy. What’s more, adults can live up to more than a year and they can have four successive generations in one year.3

These perfect conditions do not occur in the real world. However, even in regular households, people have found bed bugs in houses that have been vacant for 6 months or more.

Long story short, starving bed bugs as a treatment plan is not a wise option.

How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food? Bed Bug Life Cycle From Bed Bug Eggs to Adults

You must understand the bed bug life cycle from bed bug eggs to adults, before knowing how long can bed bugs live without food or a host. In their lifetime, female bed bugs lay 250 to 500 tiny white eggs.

They usually lay two to five eggs per day on rough surfaces like paper or wood near the sleeping places of their hosts. They cover the eggs in a material that feels like glue.

The eggs hatch in about 10 to 15 days at room temperature. After they hatch, the eggshells usually remain stuck in place.

Bed bugs have five progressively bigger nymphal stages. Each stage needs at least one blood meal before progressing to the next stage.

The bed bug life cycle from egg to adult needs anywhere from 5 weeks to 4 months to complete depending on food availability and temperature. Progression occurs rapidly when temperatures are about 70-82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Both adults and nymphs usually feed at night and rest in crevices and dark cracks during the day. Sometimes, the bugs may feed on hosts that are sedentary or nearby during the day.

The most common hiding places for bed bugs are generally located within 5 or fewer feet from areas where hosts usually rest or sleep.

An unmade bed with crumpled white sheets, which may potentially hide bed bug eggs, and a gray knitted blanket, in a well-lit room with hardwood floors.

(Image: Monica Silvestre11)

These areas include:

  • Beneath covers
  • Along mattress tufts and seams
  • In joints and cracks of bed frames
  • Behind headboards and baseboards
  • Behind picture frames
  • Under loose wallpaper
  • Inside upholstery, electronics, appliances, and furniture

Keep in mind that bed bugs are more likely to live in or on fabric, wood, and paper materials as compared to plastic and metals.

Occasionally, you may pick up bed bugs on trains, buses, or theaters. The bed bugs enter your home through infested luggage, furniture, bedding, and clothing.

How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food? How Do Bed Bugs Die Naturally? (Non-Chemical Management)

You may be wondering, are there any alternatives to insecticides? How do bed bugs die naturally or what is the best nonchemical management?

Bed bugs die naturally when their body temperature is over 113 degrees Fahrenheit or 45 degrees Celsius. Therefore, exposing bedbugs to these temperatures or higher can kill them at all stages.

If you go for high temperatures or 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, the bed bugs will die rapidly.

How long can bed bugs live without food or a host with nonchemical management? This greatly depends on the rate of infestation and the nonchemical management method used.

Nonchemical management methods usually target killing bed bugs, removing them, or restricting their access to bedding material or beds. One option is using a suction wand of a strong vacuum.

You should target box springs and mattress seams, along carpet perimeters, and under dashboards.

You should repeat the vacuuming to get all the eggs. You can also use commercial heating services to treat entire rooms in the home.

High temperatures will kill both the bugs and the eggs. If the bugs are in bedding or clothing, you can set the laundry drier to the highest setting the fabric can accommodate.

To summarize, bed bugs are nasty critters that can go without feeding for more than a year, sometimes up to 400 days if the conditions are right. Therefore starving them is not the right option.

What Do Bed Bugs Eat and How Often Do Bed Bugs Feed?

You may be wondering; what do bed bugs eat and how often do bed bugs feed? Bed bugs, unlike other blood-sucking insects such as mosquitos, depend entirely on blood from birth to death.1

Their main food source is humans, they usually feed in the night when people are resting.

Bed bugs feed by piercing the skin with their elongated mouthparts. These mouth parts consist of four stylets that extend during feeding and fold under the body when the bed bugs are resting.

The mouths also have a salivary canal that transports the saliva to the wound and a large food canal that takes in the blood.

In one feeding event, a bed bug can consume up to six times its weight in blood. This process usually lasts between 3 to 10 minutes.

In most cases, you’ll not be aware you’ve been bitten until afterward, bites usually occur when people are asleep. Additionally, bed bugs usually have a natural anesthetic in their saliva that they inject into people while feeding.

It’s important to note that this aesthetic only lasts until the feeding time is over. After which it causes allergic dermal reactions like large itchy swellings on the skin which may get irritated or infected when you scratch them.

The swelling starts to develop a day or more after feeding and some people will not show any symptoms. Fortunately, bed bugs do not carry any human diseases.

It’s difficult to distinguish bed bug bites from other blood-sucking insects such as fleas, mosquitoes, and spiders. As such, people often confuse bed bug welts with mosquito bites.

The only way you can know its bed bugs is when you find them or their sign in your bed or bedroom. When people are bitten during traveling, it’s even more difficult to make a diagnosis since they cannot produce a specimen.

Besides directly injuring humans, bed bugs usually leave unsightly fecal spots and odors on bed sheets, and around their hiding places. These spots are usually dark or reddish brown round and small.

These insects usually feed every 3-7 days. This means that most of the population in your home is in the digesting state and they do not feed most of the time.

What Are Bed Bugs and Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?

The first thing you are probably asking is what are bedbugs and where do bed bugs come from.5 Bed Bugs are insects that suck human blood from the family Cimicidae.

Adults and nymph bed bugs mostly feed on sedentary or sleeping humans. They are nocturnal therefore their stealthy habits are very difficult to observe.

Graphics with text shows the bed bug life cycle.

Bedbugs are found all over the world, practically, you can find them in any human habitation. The most common bed bug is the Cimex lectularius commonly found in northern temperate climates of Central Asia,6 Europe, and North America.

In southern temperate regions, they occur more sporadically and the most common bed bugs in tropical regions are the Cimex hemipterus. The tropical bed bug is the dominant species.

In states such as California, the most common species is the Cimex lectularius.

Bed bugs grow and develop optimally when they feed on humans. However, these insects can feed on other mammal species and birds found close to human homes.

Close relatives of bed bugs, such as swallow bugs and bat bugs can also be found in and around human habitats and may bite humans sometimes though their main food source are bats and birds found in human habitats.

Until recently, people commonly associated bed bugs with dilapidated and crowded housing. However, these critters have undergone a resurgence in pestilence and can now be found in the finest hotels and living accommodations.

The reason behind this resurgence is not totally understood but it could be a result of increased global commerce and travel, ease of movement of infested people and items, widespread resistance to insecticides, and changes in available pesticides that control this pest.

Bedbug Pictures

Do you know what a bed bug looks like? Have you ever seen bedbug pictures?

Adult bed bugs are small, wingless, oval creatures that are about 0.2 inches long. They are usually mahogany or rusty red.

They have a flat body, antennae that are well developed, and small compound eyes. They have an area behind the head called the pronotum that rises forward on each side of the head with many small hairs.

Nymphs or immature bed bugs usually have the same features as adults except for their smaller sizes (0.05 inches to 0.2 inches). They also have a thinner outer skeleton called cuticle and have a light yellowish-white color.

The small size of bed bugs distinguishes them from other common blood-sucking species such as the conenose bugs or kissing bugs. The lack of wings as adults and rounded shapes also distinguish them from insects in the same family.

You can also distinguish bed bugs from members of the same family such as swallow bugs and bat bugs by comparing the diameter of the eye to the length of hairs in their pronotum.7 You’ll need a microscope or hand lens.

For bed bugs, the hairs are shorter than the eye diameter, and for but bugs and swallow bugs, the hairs are longer than the eye diameter. This distinction is crucial since bed bug management requires managing their vertebrate hosts nesting on, in, or near households.

Bed Bug Management

If you are infested with bed bugs, you should seek the services of a trained professional. Bed bug management is a very difficult task and do-it-yourself bug control is almost impossible.9

It involves treating or removing infested material and going through follow-up monitoring to ensure complete elimination of the infestation.

Management will include using several non-chemical methods such as sealing up hiding places, heat treatment, using steam, washing bedding at high temperatures, and vacuuming. For serious infestations, you will need to use insecticides.

The FDA has registered several active ingredients for eliminating bed bugs for over-the-counter use.

However, over-the-counter insecticides are rarely effective. Bed bugs are very stubborn creatures.

You should consult a pest management professional because they can access a wide range of effective registered products. Keep in mind that insecticide-resistant bed bug populations are fairly common.

The best approach is combining nonchemical and chemical methods and increasing sanitation and habitat modification practices.

The best way of controlling bed bugs is prevention and monitoring.

Prevention of Bed Bugs

People usually carry bed bugs into their homes through clothes or luggage after visiting infested hotels or dwellings. If you are a frequent traveler, look for bed bug signs in your hotel room by checking under sheets, behind headboards, and by inspecting mattress tufts and seams especially if you notice a welt or insect wound on your skin or if you experience pain in being bitten.

If you suspect the presence of bed bugs, change hotels. The most common bed bug prevention tactic is to always inspect your luggage before leaving.

Second, as soon as you get home, wash and dry all your clothes in the hottest settings that the fabric can accommodate. It’s important to store luggage away from the bedroom if you are a frequent traveler.

A traveler's bed with a brown blanket, a striped shirt, and a collection of bags including a leather satchel and a canvas duffel, with a white hat on top.

(Image: Rachel Claire10)

Consider putting it in a garage or hall closet. Additionally, you can also inadvertently bring an infestation into your home by buying infested furniture or bedding. Keep in mind that there are also bed bugs in car.

If you buy second-hand furniture, especially beds and mattresses you should inspect them thoroughly before bringing them into the house. Don’t leave them on the porch or curb.

The prevention of bed bugs in facilities that hold transient populations can be quite difficult. It’s hard to manage infestations in places such as homeless shelters, dormitories, furnished apartments, and hotels.

The first step is to train the staff to recognize signs of bed bugs and take action as soon as possible to prevent an infestation. Bedding should be laundered frequently and potentially infested items should be placed on heat units or freezers during tenant turnover to prevent the establishment and spread of bed bugs.

Avoid clutter at all costs as it’s easier to get rid of bed bugs when they have fewer hiding places. Second, seal up holes, crevices, and cracks in furniture, bedding, or any part of the building.

This will not only prevent bed bugs but also other harmful insects like ants and termites.

Understanding the answer to the question, how long can bed bugs live without food can help you plan your bed bug extermination course, so that you can remove bed bugs for good.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without Food

What Are Some Exterminator Prices Like Terminix Pricing?

Pest control services like Terminix typically charge around $500 for exterminator prices.

How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs in a Mattress?

For how to get rid of bed bugs in a mattress, utilize the suction attachment of a strong vacuum cleaner to thoroughly clean the surface.

How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs Permanently?

The best way on how to get rid of bed bugs permanently is to call an exterminator and use a strong insecticide to kill both the adult bugs and eggs.

What Kills Bed Bugs Instantly?

Extreme heat is known to eliminate bed bugs immediately.

How Much Does Heat Treatment for Bed Bugs Cost?

Heat treatment for bed bugs cost around $2500 to $4000. It’s usually $1 to 3 per square foot.

If One Room Has Bed Bugs Do They All?

In most cases bed bugs can be found in all rooms of the house though they prefer to live in resting areas such as bedrooms.

Couch How To Check for Bed Bugs?

You are looking for small dark stains or the actual bugs under cushions and on the crevices of the couch.

How To Find Bed Bugs During the Day?

Bed bugs tend to reside in small, dark spaces close to where their host sleeps, such as behind headboards or adjacent to mattresses and bedding. It’s important to inspect crevices and small corners for any signs of these pests.

How Long Do Bed Bugs Live?

They can live for up to 400 days.

Is Diatomaceous Earth for Bed Bugs Effective?

Though it may take a while, diatomaceous earth can kill bed bugs.

How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs?

The best to get rid of bed bugsway is to call an exterminator.


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10Checking Luggage for Bed Bugs Photo by Rachel Claire. Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. Pexels. Retrieved January 4, 2024 from <>

11Bed Bugs Under the Covers Photo by Monica Silvestre. Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. Pexels. Retrieved January 4, 2024 from <>