Bedbugs bugged prehistoric humans, too

remains of bedbug relative

CAVE CRITTERS Scientists found ancient remains of three different bedbug species in an Oregon cave, including this 5,100-year-old female Cimex antennatus. The scale bar represents 1 millimeter.

M. Adams

The oldest known specimens of bedbug relatives have been unearthed in an Oregon cave system where ancient humans once lived. The partial fossils from three different species in the bedbug family date back 5,000 to 11,000 years, predating a previous find from 3,500 years ago, researchers report April 4 in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

“The bedbugs that we know in modern times originated as bat parasites, and it’s believed that they became human parasites when humans lived in caves with bats,” says study coauthor Martin Adams of Paleoinsect Research in Portland, Ore. When humans moved elsewhere, bedbugs came along for the ride. 

These three species (Cimix antennatus, Cimex latipennis and Cimex pilosellus) probably coexisted with humans in Oregon’s Paisley Five Mile Point Caves, and probably snacked on people at least occasionally, Adams says. Even though all three species are still around today, they still feast mostly on bats.

Archaeologists think that ancient humans lived in the Paisley Caves only seasonally, which could explain why these particular species of bedbugs didn’t switch to a human-centric diet.

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