Researchers have found the earliest evidence of bugs in the Cimex genus co-habitating with humans, in Oregon's Paisley Caves. Christopher Intagliata reports.
Picture a prehistoric human encampment, in a cave. What do you see? Maybe some animal hides, bones from last night's dinner, a small fire? But what you might not picture are the other cave dwellers. Like bats. And the bugs that suck their blood.
"The bed bugs we all know and love from hotel rooms and apartments and all that, were originally bat parasites." Martin Adams is an archaeoentomologist with PaleoInsect Research, a private business in Portland, Oregon. Adams and his colleague Dennis Jenkins analyzed the remains of bed bug cousins, recovered from one of those prehistoric camps, the Paisley Caves in eastern Oregon. And they pinned the insects to three different species within the Cimex genus--the same genus as bed bugs.
These bugs are bat parasites--not the species that commonly bite humans. But they ranged from 5100 to 11,000 years old. Making them the oldest example of bloodsucking bed bug relatives co-habitating with humans. The study is in the Journal of Medical Entomology. [Martin E. Adams and Dennis L. Jenkins. An Early Holocene Record of Cimex (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) From Western North America]
As to whether the cave dwelling humans were as paranoid as modern humans about infestation: "The humans living in Paisley Caves probably knew there were bats in the caves, I sincerely doubt they knew there were bat bugs infesting the bats." But make no mistake. Bat bugs will still suck human blood if need be. Which may in fact be the origin of the modern hotel pests. So don't let the bed bugs bite. Or the bat bugs, either.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]