Did Bedbugs Bite Early Humans?

Originally posted on July 3, 2020 @ 10:59 am

The fossilized remains, which belong to the cimices family, were found during archaeological investigations of the Paisley Five Mile Point Cave site, researchers said in a new study detailing the findings. In particular, Cave 2, of the eight rock shelters on the site, has yielded thousands of insect remains as well as some the oldest preserved evidence of human activity in North America.

Human parasites

Today, there are three species of bedbug that have adapted to a lifestyle of living off humans.?Cimex lectularius, the common and cosmopolitan bedbug;?Cimex hemipterus, with a worldwide distribution, but much more tropical; and?Leptocimex boueti, an African species.

Of the 14 individuals recovered in Oregon, five were identified as?C. pilosellus, three as?C. latipennis, and one as?C. antennatus, Adams and co-author Dennis Jenkins, of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon, wrote in the?Journal of Medical Entomology. An additional five were identified as belonging to the genus?Cimex,?but were too fragmented for their species to be identified.

Three of the 14 were of indeterminate gender; the other 11 were all female. The?C. antennatus?specimen is approximately 5,100 years old, while the others range in age from 9,400 to nearly 11,000 years old.

Adams suspects that opportunity indeed occurred at Paisley Cave, which was occupied seasonally by hunter-gatherers. He described a scenario in which a bug latching onto a bat just fell to the floor of the cave as the bat flew off.

Not surprisingly, both?C. lectularius?and?C. hemipterus?became human parasites thousands of years ago in Old World caves, when people shared caves with?bats, other research has shown.

“When humans left the cave environment, the bugs went with them and adapted to become the cosmopolitan human pests with which we now are familiar,” Adams said.

But while there seems to have been a similar scenario at Paisley Caves, those local species didn’t follow humans out of the cave environment.

“Why not? Were the cimicid populations too small to establish themselves outside the caves or were the host populations too small?” Adam said. “Given that Paisley Caves was only a seasonal-occupation area for human hunter-gatherers, did the humans move around too much, or were the bugs not able to withstand the environment outside the caves for very long? Or were there other constraints involved?” he asked.

Even if no intersection between man and bug occurred, the finding is important because it provides the earliest record of the genus?Cimex, the researchers said.

Previously, the oldest remains of cimicids dated back to 3,550 years ago. Found at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt in 1999, they belonged to?C. lectularius, thus representing the oldest known association between humans and bedbugs.