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Home / Science / Bed bugs have crept around since the Age of Dinosaurs and sucked blood

Bed bugs have crept around since the Age of Dinosaurs and sucked blood

You do not want to find that in your bed.
Photo: Carolyn Kaster (AP)

While bed bugs have tormented humanity For millennia, it is believed that the parasites were on their way to evolution when they first encountered bats tens of millions of years ago malnourished. However, an international team of scientists has found evidence that the origin of these vampiric insects goes back even further into the past – to the heyday of dinosaurs.

When people think of bedbugs, they are likely to think of the common bed bug or Cimex lectularius . In fact, there are over 100 known insect species that are closely related to our bed bug and fall under the protection of the Cimicidae family. These bugs, commonly known as Cimicids, all have to feed on the blood of a host. Most species can only survive on a single host, but some can choose between a range of meaty eating habits.

The leading theory is that the first old bedbugs colonized old bats. That would be the beginning of their evolutionary branch at most 50 to 60 million years ago. But the authors of this latest study, published in Current Biology on Thursday, say that they have collected enough evidence to suggest a much older provenance.

"Ultimately, this is a very fascinating story that completely turns our minds to the evolution of this lineage. "

Her case involves a genetic analysis of existing bed bug species that feed on birds and bats from a variety of bed bug subgroups that have been bred over a 15-year period. Caves and museums, as well as fossil record of an ancient cimicid-like insect was preserved in amber more than 100 million years ago (its discovery was documented in in 2002). This fossil insect is probably not the direct ancestor of Cimicides today, but its close genetic relationship with the family has helped the authors develop a timeline for the ancestral insect that would spawn the bed bug.

A bedbug species fed by one of its favorite hosts, a bat.
Photo: Mark Chappell (University of Cailfornia, Riverside)

Based on all this evidence, they estimated that this protobet beetle first surfaced about 122 million years ago and would lead the line directly to the bedside, which occurred about 100 million years ago. This is far ahead of the currently assumed origin of bats and places them right in the Cretaceous.

According to Warren Booth, a molecular ecologist at the University of Tulsa, who studies the evolution of bedbugs but is unaffected by this research, this is the case of the team's robustness. And if they're right, bed bugs are one of the most amazing success stories this planet has ever seen.

K-Pg mass extinction) was about 66 million years ago. Bedbugs are older than that and they have lived through it. But let's go back even further … T. rex appeared 77 million years ago on Earth. Bedbugs were present on this earth T. rex has evolved, "Booth Gizmodo said via e-mail. "For me, that's a pretty remarkable picture."

Funny as the idea of ​​ T. rex would seek to scratch his bed bugs. Probably dinosaurs have never housed these ancient bedbugs, the authors stated. Even if dinosaurs were warm-blooded, as are today's bedbug farmers, it is not assumed that they have lived or slept in one place too long. Although bedbugs are scary, they also move slowly and need a base near their prey to make a living. Authors say their findings could also turn other common assumptions about the bed bug upside down.

For example, they found evidence that bed bug species have seldom emerged from an incarnation that has infested many species of animals and is attached to a single host. From an evolutionary point of view, it is believed that parasites tend to switch from a variety of hosts to a single one because they are more resource efficient. But that does not seem to apply to bedbugs. Usually bedbugs simply switch from one host to another, for example from birds to bats. Since most bedbugs nowadays have specialized hosts, it is unlikely that old bedbugs were different, the authors said. However, it is still unclear what this animal would have been if it had not been bats.

"What that was is pure speculation, but to me I think that some of the arboreal ancestor birds or possibly some of the arboreal mammal-like creatures [could be a possibility]," Booth said. "Will we ever know what the true regular was? This is unlikely, but we now know that it is before T. rex and that's pretty amazing. "

Man biting bed bugs, however, seem to be an exception to this general rule, and according to the authors, all three species that plague us are from bed bugs that once fed on only one host, but today these bugs can still feed on the blood of other animals (namely bats) when the opportunity presents itself.The results also appear to break another theory about our personal history of bedbugs.

The bed bug species that feed on humans are likely to split one Well before the arrival of modern humans into their own branches (somewhere up to 2 million years ago) years ago. In other words, the beetles that call us supper today already existed in caves and near by when we started Bats to live – they had just found a good opportunity when they saw it, that is, while the ordinary Bettw As they nourish themselves, genetically resemble their cousins, who still live in caves or attics and feed mainly on bats and can even cross each other in the lab, the two groups slowly move away from each other.

"Ultimately, this is a very intriguing story that fundamentally changes our understanding of the evolution of this lineage," said Booth.

Above all, the results show how resilient bed bugs were. Even human ingenuity has not put the bed bug down long. The pesticides we developed in the mid-twentieth century almost wiped them out, but they've made a global comeback in recent decades, thanks to mutations that made them almost impervious to these chemicals. Although the authors say that their research should help us to better manage these pests, it is hard to imagine that they will find no way to recover from anything we throw at them.

What hope do we have if a dino-killing asteroid apocalypse could not stop their ancestors?

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