But while this pest gains prominence in the Big Apple, most people still know very little about the oft-maligned bedbug. Although it's no reason to love thy parasite, a brief lesson on the history and biology of the bedbug will leave your brain crawling with bizarre trivia. Here are a few little-known facts about the infamous insects:
1. They have plagued humans for millennia.
The bedbug, also known as Cimex lectularius, has been a longtime human foe. It is closely related to a parasite that feeds on the blood of bats, leading some scientists to speculate that bedbugs evolved from bat bugs back when humans were still living in caves. The earliest fossil evidence of bedbugs comes from a 3,550-year-old archaeological site in Amarna, Egypt. The site was likely home to the workers who built the ancient Egyptian tombs. Bedbugs have even been immortalized in literature by classical authors like Aristophanes and Aristotle. And Pliny the Elder noted in his "Natural History" that medicines concocted from bedbugs could cure warts and snakebites (remedies you should not try at home).
2. They have a distinct odor.
Yes, that's right. Humans can actually smell bedbugs, at least when there are a great number of them infesting a home or office. The odor wafts off of their feces and smells sweet and musky. According to Klaus Reinhardt, a biologist who studies bedbugs at the U.K.'s University of Sheffield, different populations of bedbugs will actually smell slightly different to the trained nose. Their smell is a nasty giveaway of a serious bedbug problem.
Other ways to identify bedbugs: They are small, about the size of an apple seed, brownish-red and wingless. They hang out in the creases of mattresses, or in cracks in the wall, but can also live in upholstered surfaces in offices or in clothes. Bedbugs are most active at night, when they will crawl out of their hiding places, called refugia, to feed.
3. They have kinky sex lives.
The particulars of bedbug sex could be the subject of 1970s grind-house film. When a male is ready to mate, he searches for another bedbug that has taken a blood meal -- recently fed individuals are easy to identify because they grow to three times their size after drinking human blood. Often, males will mistakenly try to mate with other males, only realizing their error once they have mounted their bloated brethren.
Once a male has successfully found a female, he uses his knife-like penis to stab her in the abdomen. He then ejaculates directly into her bloodstream. Although female bedbugs do have a genital tract, they use it exclusively for egg laying. This form of lovemaking, called traumatic insemination, is the only way bedbugs mate. On average, a female bedbug will endure this procedure five times with different males after every blood meal she takes.
4. They have killer immune systems.
To avoid evisceration during sex, female bedbugs have evolved a specialized organ called the mesospermalege. This organ not only protects the female's abdomen during reproduction; it also serves an immune function by capturing and destroying the bacteria and fungi that enter her body during insemination. To date, the bedbug is the only known insect with a specialized immune organ.
5. They could ID your perp.
There is one place where finding a bedbug might be a blessing: at the scene of a crime. To a forensic scientist, bedbugs could prove more reliable than any eyewitness. Because they feed on human blood, bedbugs are living repositories of DNA evidence. Allen Szalanski, an entomologist at the University of Arkansas, and his colleagues have found that they can genetically match the human blood inside of a bedbug to the individual host on which the bug has fed. And, because bedbugs usually retreat to their refugia after feeding, they can preserve that evidence at the scene of a crime for up to a week after the criminal has fled.