Oldest remains of insects from bed bug genus found in Oregon

April 4, 2017

A cave in southern Oregon that is the site of some the oldest preserved evidence of human activity in North America was also once home to not-too-distant cousins of the common bed bug.

In research to be published next week in the Entomological Society of America's Journal of Medical Entomology, a pair of archaeologists describe remains found in caves near Paisley, Oregon, that represent the oldest specimens of insects from the genus Cimex ever found, ranging between 5,100 and 11,000 years old.

The remains were identified as relatives of the bed bug, Cimex lectularius, but they were "not the bed bug we all know and love from hotel rooms," says Martin E. Adams of Paleoinsect Research and co-author on the study with Dennis L. Jenkins of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. The species in the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves (Cimex pilosellus, Cimex latipennis, and Cimex antennatus) are all parasites of bats.

Previously, the oldest remains of "cimicids" ever found were just 3,500 years old, found in Egypt in 1999, meaning the remains found at the Paisley Caves are the oldest Cimex specimens by a wide margin, and they raise some interesting questions for researchers about how cimicids have interacted (or not) with humans in the past.

Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus are the two bed bug species that are known to parasitize humans, widely believed to have adapted to that role thousands of years ago when humans shared caves with bats in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The species found in the Oregon caves, however, never made that jump, and Adams says it's unclear why not.

"Were the cimicid populations too small to establish themselves outside the caves, or were the host populations too small?" Adams says. "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? I'm working on these last few archaeological questions right now."

The identification of the three Cimex species may also offer some clues to climactic trends during the eras they were dated to, Adams says. Cimex antennatus, for instance, tends to favor the warmer climates of California and Nevada. "The presence of warm-tolerant cimicids in the caves, such as Cimex antennatus, may suggest that climatic conditions at Paisley Caves 5,100 years ago were similar to what Cimex antennatus enjoys today in its current range."

Explore further: Some bed bugs are better climbers than others

More information: "An Early Holocene Record of Cimex (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) from Western North America," by Martin E. Adams and Dennis L. Jenkins, will be published online on April 4 in the Journal of Medical Entomology, DOI: 10.1093/jme/tjx057

Related Stories

Some bed bugs are better climbers than others

March 15, 2017

Not all bed bugs are created equal, and some of the leading bed bug traps used by pest management professionals are ineffective against species with better climbing abilities than others.

Cave containing earliest human DNA dubbed historic

October 3, 2014

A cave in Oregon's high desert where archaeologists have found the earliest DNA evidence of human habitation in North America has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

New cave-dwelling arachnids discovered in Brazil

May 22, 2013

Two new species of cave-dwelling short-tailed whipscorpions have been discovered in northeastern Brazil, and are described in research published May 22 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Adalberto Santos, from the Federal ...

Researchers find pre-Clovis human DNA

April 3, 2008

DNA from dried human excrement recovered from Oregon's Paisley Caves is the oldest found yet in the New World -- dating to 14,300 years ago, some 1,200 years before Clovis culture -- and provides apparent genetic ties to ...

Philippines puts 158 caves under protection

November 3, 2012

The Philippine government has put 158 caves under the protection of the environment department to safeguard them from treasure-hunters, vandals and looters, it was announced on Saturday.

Recommended for you

Neanderthal boy's skull grew like a human child's: study

September 21, 2017

The first analysis of a Neanderthal boy's skull uncovered in Spain suggests that he grew much like a modern boy would, in another sign that our extinct ancestors were similar to us, researchers said Thursday.

Early trilobites had stomachs, new fossil study finds

September 21, 2017

Exceptionally preserved trilobite fossils from China, dating back to more than 500 million years ago, have revealed new insights into the extinct marine animal's digestive system. Published today in the journal PLOS ONE, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.