Chinches (Bed Bugs)

Good night, Sleep tight, Don't let the bed bugs bite.

This very appropriate little good night poem probably would not be recognized by today's youngsters, but in rural areas in the mid-thirties it truly describes the situation because of chinches.  What are chinches? Perhaps we have the name wrong- the encyclopedia describes chinches as a garden pest and refers to the bed pest as bed bugs.  In any event, my mother referred to the pests that inhabited the mattress as chinches.

Chinches, or bed bugs, are small wingless insects that feed on blood.  They live on and bite the victim in the victim's sleeping bed. It pierces the skin of the victim and then uses its sharp beak to suck the blood.  It is reddish brown and about ¼” long when mature.  Because of its small size, it can hide in crevices of small folds in a mattress or bed quilts or sheets.  They sleep during the day and hunt for food during the night.  Their bite is very annoying and causes the skin of many people to swell and itch.  As I remember, they could best be described as huge chiggers as they have they have the same coloring.

I remember, as a little boy (about 1933?), watching my mother check a bed for these little bugs.  As she checked the crevices (where they hid) in the mattress, the tiny little red monsters were flushed from their hiding place.  Mother mashed them with her fingers and then rubbed the mattress with kerosene, which was all we had to eradicate them.  A bed having chinches in the mattress and covers could be a very uncomfortable place to sleep.  The little monsters were blood suckers and just like a tick or mosquito they plugged into the person's blood supply.  I don't think their bites were infectious, but they were painful when they occurred.  They possibly could transmit diseases but this is a conjecture.

For many years (maybe 60?) I did not hear any mention of these critters, I wondered what had happened to them.  I thought better hygiene caused them to disappear.  Much to my surprise, in early March, 2005, an article in the Birmingham News stated the little red bugs were making a comeback.  It seems that the use of DDT in the United States had eradicated them here.  Unfortunately, this was not the case in other parts of the world, The little bugs had been discovered in hotel rooms where they had been transported in the luggage or tourists.  The articles also gave information as how to ascertain if they had been in a hotel room.  The hotels having the bugs were some of the best rated hotels in the country.

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