What are swallow bugs?

Do you know that some specific insects can live up to a whole year without food?

Well… one perfect example is a swallow bug. So, learning about their lifestyle, survival mode, and the way they reproduce is really an interesting one.

Yet, the more you learn, the more amazed you become at the fun-filled and new facts that pop up every day about these little critters called swallow bugs.  That is why in this article, we compile a detailed written documentary about swallow bugs and all you need to know about them.

What is a Swallow Bug?

Swallow bugs are parasites of swallow birds, and they possess a unique life cycle.

Because for one, an adult swallow bug can live for up to two to three years.

This is dependent on whether there is an available host for them or not. If there is an available host, that means enough food is ready to go around for every bug.

So, under such conditions, a swallow bug can live for long years. And the female swallow bugs can lay up to thirty eggs at a time.

However, compared to the life cycle of other bugs, they do not reproduce very fast. But the more food available, the faster a female swallow bug can lay its eggs.

So, to make sure that they always have enough food, swallow bugs attack many hosts during an infestation. To do this, every swallow bug latches on the feathers of its hosts; the adult swallow birds.

Since these birds can fly, swallow bugs hitch a ride every time the host flies. And that way, swallow bugs get to move from one nest to another.

On each swallow bird, swallow bugs drink as much blood as they can; non-stop. With the blood they suck, they can successfully reproduce. But without the blood, they wouldn’t be able to multiply.

However, in certain conditions, swallow bugs can do without blood for as long as a year. This “fasting” phase can happen when all the swallow birds (their hosts) have left the nest or have died of heavy infestation.

When that happens, swallow bugs would lie in wait in the infested nest with hopes for new swallow birds to show up. Fortunately for them, some swallow bugs tend to return to old nests and like that, the cycle kicks off again.

What Are Swallow Birds?

Simply put, swallow birds are the primary host of swallow bugs. It is from these bugs that swallow bugs drink the blood that serves as their food and their engine of reproduction.

However, the thing is; that swallow birds get infested by swallow bugs because of their habit. You see, swallow birds make their nests with organic matter like fur, grass, feathers, hair, mud pellets, and whatever else they find.

These organic nesting materials make it easy for swallow bugs to hide inside the nests made by swallow birds. From there, swallow bugs get the chance to drink from the birds like vampires.

But over time, the birds would either die or leave the nests. Though some kinds of swallow birds do return.

What Are the Types of Swallow Birds? 

In the world today, there are just two types of swallow birds. Namely, they are the barn swallow birds and the cliff swallow birds.

The main difference between these two types of swallow birds is their varying nesting pattern.

On one end, Cliff swallow birds build their nest by queuing up nicely one after the other. That way, these birds get to build their nests in colonies and groups.

Whereas for Barn swallow birds, this isn’t the case. Because, unlike their relatives, they build their nests individually and not in colonies or groups. So, each bird lives in its own nest built without attention to detail.

For that reason, Barn swallow birds tend to be more infested by swallow bugs than cliff swallow birds. This Infestation by swallow bugs on these birds can be so severe that these birds, especially their adults, abandon their hatchlings and nests.

However, most swallow birds, especially the cliff swallow birds tend to return to their old nests after a while. This is because they prefer these old nests to build new ones.

When they return, the swallow bugs in ambush can get a hold of the returning birds and start a new life cycle afresh.

What do swallow bugs look like?

swallow bugs

In terms of size, swallow bugs grow only to about 3 -4 mm when measured from head to abdomen. So, you can agree that they are quite small; even smaller than some mosquitoes.

However, unlike mosquitoes and some other insects, swallow bugs don’t have wings. As such, they can’t fly.

Instead, they have strong hind legs. With these powerful legs, they can crawl, climb and latch onto available swallow birds and their nests.

Aside from the legs, another way to identify swallow bugs is through their antenna and the hairs on their body. Because of those body hairs, the overall skin tone of a swallow bug is grey.

How to get rid of swallow bugs.

Swallow bugs surface around late winter to early spring. During this time, they often lie in wait for the return of their host. Likewise, at this time, infestations and bites of swallow bugs on humans rise.

However, the signs of swallow bugs in your home aren’t usually prominent as the infestation of other bugs like bed bugs.

For that reason, it is always more difficult to detect and eradicate swallow bugs in the house.

Nonetheless, they must be detected early enough and are gotten rid of because of the allergies they cause.

Some clear signs of swallow bugs in your home include:

  1. the presence of swallow bird nests in your location;
  2.  bite marks;
  3.  and identifying alive or dead swallow bugs in your house (We’ve earlier described how swallow bugs look).

Once noticed, the following steps should be taken to eradicate them before they reproduce in your home.

  • Thoroughly check around your home:

Do a thorough checking around your house. Check for any swallow bird nests around your home. If you find any, you have swallow bugs around you.

You shouldn’t kill these swallow birds; they aren’t the main culprit. Just watch for them as they serve as an indication and pointer that you have the culprit bugs around. If the nest is empty, you can go ahead to destroy them.

You might need the help of a professional because their nests are usually high and technically built as well.

  • Vacuum Cleaning:

Do a vacuum cleaning at any location where they are hiding.

Swallow bugs hide in the cracks and thin gaps of your house. Vacuum cleaning the entire place, especially places of gaps and crevices, is highly recommended.

  • Steam cleaning:

Do a steam cleaning on all the soft furnishings in your home.

Swallow bugs hide where they can get a blood meal.

So watch out for them in places like soft foam chairs, couches, rugs, mattresses, and carpets. Steam cleaner produces heat that swallow bugs can’t survive and kills them instantly.

  • Use Insecticides.

Direct spraying of insecticides on swallow bugs will kill them instantly.

It is highly recommended that you leave professionals to handle this because insecticides can be toxic to you if not properly handled. Do not spray insecticide sprays when swallow birds are still around. Also, do not use insecticidal soaps due to the aerosol release.

This aerosol release can repel the swallow bugs and push them into deep corners of the home that aren’t inaccessible. This will only end up complicating the issue.

  • Adapt various preventive measures:

Go for various preventive measures that will work against the existence of a swallow bird nesting around your home. Getting rid of their nest only when swallow birds are away is one of the best ways. You can devise other means that will work for your location as well.

Some of these measures include minor structural and design changes in the areas where the best of swallow birds exist.

Do swallow bugs bite humans?

The straightforward answer is yes. If swallow bugs live inside a home, they can bite the humans staying in that location.

In other cases, swallow bugs can get around you when your property is located near the nests of swallow birds. At any time, they can fall off the nest they are feeding on and land on you or sneak in through your window.

If that happens, then you, your kids, and your pets are liable to be bitten by swallow bugs. However, you must understand that humans are not their primary food source.

Swallow birds take that position. So, as long as their primary food source is available, swallow bugs would rather not bite humans. But once they are left with no choice.

Now, when they bite, the stinging pain from swallow bugs is similar to the ones you get from bed bug bites. The only significant difference is that most people do not experience itching or a red spot when bitten by a swallow bug. Although, allergy reactions may result in some cases.

That said, you should note that humans are not the only food alternative to swallow bugs. Other animals like bats, mice, and other types of birds also fall victim to swallow bugs.

Swallow bugs vs. Bed bugs.

Swallow bugs and bed bugs are similar in appearance. But if you look closely at these two under a magnifying glass, you will notice one or two different features.

For one, bed bugs and swallow bugs have different antennae structures. This is because the antennae of swallow bugs are visible compared to a bed bug.

Then again, they both have varying characteristics in their size, color, and hair. For instance, Swallow bugs are smaller than bed bugs.

They have a greyish color while the bed bugs have a reddish color. And finally, swallow bugs have a fine layer of hair, while bed bugs do not possess this on their body.

FAQs on Swallow Bugs

  • Is It Possible to Swallow Bugs While Sleeping?

Oddly yes; you can swallow bugs while in your sleep. Some of the bugs that often find their way into your mouth while sleeping include spiders, ticks, mosquitoes, gnats, flies, bees, wasps, and many more.

  • Is It Bad to Swallow Bugs? What Happens if You Swallow Bugs?

For the most part, the answer is yes and no. So, let’s explain.

You see, it’s a bad thing to make it a routine to always swallow bugs. That, of course, is unethical.

However, when you mistakenly swallow bugs, it won’t do you any harm, especially if you’re not allergic or if the bugs are not dangerous ones like bees, wasps, fire ants, and some caterpillars.

This is because your body system tends to digest most bugs like spiders, mites, ticks, mosquitoes, and bed bugs like any other protein that you eat.

For the stinging ones like bees, wasps, and fire ants, swallowing them causes them to sting you in the throat and mouth. Worst still, they can even cause hives and other bad skin responses.

Some others like cockroaches can cause you to gasp for breath and some others like Shigella can induce diarrhea.

  • How Many Bugs Do You Swallow a Year?

Many people say that you swallow at least 4- 20 bugs throughout your stay and life on earth and in the world of the living. But the truth is; that’s just a myth.

You might not even swallow a single bug till you die. So, swallowing bugs is more coincidental than normal.


Unlike bugs like bed bugs that will breed and procreate in your home all year round, swallow bugs do not have the ability without the presence of their host. They cannot thrive and live without their natural host: swallow birds. They suck their blood and that of their babies to live.

As we have emphasized earlier, the infestation of swallow bugs in your home can be annoying, but this is not a good excuse to kill their primary host alongside them.

They are protected species. With all the information we have provided above, we trust that we have answered all “what are swallow bugs” questions in your mind. We are sure that you now know more about swallow bugs and the best way to eradicate them.


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