Over the past decade, the so-called “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” pattern of bed bug bites has become somewhat of an urban myth. It originated from the observation that bed bug bites seemed to appear in small clusters and lines of 3 or so bites.
One explanation for this phenomenon is that a single bed bug will bite first in one spot (“breakfast”), move to another spot for another bite (“lunch”), and then move again for a third bite (“dinner”).
But the truth is that this type of feeding behavior is actually quite rare, so seeing 3 bites in a cluster or line is not necessarily a definite sign of bed bugs.
In this article, we’ll break down three common misconceptions about the “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” sign of bed bug bites to separate fact from fiction.
Video: The “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner” Sign of Bed Bug Bites — An Entomologist Explains
We asked our entomologist, Lou, and here’s how he explains it.
Myth #1: Bed Bug Bites Appear in Clusters of 3’s
There is no scientific evidence showing that bed bug bites always occur in threes. In reality, bed bug bites can appear in any number — as a single bite, a small cluster, or a large cluster — depending on the number of bed bugs and the severity of the infestation.
If you woke up and found a few red bumps somewhat close together, it might just be coincidental that 1-4 bed bugs liked the spot they got to and started feeding in the same area.
After all, whatever is attracting bed bugs to that area — warmth, carbon dioxide, or plain accessibility — is the same no matter how many bed bugs there are in the vicinity.
Takeaway: Don’t rule out bed bugs if you’re only getting single bites.
If you’re seeing clusters or lines of 3 bites, bed bugs are certainly a possibility — but don’t do anything drastic unless you’ve actually found a bed bug or had a professional inspect for them.
Myth #2: Bed Bugs Make Multiple Bites While Moving Around
The idea that a single bed bug will take multiple bites in a single feeding session is something that doesn’t happen often in reality.
Certain explanations of the “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” pattern have people believing that bed bugs move around repeatedly, making multiple bites. As Lou explains, “I’ve hardly ever seen them do that at all.”
There are rare instances when a bed bug is feeding, and for some reason didn’t do well, so they might shift positions to start somewhere else. However, in Lou’s vast experience of studying bed bugs, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. “Once they start, they’re in the right spot. They don’t pull out until they’re totally done and engorged, and then [they] crawl off.”
Takeaway: If you’re getting multiple bites, they’re most likely from multiple bed bugs.
You can approximate the severity of your bed bug infestation based on the number of bites, although nothing can be confirmed until you find where the actual bed bugs are hiding.
Myth #3: Bed Bugs Bites Happen in Straight or Zigzag Lines
Actually, this last part has some truth to it. If you look at pictures from a large number of cases, you might notice a pattern of lines in a certain portion of them.
This goes back to the original observation that bed bug bites are likely — although by no means guaranteed — to occur in either straight lines or zigzag lines.
But the bed bugs aren’t doing this on purpose. There is no ingrained behavior that compels bed bugs to feed in straight lines.
Rather, bed bugs often stay on the edge of blankets, quilts, or sheets against the skin of a person, and that edge usually happens to form a straight line.
Takeaway: Whether you get bed bug bites in straight lines or random clusters depends on your own sleeping behavior and what your skin is (or isn’t) being covered by.
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