- Bed bugs are the original vampires. Bed bugs will suck on the blood of any living being, be it humans, dogs, cats, birds, mice, guinea pigs, or hamsters.
- Bed bugs can eat up to seven times their own weight in blood, but they can easily go without feeding for up to 15 months.
- Although itchy and nasty-looking, a bed bug bite is painless (components in their saliva act as an anesthetic), and people often go without noticing/reacting for weeks.
- Bed bugs are masters at hiding. During daytime, they stay out of sight by hiding inside appliances, in cracks and crevices, behind baseboards, or in picture frames. They only come out at night, when the carbon dioxide we exhale during sleep notifies them it’s safe to get out.
- They reproduce at an incredible rate: female bed bugs can lay up to 5 eggs per day, producing 3-4 generations per year.
Bed bugs are oval-shaped, flattened, wingless, and reddish brown to mahogany. Adults measure approximately 1/4 to 3/8 inch and nymphs (immatures) no more than 1/5 inch. After feeding, the body changes color from brown to dark red and becomes more elongated and swollen. Their compound eyes are small, and they have well-developed antennae and a beaklike mouthpart they use for piercing and sucking. The area behind the head called pronotum is covered in small hairs. Nymphs are similar in appearance to adults, except for their lack of color (which changes to brown as they mature) and thinner outer skeleton.
Bed bugs resemble a number of other insects such as wood ticks, conenose bugs, chimney swift bugs, bat bugs, and swallow bugs, from which they can be distinguished by looking at their size (bed bugs are smaller), shape (bed bugs have a rounded shape), lack of wings, and length of hairs on their back (visible under a microscope).
Diet, Behavior & Habits
Female bed bugs lay 1-12 eggs per day (an average of 5/day) and up to 500 during their lifetimes. The eggs, covered in a sticky, glue-like material, are deposited on wood and paper surfaces or inside cracks and crevices, where they will hatch in about 10-17 days at room temperature. In order to molt, the newly-born nymphs will require a blood meal immediately – after five molts, they reach maturity, but the nymphal period can be significantly prolonged in the absence of food.
Both nymphs and adults are nocturnal feeders, hiding in dark crevices during the day, although it is not uncommon for hungry bugs to take a blood meal every time hosts are nearby. They locate hosts by making use of heat and carbon dioxide sensors and can tell which are human through smell receptors located on their antennae and mouthparts. After piercing the host’s skin with their sharp beaks, bed bugs inject an anticoagulant fluid that allows them to draw blood. Nymphs finish eating within 3 minutes, while adults may take from 10 to 15 minutes to become engorged with blood. After feeding, they will search for a place to hide where they will deposit fecal spots (digested blood). Bed bugs can survive a maximum of 400 days without food, depending on the temperature and humidity of the environment, and will produce several generations per year.
Signs of Infestation
Common hiding places include:
- Mattress seams
- Beneath covers
- In crevices in the bedstead
- In joints of bed frames
- Inside upholstery
- Behind baseboards
- In wood joints of box springs
- Inside window and door frames
- In floor cracks
- Under loosened wallpaper
- In drapery pleats
- In ceiling moldings
- Inside furniture and appliances
- Any objects made of wood, paper, and fabric
Sometimes, people can pick up bed bugs from theaters, buses, trains, hospitals, schools, and hotel rooms, and then bring them into their homes on clothing, furniture, or luggage. Tell-tale signs of infestation include:
- Blood stains from dead bugs
- Dark spots of excrements on bedding, mattresses, clothing, walls
- Eggshells and shed skins located nearby their hiding/feeding places
- A musty odor coming from their olfactory glands
Management & Control
Although there is little evidence that bed bugs can transmit diseases to humans, there are several health effects that people may experience from bed bug infestations:
- Young children and elderly living in heavily-infested places may develop anemia
- Allergens present in bed bug environments may worsen asthma symptoms in sufferers
- Since they are wrongfully linked to poverty and filth, bed bug infestations may have a significant psychological impact on people
- Bed bugs can be transmitted from one person to another, and persons who already have them in their homes may feel isolated from friends and family
- Infestations may have a considerable financial impact, since treating a residence for bed bugs often involves the disposal of infested furnishings, clothes, etc.
- Some people may expose themselves and their families to great risk by trying to eliminate an infestation with dangerous substances
. Recent studies indicate that the largest percentage of bed bugs live near or inside the bed, so a thorough inspection is necessary before any treatments are applied. Efforts should be focused on the mattress, box spring, headboard, and bed frame; also remember to inspect all the seams of the mattress and pleats of linens. Since bed bugs can crawl inside tiny cracks and crevices to digest their meals, make sure to look inside window and door frames, in electrical boxes, and in cracks in plaster. Don’t forget to examine furniture, clothing, wall hangings, paintings, curtain pleats, and behind loose wallpaper.
. Sanitation may go a long way in preventing bed bug infestations. Most effective measures include regular vacuuming the mattress, carpets, under baseboards, washing clothes and bedding in hot water, and keeping the house clean at all times. Clean the mattress with a stiff brush to dislodge bed bugs and eggs; however, if the infestation is too severe, you may have to discard it and get a new one, although it is imperative to ensure there are no bugs left on the premises. Steam cleaners can also be used to kill all life stages of bed bugs, but steaming the mattress can result in mold or mildew problems. Plaster cracks and crevices with caulk or cement, glue down loose wallpaper, and cover all other potential harboring sites.
. By themselves, insecticide treatments are not very effective in controlling bed bug infestations - the best approach combines residual insecticides with prevention measures and non-chemical treatments using steam and heat. Also, an ongoing management and detection program may help catch future infestations early on. Most effective insecticides are available to pest control professionals only, who also have the knowledge and tools necessary to identify, diagnose, and control existing infestations. Insecticides can be either:
- Liquid: These can be applied directly to bed bugs’ hiding places, including bed frames, cracks, crevices, behind baseboards, inside door and window frames, but not directly to mattresses, as they are toxic and may jeopardize people’s health. There are various liquid formulas, including:
- Insecticides containing pyrethrin, which can be applied for short-term relief
- Synthetic pyrethroid products
- Insect growth regulators (IGR)
- Various organic oils
- Dust products: These work by attaching to the insects’ cuticles and destroying their protective wax covering (the dust also gets ingested during grooming). Most dust products provide long-term control and usually contain silica gel, diatomaceous earth, borates, and pyrethrin.
s. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the most popular method among pest control professionals – and the most effective, because it combines heat treatment, freezing, and pesticides to eradicate bed bug populations while minimizing the impact to the environment. Rather than just dealing with existing bugs, IPM focuses on long-term prevention by controlling the ecosystem and eliminating conditions that allow pests to thrive. An effective IPM program combines biological control (introduction of natural predators), cultural control (practices that reduce the chances for reproduction and survival), mechanical and physical control (strategies that make the environment unsuitable for intruders), and chemical control (the use of pesticides to eliminate existing populations). The major components of most integrated pest management programs include:
- Identifying the pest
- Monitoring and evaluating the infestation
- Determining when intervention is needed
- Preventing pest problems through a combination of biological, mechanical, and chemical strategies
Here are some tips to help you prevent future infestations:
- Don’t bring home uninspected second-hand furniture, mattresses, clothes, electronics, and appliances, no matter how good it looks
- When returning home from vacation, always inspect your luggage to make sure bed bugs from the hotel room haven’t attached themselves to it
- Wash and dry bed sheets, linens, pillow cases, blankets, and clothes at high temperatures to kill all bugs
- Organize your personal belongings to reduce the amount of clutter that often provides an ideal hiding place for pests
- At the laundromat, do not set your laundry basket directly on the floor or near the trash cans; also, inspect chairs and folding tables before using them
- Use a mattress encasing to protect your mattress and box springs; make sure to tape up any holes or tears in the fabric or plastic covering