Bed bugs are diminutive, elliptical, incestuous insects; they can feed on animal blood but prefer to dine on human blood. They belong to the insect family Cimicidae. Adult bed bugs have flat bodies and reach their maximum length of about 5 mm. They live in cracks and crevices, usually around beds. Their color varies due to the amount of blood they have recently consumed. Some are yellowish-brown and some are reddish.
They are most active at night, feeding on their prey whilst they sleep but their bites are painless and often unnoticed. They are more disgusting than dangerous as they do not transmit diseases. Some people experience a reaction to their bites.
Where is this Species Found?
Bed bugs are found all over the world. They are most common in buildings where there are a lot of people. Generally, you’ll find bed bugsin hotels, hospitals, homeless shelters, college dorms, and apartment complexes. They like to hide in mattresses and small cracks and crevices near where their victim sleeps. For example, mattresses, headboards, footboards, box springs, and other furniture within 5-8 feet of the bed.
While the number of bed bugs worldwide is unknown, it is large and dispersed across the planet. The frequent travel that occurs in the modern world has increased their presence as has restrictions on stronger pesticides like DDT that previously eradicated bed bugs from most homes. After the dangers to human health from the effective pesticides was understood, bed bugs began staging their comeback.
The Life Cycle
A bed bug’s life begins as a tiny white egg. Healthy female bed bugs lay up to 500 eggs at the rate of 1-5 eggs per day. They might lay one egg or clusters, usually in tight cracks or crevices or inside a mattress.
Their egg is approximately 1 mm long and looks like 2 grains of salt. It takes two weeks to hatch. Immature nymphs are ready to feed as soon as they hatch. They undergo five molts before reaching maturity but don’t molt unless they feed.
Apparently, the difference between adults and nymphs is that they are just smaller in size and not yet sexually mature. They are yellowish-white in color and in order to complete each molting stage they need to feed. When the room temperature is at optimum temperatures for them, they reach adulthood within five weeks.
If your eradication efforts kill all the bed bugs except those that have not yet hatched, the eggs will breed with one another, even if they are siblings.
After reaching their mature stage, they feed on a weekly basis. The lifespan of a bed bug is commonly four to six months. However, some live a year without food, under cool conditions.
Signs of Their Presence
Bites from bed bugs are difficult to distinguish from bites of other insects and skin conditions. Their bites can go unnoticed or may be mistaken for the bite of other insects. This species has glands whose secretions might leave moldy odors; they also leave dark spots on bed sheets around the places where they hide. It’s not proven yet that bed bugs cause any diseases.
The tiny bloodstains on your bed sheet might appear if you squash them after they have been fed. They tend to prefer fabric and wood over plastic and metal. They are also found in places like the edges of carpet, sides of mirrors, behind baseboards and electrical switch plates, and smoke alarms, too.
Bed bug bites appear as red flat welts. They can be itchy like mosquito bites. There are usually a bunch of bites. At first, the redness appears on the face, neck, chest, or feet. As this species is great at hiding and very small, you can barely see them with the naked eye. Bed bug bites might look like the bites of mosquitoes or fleas.
Not every person has the same reaction to bed bug bites. It depends on the immunity or sensitivity of the skin. Statistics say that 20% – 80% of people don’t show any observable reaction to the bites.
These tiny creatures are nocturnal. But if they are hungry during the daytime, they will eat if you are available. Their favorite time to bite is when you are in a deep sleep; 2 hours before sunrise. They can’t fly, but they can crawl anywhere and will be happy to inhabit your sofa.
This tiny species can survive temperatures in the 40’s, however, they die when their body temperature reaches 113°F. In order to kill them the room should be around 140° to ensure all the bugs that are hiding die. Common bed bugs are found almost everywhere their host can live. Tropical bed bugs can tolerate higher temperatures than ordinary ones as they evolved to live in tropical and sub-tropical climates.
Bed Bugs are a Recognized Public Health Problem
Although bed bugs don’t pass diseases to the people they feed upon, they are considered a public health problem for a variety of reasons.
There are several physical health problems associated with bed bug infestations.
The bites can become infected and itch.
The bugs can disrupt sleep and the itching can lead to sleep deprivation.
Infestations can cause individuals with infestations to aggressively use pesticides and insecticides contrary to the package instructions thus exposing humans to risks from the poisons that can be serious threats to their health.
There are a variety of mental health problems associated with bed bug infestations and they can lead to worsening symptoms if the person with the infestation is one of the 43.8 million Americans who has a mental illness.
There is a stigma associated with bed bugs even though they are not a sign that someone is untidy or slovenly.
The fear of having an infestation transmitted can lead to social isolation which is bad for mental health.
The presence of bed bugs can lead to anxiety.
In some communities where infestations are common, such as New York and Boston, a bed bug infestation can lead to social ostracism.
The cost of treatment can be expensive. Professional heat treatments are the safest and most thorough route. Even do-it-yourself methods can be quite expensive. Mattress encasements, pesticides, and running all your clothing through the wash can be significant expenses for many families.
Precautions to Avoid Bed Bugs.
Before bringing second-hand furniture, beds, or couches into your home, check them for any signs of bed bug infestation. Use protective mattress encasements to limit access to your mattress and box springs. Reduce clutter in your home to reduce hiding places. On returning home from hotels and crowded places, wash your fabrics and inspect your luggage or use a heat chamber to kill any bugs that stowed away on your luggage.
Bed bugs can also hitchhike home with you from the theater. It’s a good idea to wash your clothing in hot water immediately after you go to the theater.
Educate people about these tiny bugs because many people don’t know about their existence. They assume the bites are from mosquitoes or spiders.
Use bed bug traps that intercept the bugs and prevent access to your bed and furniture. The bugs that attempt to climb into your bed become trapped in the smooth-sided container. Of course, if your blankets or other bedding hang over the side of the bed to the floor, the bugs can avoid the traps by climbing up on the blanket or comforter.
Check second-hand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation. Use protective cases for mattresses and box springs which abolish many hiding places. Reduce litter in your home to reduce hiding places. On returning home from hotels and crowded places wash your fabrics.
Educate people about these tiny species because many of them don’t even know about their existence. They ignore their reactions by comparing it to other insects. Clean all items with beg bug-infested areas.
From the perspective of bed bugs, hotels are great places to find new homes. They can come in with someone who has an active infestation and catch a ride home with the next occupant of the room. They can also crawl into your suitcase or carryon luggage when it is stored in the luggage compartment of your plane or train.
When you arrive at your destination, place your luggage in the hotel’s bathtub until after you examine the room for bed bugs. Concentrate on the area around the bed. Pull the covers back and look for the tell-tell signs on the mattress. Use your room key to check behind the headboard. A flashlight will help you look closely.
Remember, adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed but there are several stages where they are smaller than that. Look under the alarm clock, bedside phone, and even under the lamp on the nightstand. The area within 6 – 8 feet of the bed is where most bed bugs would be found. However, there is one other place to check. Before using the luggage rack, closely inspect it around the straps. Bed bugs can find a hiding place under the strap when the prior occupant uses it and stay behind where they can crawl into your suitcase when you use the luggage rack.
If you find bed bugs, take your luggage back out of the room and talk to the manager about being relocated to a different area of the hotel, or issued a refund for your room. If you don’t find any sign of an infestation, remain cautious. Keep your clothing off the bed and any upholstered furniture and the floor during your stay. When you return home, wash your clothing immediately and dry on a hot temperature. You may want to consider the need to dry items on a hot temperature when you plan your travel wardrobe. Or, if you travel often, you may want to invest in a ZappBug heater to kill any hitchhikers that try to come home with you. Finally, store your suitcases away from your bedroom and clothing.
This brief video demonstrates how to inspect a hotel room for bed bugs:
Wash and dry bedding and fabrics at high temperatures to kill them. The higher the temperature the shorter the time needed to kill the bugs. Cold treatments eradicate some infestations.
Physically remove visible bugs. Wash everything near your bed, including stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, and sheets. Launder them on the hot cycle or use a heat chamber. The heat will kill them, but the heat must be 140° or higher.
Items that cannot be washed can be wrapped in plastic and placed in the freezer. The extremely low temperature will kill bed bugsand their eggs, but it takes time. Keep them frozen for a week.
Essential oils harm bed bugs on contact. Dilute the oil and spray on the areas around your mattress. Encase your mattress in an encasement to continue using the mattress without risking bites.
There are currently over 400 products used to kill this species. These products can be used to spray mattresses, whole rooms, or even your whole home. Don’t forget to use them in cracks (the most common place where bed bugs are found).
Pyrethrin’s and pyrethroids are the most commonly used compounds to kill these tiny creatures and other indoor insects. Both compounds are deadly to them. Some bed bugs have become resistant to these chemicals. If your first attempt doesn’t kill the infestation, the bugs’ descendants can be more resistant to the pesticide you used. Use the second type of pesticide for your second treatment.
Desiccants work by destroying the protective outer coating of the bed bug. One treatment will destroy them by causing dehydration. Desiccants are a really effective method of bug control. They cannot become resistant to desiccants. Moreover, desiccants have a long-lasting effect. Examples of desiccants are diatomaceous earth and boric acid. Use of desiccants is limited to cracks because their use in other areas poses a risk to humans and pets.
Foggers are not an effective method because the fog may not reach the cracks and crevasses where they hide. Using more foggers doesn’t work and can create hazardous conditions for you and your family.
Insect Growth Regulator
Insect growth regulators are the chemicals that imitate juvenile growth hormones in insects. They work by either shifting the production of chitin (the compound insects use to make their hard external shell) or by changing the insect’s ability to grow naturally.
Myths about Bed Bugs
There are quite a few myths about bed bugs. We want to put some of those myths to rest.
Myth: Bed Bugs Reproduce quickly
Compared to other insects, bed bugs reproduce at a very low rate. Female bed bugs produce 1- 5 eggs a day compared to a common house fly which produces 500 eggs over three to four days. Each bed bug egg hatches in ten days.
Semi-Myth: Bed Bugs can live up to a year without food
Bed bugs usually live only two to three months without blood in normal temperatures. However, they are cold-blooded and can live up to a year without food in cool conditions. They have the ability to go into a hibernation state that allows them to survive longer without food.
Myth: Bed Bugs live solely in mattresses
This species spreads from beds to other areas in the home; they can be seen on any surface but do prefer upholstered areas where their food (humans) sit or lay down and remain immobile.
Myth: Bed bugs inhabit unsanitary dwellings and urban homes
They can be found anywhere from lavish five-star hotels to homeless shelters. Bed bugs don’t require filth to thrive. They do like clutter, but that refers to plenty of places to hide, more than piles of rubbish. Pictures hanging on the walls, knick-knacks or electronics that offer places to hide, and other clutter help bed bugs hide.
Myth: You can determine that there is a bed bug infestation from the bites
Bed bug bites look much like other insect bites. Bites by themselves do not prove that there is an infestation. You have to find a bug to know for sure that you have an infestation.
Myth: Bed Bugs live on their human hosts
Bed bugs are not like lice. They don’t live on their human hosts. They sneak up on them at night when they are immobile in their beds, dine on their blood, and return to their hiding places.
If you find bed bugs in your home, you’ll want to eradicate them right away. For information on many of the options, read: How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
Importantly, don’t panic. You do not have to throw away all your possessions. Carefully read and follow all the package directions on pesticides. If you choose the do-it-yourself route, be patient. It takes time. If you live in an apartment or other multi-family type housing, notify your landlord or property manager about the infestation. In many jurisdictions, the property manager has a responsibility to ensure that the homes of neighboring residents are also treated.