Bed bugs are not new pests. The bed bugs that are present today are “descendants of cave dwelling bugs that originally fed on the blood of bats. When humans began living in the caves, the bugs began feeding on humans. Later, when humans moved out of the caves and started their agricultural civilizations, the bugs moved with them. Since that time, humans have carried bed bugs all over the world.”
Experts believe that the recent resurgence of bed bugs in the United States may be due to several factors, including: more travel, lack of knowledge about bed bug prevention, ineffective pest control practices and increased resistance to pesticides.
Bed bugs can happen to anyone. Everyone is at risk of getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. Those who frequent public buildings and common spaces, travel frequently and share living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept are most at risk.
The presence of bed bugs is not determined by cleanliness of living conditions or a reflection of poor hygiene or sanitary conditions.
Bed bugs “hitchhike” from place to place with people as they travel, tucked away in the seams and folds of luggage, clothing, furniture, books and anywhere else a bug can hide. Most people have no idea they are transporting stow-away bugs.
Bed bugs are about the width of a credit card and experts at hiding. Slim enough to hide in narrow cracks, crevices, seems and tight spaces, they get picked up undetected by travelers and passed around through public spaces.
Specially-trained bed bug detection dogs have the advantage of using their nose to locate bugs in places that are invisible to the eye (under carpet, behind wallpaper, inside hollowed out furniture parts, for example.)
Bed bugs are found all over the world in private residences, public buildings, five-star hotels and fancy resorts.
They are most likely to be found in places where they are more likely to find a blood meal- usually within 8-feet of where people sleep or lounge. You’re less likely to find bugs in a kitchen or bathroom. Bugs hide in a variety of places, where they have access to blood meals. They are often found near beds and on furniture like chairs and couches where people lounge. Around the bed, bugs are often found near the piping, seams and tags of mattresses, or hidden in box springs, bed frames and headboards.
In heavily infested areas, bugs may be found in the folds of curtains, drawer joints, under loose wall paper and wall hangings, in electrical receptacles, at the junction where the wall and ceiling meet, baseboards, books and luggage.
Adult bed bugs are no larger than ¼-inch long- about the size of an apple seed. They can be difficult to see given their small size and habit of hiding, but are not invisible to the naked eye. Similar to ticks, adult bed bugs are flat and brown. Without a meal, bed bugs appear oval-shaped but after a feeding will appear more reddish-brown and elongated.
Young bed bugs, or nymphs, can be smaller than a grain of rice and translucent or pale yellow in color. If not recently fed, eggs and nymphs can be nearly invisible to the naked eye- but not undetectable to a bed bug sniffing canine.
Bed bug eggs look like tiny, pearl-white pinheads and are particularly difficult to see against light-colored mattresses and bed linens- but not too small for a dog to smell. An eye spot develops in eggs that are five days old.
Bed bugs are blood-thirsty pests that prefer to feed on humans, but will feed on other mammals and birds as well. They typically live in hiding during the day, emerging at night in search of a blood meal- but will feed during daylight if hungry enough. Bugs are attracted to body heat and the CO2 in human breath. They have been known to travel for a meal, but are only able to detect humans from less than 3-feet away.
Although bugs can survive for extended periods of time without a meal, regular blood meals are necessary for immature bugs to develop into adult bugs and to reproduce.
A bug may probe human skin multiple times before finding a capillary space that allows the blood to flow. Once settled on a good feeding spot, bugs may feed for 3 to12 minutes per meal, before returning to a crack or crevice (typically where other bugs are congregated) to begin digesting and excreting the meal.
Bed bugs usually feed every 3 to 7 days, which means that bugs are more often in a “digestive state” than a “feeding state.”
Bed bugs can hide in the smallest of places for long periods of time without a blood meal- but exactly how long they can survive is difficult to say.
Since there are so many variables to consider, scientists have been unable to determine exactly how long a bed bug might live in someone’s house or apartment. However, well-fed bugs raised in a laboratory in prime conditions have survived up to 300 days.
On average, starved bed bugs will die within about 70 days without a meal.
The quickest and most effective way of detecting bed bugs is by conducting regular inspections with a bug-sniffing canine. Specially trained dogs are able to smell bugs that are extremely difficult or impossible to see.
Another way to detect bed bugs is by looking for physical signs on bedding, furniture and any other object where bugs commonly hide. Signs include live bugs, shed exoskeletons, tiny white eggs, pale yellow nymphs, rusty/reddish stains or small dark smudge marks on mattresses, bed linens and upholstery and a sweet musty odor.
Bites on the skin are a poor indicator of a bed bug infestation. Some people do not react to bed bug bites. When bite marks do appear, they may not develop for several days, or up to two weeks.
The common bed bug goes through five developmental life stages- referred to as instars or more commonly, “nymphs”. At optimal temperatures, the entire process from egg to adult takes place in about 37 days. Each immature life stage requires a blood meal in order to develop into the next stage. Most nymphs will develop to the next stage within 5 days of a blood meal, however if a bed bug nymph does not have access to food, it will remain in its current stage or die.
After consuming a blood meal at each immature life stage, bugs “molt” into the next stage by shedding an exoskeleton (a skeleton outside the body). Through a series of five instar molts, bed bug eggs “grow up” into adults. Adult bed bugs can live up to nearly one year with regular access to blood meals and optimal conditions.
In favorable conditions, up to 97-percent of all bed bug eggs hatch successfully, and more than 80-percent of all eggs survive to become reproductive adults.
According to the CDC, bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bug bites affect each person differently, or not at all. They are more of a nuisance than a danger, causing itching and sleep disturbances. Some people show no physical sign of a bed bug bite, others a small bite mark and some have serous allergic reactions, including skin rashes. Severe allergic reactions may require medical attention.
Finding bed bugs early is the key to avoiding an infestation. Bed bug infestations are far more costly and difficult to treat than a small group or single bug. However, smaller bug populations are far more challenging to detect and correctly identify.
The most efficient and proficient way to detect a small population of bugs is with the help of a specially-trained canine. Trained “bed bug dogs” are able to detect the distinct smell of a single bed bug, at any life stage, hiding in places that are invisible to the eye. Finding bugs early, before they multiply and spread, is the only way to prevent an infestation.
Looking for bugs regularly is the best way to find them early. The CDC says, “The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection.”
Make sure the bugs you’ve found are in fact bed bugs.
Don’t panic or start throwing everything away.
Contact your landlord or professional pest control company who has experience treating bed bugs.
Consider different treatment options to determine the most effective approach for your situation.