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Bed Bugs

Facts

In This Article:

Appearance / Identification

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

bed bugs next to each other
crawling on arm

Size
An adult bed bug is small and wingless, with flat, reddish-brown bodies shaped like ovals and measures about 1/5 inch long (7 mm) and 1/8 inch wide (about 4 mm). They are roughly the size of a kernel of corn or an apple seed (when engorged with blood).

Color
The parasitic insects expand greatly and turn a reddish color after feeding, a direct result of the blood they consume to survive. Nymphs are smaller and lighter in color.

Bed bugs can be easily detected against the typical whites of bed sheets and mattress pad covers. Nymphs, on the other hand, measure at most 1 and 1/4 mm and are clear or off-white in color, which makes them considerably harder to detect.

Body
Bed bug bodies feature three legs on each side and two antennae above a pair of small eyes.

General Information

Although once greatly reduced in developed countries, bed bugs once again present a growing problem to urbanized nations particularly in densely populated areas. The common bed bug, scientific name, Cimex lectularius L., is prevalent throughout the world but thrives in crowded regions with apartment complexes, hotels, public housing, and other buildings where people sleep collectively. The recent surge in bed bug infestations is largely attributed to the growing popularity and ease of international travel. Other common names for the bed bug include the mahagony flat and red coat.

Habits / Habitat

When Do They Feed?
Bed bugs are nocturnal creatures that emerge at night to feed.

Where Do They Hide?
During the day, the pests take refuge in a variety of places. Small, flat bodies enable the insects to hide in:

  • bed frames
  • headboards
  • box springs
  • mattress seams
  • cracks in walls
  • crevices in floors

The insects often hide in briefcases, clothes, luggage, purses, or other objects scattered near beds, making it easy for travelers to unwittingly carry the bugs from one location to another.

How Do They Get Around?
Unable to fly, bed bugs can nonetheless move rapidly across bedroom ceilings, floors, and walls.

Detection

The best way to detect bed bugs is to regularly inspect the mattress, box springs, head board, bed frame, and any other areas directly adjacent to the bed. Checking in folds created by bed sheets and around areas where mattresses and box springs meet and shaking out blankets prior to use are some of the best ways to check for signs of infestation.

Female bed bugs generally lay hundreds of eggs in a lifetime. The high volume of bed bugs congregating in a single area usually leads to their detection through visual inspection.

Diet

What Do They Eat?
Classified as parasites, bed bugs feed exclusively on the blood of humans and other animals, usually at night while the hosts sleep. Though, humans are the preferred host of the common bed bug. The insects boast elongated mouths similar to beaks that puncture the skin of sleeping host animals and extract blood. Bed bugs typically feed for three to 10 minutes at a time. Though typically feeding several nights a week, adult specimens have the ability to survive for a year or longer without eating.

Life Cycle

Reproduction

Eggs
Fully developed female bed bugs can lay between one and five eggs each day and often produce hundreds of eggs over the course of their lives. Difficult to find without intense scrutiny, bed bug eggs are roughly equal in size to specks of dust.

Nymphs
Upon hatching, nymphs emerge and develop by molting their skin several times before attaining full maturity. Prior to each molt, nymphs must consume a blood meal.

Adults
The insects can reach adulthood in as little as a month, with females sometimes producing upwards of three generations of offspring a year.

How Long Do They Live?
The average lifespan of common bed bugs is about 10 months.

More information about the bed bug life cycle.

Problems Caused by Bed Bugs

Bites
While bed bugs do not typically spread diseases, the parasitic insects cause slight to moderate discomfort by inflicting itchy bite marks as a result of feeding. Bed bug bites are usually painless, rarely waking the host, and result in small red welts similar to mosquito bites. In some cases, the bites inflicted by the pests may cause allergic reactions requiring medical attention. Generally, this reaction is uncommon and the insects are largely considered a nuisance.

Stains
In addition to bite marks, bed bugs regularly leave other evidence of their presence, including musty odors, rust-colored fecal stains in and around bedding, and layers of skin shed by nymphs.

Despite the widespread assumption that bed bug infestations are an indication of poor cleanliness or sanitation in the affected area, bed bugs simply require access to a host and ample hiding space. Bed bugs thrive in a variety of environments ranging from private residences to five-star hotels, and often prove difficult to find and remove completely. Professional extermination is usually recommended to treat infestations.

Control

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

Unfortunately, getting rid of bed bugs is not easy.

Whether one has bed bugs or whether one is concerned about bed bugs, one of the most common questions is how to get rid of these pests. Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy way to remove bed bugs and to provide long term protection.

Inspection
The first step is for a knowledgeable inspector to examine the entire area where bed bugs might exist to find which areas of a room or structure are infested.

Identification
The second step is to confirm that there are in fact bed bugs present since there are other pests from bat bugs to swallow bugs to juvenile cockroaches which may resemble bed bugs.

Control Methods
The third step is to control these pests using one or more methods from steam to heat to specially formulated products to vacuuming.

Just using one method might not achieve control since the nature of the bed bug is such that it hides, it moves, and typically only comes out at night. While these habits can be frightening, bed bugs can be controlled but it usually takes multiple attempts since rarely can a traditional treatment get rid of the eggs and reach all of the bed bugs in a single visit.

There is no magic weapon to control bed bugs. Bed bug control is a precise science requiring understanding of biology, chemistry, physical science, and construction. A competent inspector will look at an infestation and consider each of these disciplines to develop the control program that is best suited for the individual needs.

Although sanitation is helpful in the control of bed bugs, cleaning and vacuuming alone will not control the problem. Insecticides must be applied after detailed preparations are made, with follow-up inspections and treatments in order to control the problem.

Control can take days to weeks, and sometimes longer to achieve. Most pest professionals will schedule a follow up visit to re-inspect and retreat if necessary.