Bed Bugs 101
Bed bugs, once nearly eradicated in the 1950’s, have rapidly become a problem across the United States and around the world. This resurgence of infestations is due in part to the increase of international travel and the resistance to pesticides.Bed bug infestations have been found in every structure used by people and are commonly reported in motels, hotels, dormitories, apartments, shelters, schools, transport vehicles and homes.
A minor nuisance since World War II as a result of the widespread use of DDT and other long-lasting residual insecticides, bedbug (Cimex lectularius) numbers have increased in the past decade as much as 500 percent in North America and other parts of the world — costing billions of dollars to homeowners and businesses annually and requiring the use of large quantities of pesticides, many of them ineffective.
Reasons behind the spike in bedbug infestations include a boom in international travel; increased exchange of used furniture; a shift from powerful but dangerous insecticides, such as DDT, to more selective control tactics; and the development of resistance among bedbug populations to currently used pesticides — pyrethroids in particular.
Q: What are bed bugs? *(Latin: Cimex Lectularius)
A: Bed Bugs are small insects that feed on human blood. They are usually active at night when people are sleeping or sedentary. Adult bed bugs have flut rusty-red-colored oval bodies. Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed, they are big enough to be easily seen, but often hide in cracks in furniture, floors or walls. When bed bugs feed, their bodies swell and become brighter red. They can live for several months (up to 19 months) without feeding on a host
A2: According to the National Bed Bug Association (NBBA):
Adult bed bugs are small oval wingless insects just under a ¼ inch long and are relatively flat. They are reddish-brown in color and sometimes are mistaken for ticks or small cockroaches. Well-developed antennae, small eyes, and the area behind the head expand forward on either side of the head. The body becomes more elongate, swollen, and dark after a blood meal. Immature bed bugs look very much like adults but are much smaller and lighter in color. They gain their reddish-brown color as they mature. Newly hatched eggs are the size of a dust speck and transparent in color, almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Both mature and immature bed bugs feed exclusively on blood and while they have been shown to feed on other animals their primary food source comes from humans. The bite of any size bed bug whether young or adult has the same effect on the host.
Bed bugs live in many areas of the room. While their favorite spot is close to the food source you will find them harboring in the seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames and head boards. Nightstands are also a favorite spot where they find security in the cracks and crevices of the corner of drawers. Because of their flat bodies they can fit into any space a piece of paper can fit in to.
Typically they are nocturnal insects, unless they are very hungry. They spend most of the daylight hours hiding in locations where they are unlikely to be seen. Bed bugs do not live on or infest people instead they are similar to a mosquito that feeds and then leaves. They are most active late at night or just before dawn when the occupants are in a deep sleep, during which time they come out of their hiding places to feed. Bed bugs are attracted to the CO2 that is exhaled and the warmth of the human body. Bed bugs move around by crawling, they do not fly or jump. If they are present in a room they are usually located on or close to the bed or couch so that the bug can be in close contact with its food source but can also be found in other areas as well, usually within 20 feet.
Sightings of live bugs, eggs, shed skins and feces indicate an ongoing infestation. Evidence of a past or present bed bug infestation can include dark reddish-brown fecal or blood spots on linens, in mattress seams, or on walls and ceilings.
Bed Bug Characteristics include:
Appearance & Activity
- Adults are about ¼ inch long and reddish-brown to dark brown in color.
- Have oval flattened bodies that make it easy for them to hide in the tiniest of cracks (the thickness of a business card).
- Unable to fly, but runs quickly and can widely disperse throughout a structure.
- Will crawl 20 feet or more for a blood meal.
- Easily spreads by “Hitchhiking” on people, clothing and luggage.
- Females lay one to five eggs per day and 200 to 500 eggs in a lifetime. Development into an adult can be completed in just five weeks.
- Eggs and newly hatched nymphs are pale and very tiny (about the size of a pinhead) and are difficult to see.
- Signs of infestation include bloodstained fecal smears on light-colored surfaces such as curtains, bedding and walls.
Bed Bug Life Cycle:
Female bed bugs lay one to five eggs per day, or an average of 540 eggs in a lifetime. They typically lay their eggs in cracks or rough surfaces. Bed bug nymphs grow to full adulthood in about 21 days and go through five stages of development before they reach maturity. A bed bug will molt once during each stage of development, though a blood meal is required for a molt. An adult bed bug can live for more than a year without a blood meal.
Bed bugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide emitted by their hosts. For this reason, they tend to feed at night on bare skin that is exposed while sleeping. However, they are opportunistic insects and will consume a blood meal during the day, especially in heavily infested areas. Although bed bugs prefer to feed on humans, they will feed on other warm-blooded hosts as well.
Bed bugs usually require 5-10 minutes to engorge with blood. They feed by inserting two hollow, beak-like feeding tubes into their host. The first tube injects the bug’s saliva, which contains anesthetics to numb the feeding area. The second tube draws blood. After feeding, they move to secluded places and hide for 5-10 days. During this time, they do not feed but instead digest their meal, mate and lay eggs.
- Feed at night by using a piercing beak, victims may not feel anything or have any reactions to the bites.
- Prefer to feed on humans but will also feed on animals including dogs, cats, and birds.
- Do not feed every night, maybe once every 5 days, making it difficult to tell if your insecticide treatment has been effective.
- Adults can live for more than a year without a blood meal.
- Usually inactive between blood meals, hiding virtually undetected.
- Not known to spread any disease.
Possible Signs of Bed Bugs
- Small red to reddish-brown fecal spots on mattresses, upholstery or walls
- Molt bed bug skins, their white, sticky eggs or empty eggshells
- Very heavily infested areas may have a characteristically sweet odor
- Red, itchy bite marks, especially on the legs, arms and other body parts exposed while sleeping
Where Bed Bugs are found:
Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers and are easily transported. They will hide in suitcases, boxes and shoes to be near a food supply. They like to hide in small cracks and crevices close to a human environment. Bed bugs are most often found in bed parts, such as mattresses. box springs and folded areas. They can also conceal themselves behind baseboards, wallpaper, upholstery, picture frames, electrical switch plates, and in furniture crevices. Beg bugs are also known to survive in temporary or alternative habitats, such as backpacks and under the seats in cars, buses and trains.
These pests are not limited to any one specific type of dwelling. Pest control companies have been reporting infestations everywhere including single family homes, multi-family housing, apartments, hotels, hospitals, schools and college campuses, office buildings, retail stores, movie theaters and even public transportation. Nowadays, even five-star hotels and high-end clothing stores are susceptible to infestations.
According to the NPMA’s Bugs Without Borders survey, pest management professionals report that residences top the list of places where infestations occur, with 89 percent of pest professionals treating bed bug infestations in apartments/condos and 88 percent treating bed bug infestations in single-family homes. Respondents also reported other common areas, with 67 percent treating bed bug infestations in hotels/motels, 35 percent in college dormitories, 9 percent on various modes of transportation, 5 percent in laundry facilities and 4 percent in movie theatres.
Today, bed bugs can be found throughout almost every region of the world and in all 50 U.S. states. Specifically, the pests were encountered by 17 percent of Bed Bugs in America survey respondents in the Northeast; 20 percent in the Midwest; 20 percent in the South; and 19 percent in the West.
Here are some University fact sheets (pdf) and websites:
- Cornell University – NY State Integrated Pest Management program
- Harvard University
- University of Florida
- University of Kentucky on bed bugs
- Ohio State (PDF)
- Penn State
- Purdue University
In addition, here are some of the leading bed bug sites currently being offered by affected cities, countries and international associations: