Bed Bugs

Written by Zulekha Nishad

Last Updated June 13, 2024

If you're like most people, the thought of bed bugs probably makes your skin crawl. These tiny, blood-sucking pests are notoriously difficult to get rid of, and once they infest your bedding or mattress, they can quickly spread to other areas of your home. But what are bed bugs, exactly? And how can you spot a bed bug infestation? In this article, we'll answer all your questions about bed bugs and give you the information you need to protect yourself and your home from these pesky insects. So grab a cup of coffee and settle in because we're about to dive into all things bed bugs.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Bed bugs are tiny, wingless insects that feed on human blood and are known to be difficult to get rid of once they infest a home.
  • Live bed bugs, eggs, shell casings, a musty odor, fecal or blood marks, and bed bug bites are common signs of a bed bug infestation.
  • Bed bugs may not transmit diseases to humans, but they can cause skin irritation, secondary infections, psychological distress, anemia, and asthma attacks.
  • You can manage bed bug infestations with the help of pest control professionals or by using chemical and non-chemical treatments.
  • It is important to address bed bug infestations as soon as they are detected, as they can reproduce quickly and spread to other areas of a home.

bed bugs

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are small, troublesome, wingless insects that feed on human blood. They are reddish-brown in color and have a flat, oval-shaped body that is roughly the size of an apple seed, about 5-7mm in length. Although bed bugs cannot fly, they are capable of moving quickly across floors, walls, and ceilings.

These troublesome little creatures are most active at night when their host is asleep. They are attracted to the carbon dioxide and warmth that our bodies emit and use this as a signal to locate their next meal. In order to feed, bed bugs pierce the skin with two hollow tubes. One tube injects saliva containing anesthetic and anticoagulant, and the other tube extracts blood.

Bed bugs come from the superfamily Cimicidae and fall under the order Heteroptera. They are notorious hitchhikers and can quickly spread from one location to another by attaching themselves to clothing, luggage, and other personal items. They can be found wherever people and animals are present. This explains why bed bugs have become a common pest nuisance in homes, hotels, and other places people spend time. Cracks and crevices in furniture, walls, mattress seams, bed sheets, and electrical outlets are their popular spots.

Life stages of a bed bug

bed bug life stages

Bed bugs, like most insects, go through several distinct life stages before reaching adulthood.

Egg

The first stage of the bed bug life cycle begins with the egg. Female bed bugs lay between one and five grainy, pearl-white eggs per day, typically in cracks and crevices near their food source. After a week or two, these bed bug eggs start to hatch.

Nymph

Once the egg hatches, the bed bug enters the nymph stage. Nymphs look like smaller versions of adult bed bugs but are lighter in color and translucent. They must molt (shed their skin) five times before reaching adulthood. Each molt is followed by a period of growth.

  • Nymph stage 1 - In this stage, the newborn nymphs generally measure up to 1.5 mm. Once hatched, they start feeding immediately. The nymph must feed on a host's blood to molt into the next stage.
  • Nymph stage 2 - After the first stage of molting, the nymph is now a bit larger, that is, 2 mm long.
  • Nymph stage 3 - The nymph becomes 2.5mm long in this stage and has a slightly darker color than before.
  • Nymph stage 4 - By now, the nymph has become 3mm long.
  • Nymph stage 5 - This is the last stage of the nymph phase, where the bed bug measures around 4mm long.

Adult

Once the nymph has molted for the fifth and final time, it reaches adulthood. Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed and have a reddish-brown color. They are capable of reproducing and will continue to feed on blood for the rest of their lives, which can last up to a year or more.

The entire bed bug life cycle takes about six to eight weeks to complete, depending on temperature and availability of food. Under ideal conditions, bed bugs can reproduce quickly, which is why it is so important to address infestations as soon as they are detected.

Common myths about bed bugs

Bed bugs are a real problem and should be taken seriously, even if they are not dangerous to human health. Unfortunately, there are many common myths and misconceptions about bed bugs that can make the problem worse. Here are five common bed bug myths and the truth behind them:

Myth #1: Bed bugs only infest dirty homes.

This is a common misconception, but it is not true. Bed bugs can infest any home, regardless of how clean or dirty it is. These insects are attracted to warmth, carbon dioxide, and the scent of human blood, so they can easily find their way into any home, regardless of its cleanliness.

Myth #2: Bed bugs only bite at night.

Although bed bugs are most active at night, they are capable of biting at any time. These insects are opportunistic feeders, so they bite whenever they sense a potential host nearby. In fact, some people may not even realize they have a bed bug infestation until they notice bites during the day.

Myth #3: Bed bugs can be easily eliminated with DIY treatments.

While DIY treatments are available, bed bugs are notoriously difficult to eliminate. These insects can hide in cracks and crevices, making it difficult to get rid of them without professional help. If you suspect a bed bug infestation, it's best to contact a professional pest control company to ensure that the problem is properly addressed.

Myth #4: Bed Bugs Only Live in Beds

This myth implies that bed bugs tend to only infest mattresses or box springs. However, in reality, they can live in any nook and corner of a room. They can be found on dressers, couches, curtains, and more.

Myth #5: Bed Bugs Can Jump or Fly

Bed bugs do not have wings or can jump long distances. They are very fast and rely on crawling and being transported by clothing or luggage. Therefore, it is very crucial to be careful when traveling and inspect your luggage and clothing for bed bugs before returning home.

Signs of a bed bug infestation

Knowing how to identify the signs of a bed bug infestation can help you take action to address the problem before it gets out of control. Here are some of the most common signs:

  • Live bed bugs

One clear sign of bed bugs is actually seeing the bugs themselves. Adult bed bugs are reddish-brown, while younger bugs are clear or white. You'll need to do some sleuthing to find them, as they can hide in tight spaces like cracks in your bed frame or headboard.

  • Eggs

While eggs can be much more difficult to spot than adults, they are still a sign that bugs are present. These tiny, white ovals can indicate that an infestation is taking hold.

  • Shell casings

Another sign to watch out for is the skin that bed bugs shed, which looks like translucent, hollow shells. These can be found along the seams of your mattress or corners of your furniture.

  • A musty odor

Sometimes, a musty odor accompanies a large bed bug infestation. If you notice an unusual smell in your bedroom but don't see any other signs, it's worth checking for bed bugs.

  • Fecal or blood marks

Look for dark spots of dried bed bug excrement on your mattress, sheets, or furniture, which are a combination of their fecal matter and dried blood. These spots are usually found near the areas where bed bugs are most active.

  • Bed bug bites

And, of course, if you consistently wake up with small, itchy red marks on your body, make sure to thoroughly check your bedding for other signs of bed bugs. Remember, bites alone are not enough evidence to confirm an infestation.

bedbug bites

How can you identify bed bug bites?

Bed bug bites can be difficult to identify, as they often look like other types of insect bites or rashes. However, there are some common characteristics that can help you determine if you have been bitten by bed bugs. This includes:

  • A line or cluster of three or more bites, commonly referred to as "breakfast, lunch, and dinner" bites.
  • Red, raised, and itchy rashes on exposed areas of skin, such as the face, neck, arms, and hands.

Health risks and concerns

While bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases to humans, they can still pose health risks and concerns. Here are some of the most common health risks associated with bed bug infestations:

a bed bug infested room

How to manage bed bugs?

If you discover bed bugs in your home, there are several methods to get rid of them. You can do this using chemicals, non-chemicals, or hiring a pest control professional. Combining approaches can also be effective and make it more likely that the bed bugs won't come back.

Professional Pest Control Treatments

One of the most effective ways of dealing with an infestation is by hiring pest control professionals who are experienced in treating bed bugs. They have access to chemicals and equipment that are not available to the general public and have the training and expertise to use them safely and effectively.

managing bedbug infestation

Chemical treatment

In the U.S., around 300 insecticide products are registered for treating bed bug infestations. Have a look at some of the common chemicals used to manage bed bugs -

However, it is essential to use these chemicals safely and appropriately, following the label instructions and recommended precautions to avoid any potential harm to humans, pets, or the environment.

Non-chemical treatment

It is also possible to treat bed bug infestations without using insecticides. These treatments involve heat, cold, steam, vacuuming, and physical removal of the bugs.

Heat

First on our list is heat treatment. It involves raising the temperature to 120-135 degrees Fahrenheit and maintaining it for several hours to kill bed bugs.

Cold

Another method of managing bed bugs is exposing bed bugs to temperatures below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. While it can be effective, it may take longer than heat treatment, and there is a risk of damaging certain items if they are not properly protected from the cold.

Vacuuming

You can also use a vacuum cleaner to physically remove bed bugs, their eggs, and fecal matter from carpets, mattresses, and other surfaces. There is no guarantee it will kill all bed bugs, but it can reduce their numbers and is a good complement to other treatment methods.

Steam cleaning

Finally, try steam cleaning. This involves using high-temperature steam to kill bed bugs and their eggs. It works well on mattresses, box springs, and other items that cannot be treated with insecticides. However, this method might not be as effective for treating hidden or hard-to-reach areas.

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Is there a thing called bed bug anxiety?

Bed bug anxiety is a real phenomenon. It refers to the fear and anxiety that some people experience as a result of bed bug infestations. Even after a bed bug infestation has been treated and eliminated, some people may continue to experience anxiety and fear related to the possibility of another infestation. This can lead to sleep disturbances, social isolation, and other negative effects on a person's mental health and well-being.

Preventative Measures to Avoid Future Infestations

Once your bed bug infestation has been successfully managed or eliminated, it's important to take preventative measures to control bed bugs and avoid future infestations. Here are some things you can do to prevent bed bugs from entering your home:

  • Use mattress and box spring encasements to block bed bugs from entering your bedding and mattress.
  • Regularly inspect your bedding and mattress for signs of bed bugs.
  • Keep your bedroom clean and clutter-free.
  • Avoid buying used furniture or clothing.
  • Be cautious when traveling and inspect hotel rooms for bed bugs before settling in.

Things you should not do in case of a bed bug infestation

If you suspect a bed bug infestation, DO NOT:

  • Panic - Bed bugs are a common problem, and they can be eliminated with the right treatment.
  • Ignore the problem - Bed bugs reproduce quickly and can spread to other areas of your home, so it's important to address the problem as soon as possible.
  • Move furniture or belongings from the infested area to other parts of the house - This can cause the bed bugs to spread to other areas of your home.
  • Use outdoor pesticides indoors - These chemicals can be harmful to humans and pets and may not be effective at eliminating bed bugs.
  • Treat the infestation on your own: Bed bugs are difficult to eliminate without professional treatment. DIY methods may only worsen the problem and make it more difficult to eliminate.
  • Throw away infested furniture or belongings: In most cases, infested furniture and belongings can be treated and salvaged. Discarding them may spread the infestation to other areas.
  • Assume that a lack of bites means the problem is solved: Bed bugs can go for long periods without a blood meal, so a lack of bites does not necessarily mean that the infestation is gone. It's important to continue monitoring and treating the area until the problem is completely resolved.

Conclusion

If you suspect a bed bug infestation, it is imperative to take immediate action to address the problem. This may involve contacting a pest control professional, thoroughly cleaning and decluttering your home, and taking steps to prevent future infestations. By being proactive and vigilant about bed bugs, you can minimize your risk of experiencing an infestation and the associated negative consequences.

Remember, bed bugs are a treatable problem, and with the right approach and support, you can successfully eliminate them from your home and get back to enjoying a comfortable, restful night's sleep. Stay informed, take action, and don't let bed bugs keep you up at night!

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FAQs

  1. Can you see bed bugs with the naked eye?

Yes, you can see bed bugs with the naked eye. They are small, about the size of an apple seed, and are typically reddish-brown in color. However, bed bugs can be difficult to spot because they are good at hiding in cracks and crevices.

  1. What are bed bugs attracted to?

Bed bugs are attracted to warmth, carbon dioxide, and the scent of humans. They feed on blood, so they are often found in places where people sleep, such as beds, sofas, and even luggage.

  1. Can bed bugs survive without a host?

Bed bugs require blood meals to survive and reproduce, but they can survive for several weeks or even months without a host if necessary. In general, adult bed bugs can survive for up to six months without feeding, while younger bed bugs (nymphs) require blood meals every few weeks to molt and develop into adults.

  1. Do bed bugs bite?

Yes, bed bugs do bite humans. Bed bugs are blood-feeding insects and require a blood meal to survive and reproduce. They typically feed at night while people are sleeping, and their bites can be painless at first but may develop into itchy welts or rashes. Bed bug bites are often grouped together in a line or cluster, and they can take several days to appear after the initial bite.

  1. How to kill bed bugs?

There are several ways to kill bed bugs, including heat treatment, insecticides, and vacuuming. Heat treatment involves exposing the infested area to temperatures of at least 120°F for several hours. Insecticides can also be effective, but it's important to use them safely and correctly. Vacuuming can help to remove bed bugs and their eggs from carpets, furniture, and other surfaces.

  1. Do bed bugs go away on their own?

No, bed bugs do not go away on their own. They can survive for several months without feeding, so they can persist for a long time even if there are no hosts around. Bed bug infestations typically require professional treatment to eliminate.

  1. How to check your mattress for bed bug infestations?

To check for bed bug infestations, you can look for signs such as small reddish-brown bugs, bloodstains on sheets, or dark spots on the mattress. You can also use a flashlight to inspect the seams and crevices of the mattress, as well as the box springs and bed frames.

  1. Can you get rid of bed bugs on your own?

It is possible to get rid of bed bugs on your own, but it can be difficult and time-consuming. DIY treatments like vacuuming, washing bedding in hot water, and using insecticides may not be enough to completely eliminate an infestation. Professional extermination services are often necessary to fully eradicate bed bugs.

  1. How do bed bugs spread?

Bed bugs can spread through infested furniture, clothing, or luggage. They can also move between rooms or apartments through cracks in walls, floors, or ceilings.

  1. How do bed bugs affect your sleep?

Bed bugs can have a significant impact on sleep quality, as their bites can cause itching and discomfort. People may also experience anxiety or stress related to the presence of bed bugs in their homes. In severe cases, bed bug infestations can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders.

  1. What are bed bug bombs?

Bed bug bombs, also known as foggers, are aerosol insecticide products that release a mist into the air to kill bed bugs. They are often marketed as a convenient way to treat a bed bug infestation, but they can be dangerous if not used properly. However, bed bug bombs may not penetrate deep enough into cracks and crevices where these pesky creatures hide, leading to incomplete treatment.

  1. Can bed bugs cause diseases in human beings?

There is no proper evidence that bed bugs transmit diseases to humans, but their bites can cause itching, redness, and other skin reactions. Scratching bites can lead to secondary skin infections. Additionally, bed bug infestations can cause psychological distress, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

  1. Where can you find bed bugs?

Bed bugs are often found in places where people sleep or rest, such as beds, sofas, and chairs. They can also be found in other areas of the home, including carpets, curtains, and electrical outlets. Bed bugs can be transported into homes through second-hand furniture, clothing, and luggage, making it important to inspect these items carefully before bringing them inside.

  1. Do bed bugs shed skin?

Bed bugs shed their skin as they grow and mature. They molt several times throughout their life cycle, leaving behind exoskeletons that are visible to the naked eye. These shed skins can be a sign of a bed bug infestation.

  1. How long do bed bugs live?

The lifespan of a bed bug depends on several factors, including temperature, humidity, and access to a blood meal. Under optimal conditions, these tiny creatures can live for several months to a year or more. Adult bed bugs can survive for up to six months without feeding, while younger bed bugs (nymphs) require blood meals every few weeks to molt and develop into adults. Bed bugs typically live longer in cooler temperatures and can survive for shorter periods in extreme heat or cold.

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Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.

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