Bed bugs are blood-sucking insects. Both immature and adult bed bugs feed on humans, mostly at night, a time when it is difficult to detect their stealthy habits. Bed bugs prefer humans; however, this insect also feeds on other species of mammals and birds found near the home including chickens, mice, rats, and rabbits.
Adult bed bugs are oval, wingless, about 1/5 inch long, and rusty red or mahogany. Female bed bugs can lay 1-5 eggs per day and up to 200 to 500 eggs in a lifetime. These tiny, white eggs are usually deposited on rough surfaces such as wood or paper. Glue-like material covers the eggs, which hatch in about 10 days. After hatching occurs, the eggshells frequently remain stuck in place.
Bed bugs can survive without feeding for up to 140 days and some adults have survived without food for as long as 550 days. Adults live about 10 months, and there can be up to 3 to 4 generations of bed bugs per year.
A bed bug can take six times its weight in blood, and a single feeding can last from 3 to 10 minutes and feels like a pin prick. Because feeding usually occurs at night when people are asleep, they are not aware they have been bitten until afterwards. However, saliva injected during the feeding to thin the blood can later produce large swellings on the skin that itch and may become irritated and infected when scratched. Swelling may not develop until a day or more after feeding, and some people do not show symptoms at all. Fortunately, bed bugs are not currently considered to be disease carriers.
Distinguishing bed bug bites from the bites of other insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, and spiders is difficult. People often confuse itching bed bug welts for mosquito bites. The only way you can truly confirm bed bugs are the cause of your itching is to find bed bugs in your couch, bed or bedroom. After feeding, bed bugs return to their harborage to hide. They eventually defecate in these areas, which appears as black to brown stains on porous surfaces or black to brown mounds on nonporous surfaces.
Common hiding places include seams in mattresses and box springs, cracks and crevices in bed frames, headboards, under loose wallpaper, behind picture frames, under carpeting, wall sockets, behind curtains and inside furniture and upholstery. Bed bugs prefer fabric or wood surfaces to metal or plastic as a hiding spot.
It’s possible to pick up bed bugs almost any place—they’ve infested offices, stores, hotels, gyms and countless other places. They can hide in your luggage, personal belongings, or even on you, and hitchhike a ride back to your home, condo, townhouse or apartment. Once indoors, they can be extremely difficult to control without the help of an experienced pest specialist.
A bed bug infestation has nothing to do with cleanliness — you can pick them up in the finest hotels, and they can hitchhike into the cleanest homes at any time.
Methods to control or eliminate bedbugs can be high heat or extreme cold treatments. These are very expensive. Other alternatives are newly developed pesticides that target bed bugs and are found to be low in toxicity to humans, yet high toxicity to the bed bugs. These highly effective bed bug solutions are only available to commercial applicators. Professional bed bug applicators also have the equipment and expertise that allow a more effective application of insecticides than residents might do for themselves.
When at home, follow these handy tips to help keep bed bugs at bay.
- Remove all clutter from your home, which makes finding bed bugs easier.
- Wash and dry your bed linens often using the hottest temperature allowed for the fabric.
- Closely inspect any second-hand furniture for bed bugs before you bring it into your residence.
- Inspect your residence regularly—after a move-in, a trip, when a service worker comes in or guests stay overnight.
When traveling, think of the acronym S.L.E.E.P. to remember the following 5 action steps to help avoid bringing bed bugs home with you.
- Survey surfaces for signs of an infestation, such as tiny rust-colored spots on bed sheets, mattress tags and seams, and bed skirts.
- Lift and look for all bed bug hiding spots, including underneath the mattress, bed frame, headboard and furniture. Typically, they come out at night to feed, but during the day they are most likely found within a 1.5 meter radius of the bed.
- Elevate your luggage on a luggage rack away from the bed and wall, since bed bugs can often hide behind headboards, artwork, picture frames and electrical outlet panels.
- Examine your luggage carefully while repacking and when you return home. Always keep luggage off the bed and store it in a closet or other area, far away from your bedroom.
- Place all your clothing from your luggage immediately in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at the highest setting upon returning home from travel.