Bed Bugs

What is a bed bug?

Bed bugs are small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of warm-blooded animals. They are a parasite that have existed since ancient times. There are at least 92 known species of bed bugs found throughout the world. The most common species is the Cimex lectularius , which is best adapted to human environments.

Bed Bug Appearance

Adult bedbugs are reddish brown, flattened, oval, and wingless, with microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. They grow to 4 to 5 mm (one-eighth to three-sixteenths of an inch) in length.

Bed bug eggs are tiny, whitish, and hard to see without magnification, as individual eggs are about the size of a dust spec. When first laid, the eggs are sticky, causing them to adhere to substrates. Newly hatched bed bug nymphs are translucent and lighter in color and continue to become browner and molt as they reach maturity. The nymphs are no bigger than a pinhead

 Bed Bug Bites

Bedbugs are generally active only at night, with a peak attack period about an hour before dawn, though given the opportunity, they may attempt to feed at other times of day. Attracted by warmth and the presence of carbon dioxide, the bug pierces the skin of its host with two hollow tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while with the other it withdraws the blood of its host. After feeding for about five minutes, the bug returns to its hiding place. The bites cannot usually be felt until some minutes or hours later, as a dermatological reaction to the injected agents. Although bedbugs can live for up to 18 months without feeding, they typically seek blood every five to ten days.

Repeated exposures to bed bug bites during a period of several weeks or more causes people to become sensitized to the saliva of these bugs; additional bites may then result in mild to intense allergic responses. The skin lesion produced by the bite of a bed bug resembles those caused by many other kinds of blood feeding insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas. For first time victims, lesions sometimes can be confused with poison ivy and spider bites.

Bed Bug Life Cycle

Female bedbugs can lay up to five eggs in a day and 500 during a lifetime. The eggs are visible to the naked eye measuring 1 mm in length (approx. 2 grains of salt) and are a milky-white tone in color. The eggs can often be found in dark, protected places such as walls and floor cracks, cracks in furniture, behind baseboards, under loose wallpaper and behind pictures. The eggs hatch in one to two weeks. The hatchlings begin feeding immediately. They pass through five molting stages before they reach maturity. They must feed once during each of these stages. At room temperature, it takes about 5 weeks for a bed bug to pass from hatching, through the stages, to maturity. They become reproductively active only at maturity.

Methods of Infestation

There are several ways how one’s dwelling may become infested with bedbugs. The bedbugs are efficient hitchhikers and are usually unknowingly transported in on luggage, clothing, or other belongings that are carried by individuals as they travel. Current outbreaks have been traced to increased domestic and international tourism. This is a particular problem for hotels, motels, and apartments, where turnover of occupants is constant. Infestations can also occur inadvertently by bringing infested furniture, mattresses, or used clothing to one’s household. A third way people get bed bugs is by moving into a vacant apartment. The apartment may appear to be “clean”, but because bed bugs can survive for many months without feeding, bed bugs may already be present in the unit. Lastly, bed bugs may travel between units in multi-unit buildings after originally being brought into the building by one of the aforementioned routes. The bugs can wander between adjoining apartments through voids in walls and holes though which wires and pipes pass.

Common Places of Infestation

Bedbugs are very flat, allowing them to hide in tiny crevices. A crack wide enough to fit the edge of a credit card can harbor bedbugs. The most common place to find bedbugs is the bed. Bedbugs often hide within seams, tufts, and crevices of the mattress, box spring, bed frame and headboard.

Bedbugs also hide among items stored under beds. Many areas besides beds, however, can harbor bedbugs such as nightstands, dressers, upholstered chairs and sofas. Other common places to find bedbugs include: along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting (especially behind beds and furniture); cracks in wood molding; ceiling-wall junctures; behind wall-mounts, picture frames, switch plates and outlets; under loose wallpaper; amongst clothing stored in closets; and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors. Bedbugs are capable of traveling as far as 100 feet to feed, but usually remain close to the host in bedrooms. Bedbugs can be found on their own, but more often congregate in groups. These groups of bedbugs are very often found in beds, usually either in the seams of a mattress (usually the seams closest to the sleeper), in the box spring, or within the structure of the bed itself.

Identifying Infestations

The only way to definitely determine if the bites are from bed bugs is to find and identify the bugs themselves. This can be a challenging task and can be accomplished by carefully inspecting the common places of infestation. If you find something you are suspicious of being a bed bug, capture the suspicious bug with a piece of clear sticky tape and then affix the tape to an index card or piece of paper. You can then take your captured evidence and compare it to pictures of known bed bugs. I would recommend finding several samples because may will end up not being bed bugs at all and rather dirt or lint.

If you are unable to accomplish the challenging task of capturing a bed bug, the next most reliable way of detecting bedbug infestations is through the presence of bedbug feces or crushed bed bugs, which can stain bedding. It will can range from blood red to a dark brown and usually shows up in streaky lines.

Lastly, bed bug bites themselves can serve as a method of detection. The skin lesion produced by the bite of a bed bug resembles those caused by many other kinds of blood feeding insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas.

Though bedbug bites can occur singly, they often follow a distinctive pattern of a linear group of a few or more bites. These groupings can be the distinguishing factor between a bed bug bite and a bite from an insect such as a mosquito. These patterns of bites are caused when a bedbug is disturbed in feeding by a person moving, and then the bedbug resumes feeding. Bedbug bites also often occur in lines marking the paths of blood vessels running close to the surface of the skin. You also want to rule out the possibility of a rash that can be caused from one of several sources ranging from chemical exposure to poison ivy. Bed bug bites occur individually and are non-contiguous like most bumps caused from rashes. They also are often larger raised higher than bumps of a rash.