Until fairly recently, most people had never seen a bed bug. Bed bug infestations actually used to be very common in the United States before World War II. But with improvements in hygiene, and especially the widespread use of DDT during the 1940s and ‘50s, the bed bugs all but vanished.
Bed bugs are small, brownish, flattened insects that feed solely on the blood of animals. Although the common bed bug prefers feeding on humans, it will also bite other warm-blooded animals, including dogs, cats, birds and rodents.
Adult bed bugs are about 3/16” long and reddish-brown, with oval-shaped, flattened bodies.
Bed bugs do not fly, and they don’t jump like fleas do ― but they can crawl rapidly over floors, walls, ceilings and other surfaces. Adult females lay their eggs in secluded places, depositing 1, 2 or more eggs per day, potentially hundreds during their lifetime. The eggs are tiny (about the size of a dust spec), whitish and hard to see without magnification, especially on light-colored surfaces.
At room temperatures, bed bug eggs hatch in about a week. Newly emerged nymphs are straw-colored and no bigger than a pinhead.
As bed bugs grow they molt, shedding their skin five times before reaching maturity. A blood meal is needed between each successive molt. Adult females also must feed in order to lay eggs. Under favorable conditions (70-80°F), the bugs can mature fully in as little as a month, producing multiple generations per year. Cooler temperatures or limited access to blood prolong the development time.
Bed bugs often hide in seams, folds and crevices of mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards.
Bed bugs are very resilient. Nymphs and adults can persist months without feeding which is unusual for most insects. The ability to survive without a blood meal is longer at cooler temperatures ― potentially up to a year or longer at 55°F or less. In temperature-controlled buildings, a more typical duration is about 2 to 6 months.
Bed bugs are active mainly at night. During the daytime, they prefer to hide close to where people sleep. Their flattened bodies enable them to fit into tiny crevices--especially those associated with mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards. Bed bugs do not have nests like ants or bees.
Possible sign are rusty or reddish smears on bed sheets or mattresses from crushed engorged bed bugs.
Bed bugs prefer to hide close to where they feed, but if necessary will crawl several feet to obtain a meal. Initially the bugs tend to be situated around sleeping areas, beds, couches and recliners.
CONFIRM THAT THEY’RE BED BUG BITES
Bed bugs usually bite people at night while they are sleeping. Before you run off and buy every cream the pharmacy stocks, you’ll want to confirm that the marks are actually from bed bugs.
The best way to confirm that the bites are from bed bugs is to find other evidence of a bed bug infestation. Common telltale signs can be found on or near your mattress: pull up your sheets and check the seams and folds for thin black fecal streaks or small red blood spots. You might also find bed bugs, living or dead, and their discarded shells in various hiding places, such as the joints of your bed frame.
Bed bugs are challenging to eradicate. Since they can hide in so many places, inspections must be thorough and elimination is not always a certainty. Whenever resources allow, it’s prudent to enlist the services of a professional. Experienced pest controllers know where to look for bed bugs, and have an assortment of tools at their disposal. Since bed bugs can disperse throughout a building, it often will be necessary to inspect adjoining rooms and apartments as well.