Bed Bug Questions
1. What are bed bugs?
- What does a bed bug look like?
- Can I see bed bugs?
- Do bed bugs fly, jump or burrow into skin?
- What other names do bed bugs have?
If you ever heard that nursery rhyme Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” you know these critters bite in the night. But most of us never heard of them in real life until now.
|What do bed bugs look like? Briefly: 1/4” long, oval, flat, 6 legs, and reddish-brown.|
Some fast facts…
- Life Stages: Eggs hatch into nymphs. Newly hatched nymphs are tiny—about 1/16th of an inch.
- Nymphs—which look like small adults—become adults in 5 weeks. They go through 5 molts to reach adult size—meaning they shed their old, smaller skin 5 times. They must feed before each molt.
- Females can produce 5-7 eggs per week, laying up to 500 in a lifetime.
- Bed bugs grow fastest and lay most eggs at about 80°F.
- They feed only on blood.
- They feed when people are sleeping or sitting quietly, often when it’s dark.
- They seek shelter in cracks and crevices when not feeding.
- They poop out “blood spots.” Spots look like dots made by a fine felt-tipped marker. You’d see them near where they fed and near their hideouts.
- Adults can live over a year without a meal.
- Adults, nymphs and eggs can survive sustained heat and cold if given time to adjust.
- Can be found in the cleanest of clean places. But clutter makes them harder to get rid of.
- They have no “grooming behavior”—meaning that insecticides meant to be swallowed by roaches and flies won’t work on bed bugs.
A little more…
- Anatomy: A bed bug has 6 legs. Its antennae point forward and are about half as long as the body—not longer. Its head is broadly attached to its body and it has no wings. Eight legs indicate a tick or mite. Six legs and long antennae with two spikes coming off the back (cerci) might be a roach nymph. Carpet beetle larvae have hairs all over their bodies. Carpet beetle adults have two hard wings.
- Color: A “drop of blood with legs” is probably a recently fed bed bug. It will be red, plump, and oval. After it digests its meal, it’ll be mahogany-colored, round, and flat. Unfed nymphs are tan. Eggs are oval, white, and stick to whatever they’re laid on.
- Size: You can see the adults—they’re about 1/4” long. The trick is finding their hiding spots. They can wedge themselves into any crack or crevice. If the edge of a credit card can fit, so can a bed bug. Eggs and just-hatched nymphs are tiny: 1/16” (1mm) long—the size of the “R” in “LIBERTY” on a penny. They’ll plump up after feeding—just like a mosquito.
- Behavior: Bed bugs crawl—scurrying into dark, tight spaces to hide—they move as fast as an ant. They can’t jump or fly and you’ll never find them burrowing into your skin. If the insect you have came out on its own accord at night when the lights were out near the bed or a couch, it was probably a bed bug looking for a meal. Bed bugs aren’t social insects like ants, so they don’t need a colony. But while they group together in good hiding spots, loners could be hiding elsewhere.
More on bed bug biology (and yes, it matters): they have an odd way of making babies. It’s called traumatic insemination. Males simply stab females in the side with their reproductive organ and inject their sperm, which makes its way to her eggs. Females recover from one mating, but several matings increase the chance of infection and death. Females may try to get away from groups of males and go off and hide alone to avoid being stabbed to death. If you don’t find those females, they’ll keep laying eggs and could restart an infestation: a good reason to get a pest management professional (PMP) involved. Good PMPs know how to find them and how to target every hiding place without harming people.
If the bugs you think are bed bugs come in the spring but go away during the summer they might be bat bugs. Bats in attics hibernate elsewhere during the winter. Bat bugs that are left behind and chill out for the winter, literally, but if warm weather comes before the bats return, they may seek another host to tide them over. In this scenario, inspect the attic and external wall voids for bat guano and bugs in cracks and crevices. Have a professional treat these roosts as well as the rooms bed bugs were found in. To prevent bat re-entry, repair all holes 1/4” or larger that lead to the outside.
Bed bugs are also known as: Cimex lectularius, chinches de camas, chintzes or chinches, mahogany flats, red coats, crimson ramblers, wall lice, the bug that nobody knows, lentils on legs, animated blood drops.
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2. What can bed bugs do to me?
- Are bed bug bites worse for children or the elderly, compared to healthy adults?
- Can I get a disease from bed bugs?
The serious negative effects of bed bugs are more mental than physical, but the itchy bites can’t be ignored either.
The mental effects are stress and lack of sleep. (And then there’s delusory parasitosis—meaning the bugs really are gone, but you can’t shake the feeling that they’re still there.) Even if the thought of sleeping with bed bugs doesn’t keep you up at night, the time and money it takes to get rid of them can stress you out.
Bed bugs can be a public relations nightmare. You’d hope customers would respect a proactive hotel, motel, or landlord who tried to educate them before a problem came in, but that’s rarely the case. Simply the mention of bed bugs can deter customers.
And householders worry what friends, family, and neighbors will say if their problem becomes known. Bed bugs aren’t associated with filth or social status, but many people think they are.
Bed bugs aren’t known to transmit disease. And some people don’t even get marks when bit. But scratching bites can lead to a secondary infection. Resist the urge to scratch. People with health problems and children are more at risk for infection because their immune systems are compromised or they can’t stop scratching.
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3. What does a bed bug bite look like?
- How do bed bugs feed?
- How do I tell if my bites are caused by bed bugs?
- Why do I get bites, but my significant other doesn’t?
You can’t describe the bites as looking only one way. Some look and feel like mosquito or flea bites. Some people don’t react at all. On the opposite extreme, others get big itchy welts that take two or more weeks to heal. There’s a myth that bed bug bites occur in threes (“breakfast, lunch, and dinner”), but it’s not true. Bites can occur singly, in clumps, or in a line. Bites can show up within hours—or two weeks later. Confirming an infestation on bites alone is impossible. You need evidence: a bed bug.
Bed bugs usually feed while people sleep, about an hour before dawn. But if they’re hungry and given the opportunity, they feed anytime. Feeding itself is painless—the bed bug’s saliva numbs the skin and makes the blood easier to drink. But later, many people react to the saliva, getting itchy bumps or rashes. After feeding for about five minutes, drawing only a drop or two of blood, bugs return to their hiding places. Although bed bugs can live for over a year without feeding, they typically seek blood every five to ten days.
The only way to know for sure what bit you is to find a bug and get it identified.
Bed bugs live off only blood—like mosquitoes do. They probably prefer to feed on people. But if people move out, bed bugs can survive by feeding on rats or mice—so control these pests, too. They’re attracted by warmth and the presence of carbon dioxide—what we animals breathe out. They usually feed about an hour before dawn, but given the opportunity, they may feed at other times of day or night.
Remember—not everyone reacts to bed bug bites. (Not everyone reacts to poison ivy, either.) You could get an itchy rash while your home companion gets—nothing.
If you think bed bugs bit you, have a PMP do a thorough inspection to determine whether an arthropod is in your living space, or send samples to a diagnostic lab.
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4. Where did bed bugs come from?
Bed bugs may have evolved when a close relative, the bat bug, switched to feeding off cave-dwelling humans. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans wrote about them. They were part of many peoples’ lives in the U.S. and around the world before World War II.
Then DDT came along. DDT seemed wonderful at the time. Unlike most of the insecticides sold in stores today, DDT had a lasting effect—a long residual effect. Insects died when they crawled where DDT was used, even if it had been there for weeks. Though most homeowners used DDT for large pests like cockroaches, it did the bed bugs in too. When the bed bugs came out to feed, there was something there to kill them.
Modern furnishings and appliances helped too. Bed bugs don’t care if a home is clean or messy. They just like good hiding spots—and food. When modern furniture came into style they had fewer hiding spots. Home appliances such as washing machines and vacuums helped keep them at bay. Bed bugs were a rarity in the US from the early 1950’s through the late 1990’s. A whole generation of people grew up who’d never seen one.
By the mid 1970’s insecticides like DDT, which were blamed for environmental problems, were on the outs. The pest control industry began to use the environmentally friendly approaches common today. Using noninsecticide traps and monitors, blocking entry into homes, and using pest-specific, least-toxic insecticides became the staples of an integrated pest management approach.
Bed bugs had been off the radar for so long they were almost forgotten. By the time anyone noticed, they were back in a big way. Right now there are no traps or monitors proven to detect a population when it’s still small. And since bed bugs travel on things such as luggage, souvenirs, and furniture we bring into our homes, it’s hard to block their entry.
Fortunately, some modern insecticides work well. Because these insecticides break down quickly—making them safer for humans—they may not be around to kill the bed bugs that hatch from eggs laid before the insecticide was applied. Two or more carefully targeted applications are the best way to eliminate bed bugs. Leave insecticides to the professionals—even the right ones, used incorrectly, can scatter bed bugs to other rooms. It would take an extremely capable and dedicated person to learn and do everything necessary to get rid of bed bugs on their own.
taken from http://www.nysipm.cornell.edu/whats_bugging_you/bed_bugs/bedbugs_faqs.asp