How Bed Bugs Are Created

What Attracts Bedbugs to Human Environments?

  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Once considered a pest of the past, bedbugs now make regular headlines as they infest homes, hotels, and dormitories worldwide. As bedbugs spread, more people worry about them and want to know what causes a bedbug infestation.

Though it might seem as if bedbug infestations are on the rise, historical context indicates that bedbugs and other bloodsucking parasites have been associated with humans for thousands of years. Throughout that history, people have endured them feeding on their blood. Bedbugs all but disappeared when people started using DDT and other pesticides to keep insects out of their homes. Although news headlines suggest bedbugs are conquering the world, the reality is that bedbug infestations are still at historically low numbers.

Why are they called bedbugs? Once they settle into your home, they congregate where you spend a lot of sedentary time: chairs, couches, and especially beds. They are attracted to you by the carbon dioxide in the air you breathe out, and you do a lot of breathing over the hours you’re in bed. Then they feed on your blood.

Bedbugs Don’t Care If You’re Clean or Dirty

Contrary to popular belief, there is no association between bedbugs and filth. They feed on human and animal blood, and as long as a source of blood is available to them, they will happily take up residence in even the most pristine home.

Being poor doesn’t put you at greater risk for bedbugs, and having wealth doesn’t immunize you from a bedbug infestation. Although poverty doesn’t cause bedbugs, impoverished communities may lack the resources needed to control infestations, making them more persistent and pervasive in such areas.

Bedbugs Are Excellent Hitchhikers

For bedbugs to infest your home, they have to hitch a ride on someone or something. They don’t usually stay on their human hosts after feeding, but they might hide in clothing and inadvertently go along for the ride to a new location. Most often, bedbugs travel in luggage after someone has stayed in an infested hotel room. Bedbugs may even infest theaters and other public spaces and spread to new locations via purses, backpacks, coats, or hats.

Bedbugs Go Where the Action Is

Since bedbugs travel by hitchhiking, infestations are more common in places with high rates of turnover in the human population: apartment buildings, dormitories, homeless shelters, hotels and motels, and military barracks. Any time you have a lot of people coming and going, there’s an increased risk that someone will carry a few bedbugs into the building. In general, owners of single-family homes have a lower risk of getting bedbugs.

Bedbugs Hide in Clutter

Once in your home, bedbugs scurry quickly to select a new hiding place; in beds and other furniture, behind baseboards, under wallpaper, or inside switch plates. Then it’s just a matter of time before they begin multiplying. A single female may arrive at your doorstep already carrying enough eggs to produce hundreds of offspring. While filth does not benefit bedbugs, clutter does. The more cluttered your home is, the more hiding places there are for bedbugs and the harder it will be to get rid of them.

Bedbugs

What should you know about bedbugs?

Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, oval insects that feed by sucking blood from humans or other warm-blooded animals. The effect of bedbugs on human health and reports of bedbug infestations of certain hotels has received media attention in recent years.

How big are bedbugs?

Bedbugs do not fly. Adult bedbugs are 5-7 mm in length.

Where do bedbugs live?

Bedbugs are pests that can live anywhere in the home. They can live in cracks in furniture or in any type of textile, including upholstered furniture. Bedbug infestations are most common in beds, including the mattress, box springs, and bed frames. Bedbugs are most active at night. These pests may bite any exposed areas of skin while an individual is sleeping. Common locations for bedbug bites are the face, neck, hands, and arms.

Are bedbug bites painful?

A bedbug bite is painless and is generally not noticed. The bites may be mistaken for a rash of another cause. Small, flat, or raised bumps on the skin are the most common sign. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and itching.

How do you know if you have bedbugs?

Fecal stains or rust-colored dark spots, egg cases, and shed skins (exuviae) of bedbugs in crevices and cracks on or near beds are suggestive of infestations, but only observing the bugs themselves can confirm an active infestation. A professional pest-control company may be required to help identify and remove bedbugs from the home.

What home remedies and medications treat and get rid of bedbugs?

Home remedies for bedbug bites include measures to control itching, such as oatmeal baths or cool compresses. Typically, no treatment is required for bedbug bites. If itching is severe, steroid creams or oral antihistamines may be used for symptom relief.

Picture of Bedbug Bites

The first sign of bedbugs may be red, itchy bites on the skin, usually on the arms or shoulders. Bedbugs tend to leave straight rows of bites, unlike some other insects that leave bites here and there.

Bedbugs do not seem to spread disease to people. But itching from the bites can be so bad that some people will scratch enough to cause breaks in the skin that get infected easily.

What are bedbugs? What do bedbugs look like?

Bedbugs are small oval-shaped non-flying insects that belong to the insect familyCimicidae, which includes three species that bite people. Adult bedbugs reach 5 mm-7 mm in length, while nymphs (juveniles) are as small as 1.5 mm. Bedbugs have flat bodies and may sometimes be mistaken for ticks or small cockroaches. Bedbugs feed by sucking blood from humans or animals.Cimex lectulariusis the scientific name for bedbugs.

Adult bedbugs are reddish brown in color, appearing engorged and more reddish after feeding on a blood meal. Nymphs are light-colored and appear bright red after feeding. The wings of bedbugs are vestigial, so they cannot fly. However, they are able to crawl rapidly.

Temperatures between 70 F-80 F are most favorable for bedbugs, allowing them to develop into adults most rapidly and produce up to three generations per year.

Where are bedbugs found?

Bedbugs are found all over the world. Bedbug infestations were common in the U.S. before World War II and became rare after widespread use of the pesticide DDT for pest control began in the 1940s and 1950s. They remained prevalent in other areas of the world and, in recent years, have been increasingly observed again in the U.S. Increases in immigration and travel from the developing world as well as restrictions on the use of stronger insecticides may be factors that have led to the relatively recent increase in bedbug infestations. While bedbug infestations are often reported to be found when sanitation conditions are poor or when birds or mammals (particularly bats) are nesting on or near a home, bedbugs can also live and thrive in clean environments. Crowded living quarters also facilitate the spread of bedbug infestations.

Bedbugs can live in any area of the home and use tiny cracks in furniture as well as on textiles and upholstered furniture as hiding places. They tend to be most common in areas where people sleep and generally concentrate in beds, including mattresses or mattress covers, box springs, and bed frames. They do not infest the sleeping surfaces of beds as commonly as cracks and crevices associated with the bed frame and mattress, including mattress seams. Other sites where bedbugs often reside and potential infested items include curtains, edges of carpet, corners inside dressers and other furniture, cracks in wallpaper (particularly near the bed), and inside the spaces of wicker furniture.

Since bedbugs can live for months or even longer under favorable conditions without feeding, they can also be found in vacant homes.

SLIDESHOW

Are bedbugs found in hotels?

Bedbugs are found all over the world. Bedbug infestations were common in the U.S. before World War II and became rare after widespread use of the pesticide DDT for pest control began in the 1940s and 1950s. They remained prevalent in other areas of the world and, in recent years, have been increasingly observed again in the U.S. Increases in immigration and travel from the developing world as well as restrictions on the use of stronger insecticides may be factors that have led to the relatively recent increase in bedbug infestations. While bedbug infestations are often reported to be found when sanitation conditions are poor or when birds or mammals (particularly bats) are nesting on or near a home, bedbugs can also live and thrive in clean environments. Crowded living quarters also facilitate the spread of bedbug infestations.

Bedbugs can live in any area of the home and use tiny cracks in furniture as well as on textiles and upholstered furniture as hiding places. Bedbugs tend to be most common in areas where people;

  • sleep,
  • they usually concentrate in beds, including;
  • mattresses or mattress covers,
  • box springs and bed frames,
  • matttress seams and cracks,
  • curtains,
  • edges of carpet,
  • corners inside dressers and other furniture,
  • cracks in wallpaper (particularly near the bed),
  • recently used suitcases, bags, and other things that you have taken outside of your home, and
  • inside the spaces of wicker furniture.
  • They do not infest the sleeping surfaces of beds as commonly as cracks and crevices associated with the bed frame and mattress, including mattress seams. Other sites where bedbugs often reside and potential infested items

    Many news reports in recent years have focused on the discovery of bedbugs and their health effects (even in upscale five-star hotels), and a number of lawsuits have been filed by guests of fashionable hotels who awoke to find hundreds of bedbug bites covering their skin. Searching on travel-review web sites regularly reveals information and even photos confirming the presence of bedbugs in numerous hotels.

    Since bedbugs can arrive on the clothing or in the suitcases of guests from infested homes or other hotels harboring the pests, hotels can be an easy target for bedbug infestations.

    In addition to hotels, bedbug infestations have been found in;

    edbugs are found all over the world. Bedbug infestations were common in the U.S. before World War II and became rare after widespread use of the pesticide DDT for pest control began in the 1940s and 1950s. They remained prevalent in other areas of the world and, in recent years, have been increasingly observed again in the U.S. Increases in immigration and travel from the developing world as well as restrictions on the use of stronger insecticides may be factors that have led to the relatively recent increase in bedbug infestations. While bedbug infestations are often reported to be found when sanitation conditions are poor or when birds or mammals (particularly bats) are nesting on or near a home, bedbugs can also live and thrive in clean environments. Crowded living quarters also facilitate the spread of bedbug infestations.

    Bedbugs can live in any area of the home and use tiny cracks in furniture as well as on textiles and upholstered furniture as hiding places. They tend to be most common in areas where people sleep and generally concentrate in beds, including mattresses or mattress covers, box springs, and bed frames. They do not infest the sleeping surfaces of beds as commonly as cracks and crevices associated with the bed frame and mattress, including mattress seams. Other sites where bedbugs often reside and potential infested items include curtains, edges of carpet, corners inside dressers and other furniture, cracks in wallpaper (particularly near the bed), and inside the spaces of wicker furniture.

    Since bedbugs can live for months or even longer under favorable conditions without feeding, they can also be found in vacant homes.

    How do bedbugs spread?

    Bedbugs live in any articles of furniture, clothing, or bedding, so they or their eggs may be present in used furniture or clothing. They spread by crawling and may contaminate multiple rooms in a home or even multiple dwellings in apartment buildings. They may also hide in boxes, suitcases, or other items that are moved from residence to residence or from a hotel to home. Bedbugs can live on clothing from home infestations and may be spread by a person unknowingly wearing infested clothing.

    Origin of bed bugs revealed

    A new analysis of bed bugs from around Europe reveals that they came to humans from bats

    • By Melissa Hogenboom

    30 January 2015

    "Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite," goes the familiar phrase. Unfortunately the statistics aren’t in your favour, because these apple-pip-sized bugs are everywhere.

    Hardly a week goes by without a news story of yet another infestation, and yet they are relatively understudied, says Warren Booth of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, US.

    Booth and his colleagues have used genetics to unveil the origin of bed bugs. They found that there are two lineages in Europe. They are so diverse, they have almost split into two species.

    What’s more, their origin lies with bats.

    The research, published in the journalMolecular Ecology, provides the first genetic evidence that bats were the ancestral host of the bed bugs that plague human residences today.

    Bed bugs have been around for a long time, as has their association with humans. There are references to them in ancient Egyptian literature, and archaeologists have even discovered what seem to be fossilised bed bugs thought to be about 3,500 years old.

    While you sleep at night they are feeding on your blood

    A single pregnant female bed bug can infest an entire apartment building and the creatures are able to go through many rounds of inbreeding with no detrimental effects at all. All they need are human hosts to satisfy their thirst.

    But in the 1950s they largely disappeared from our homes and hotels, due to an effective pesticide campaign. However, 15 years ago they came back with a vengeance.

    Infestations are hard to treat, as 90% of common bed bugs now have a mutation that makes them resistant to the insecticides, known as pyrethroids, used to kill them.

    Booth’s team sampled hundreds of bed bugs from human and bat dwellings from 13 countries around Europe.

    An analysis of their DNA showed that there was no gene flow occurring between the human and bat bed bugs, even though some bats lived in churches or attics and could therefore have come into human contact.

    We’re living in a time where they’re becoming much more common

    The bat lineage probably dates back to when bats and humans once shared caves, says Booth. Even today it shows much more genetic diversity than the human form.

    So different were the two that when previously bred together in the lab, the offspring were less fertile.

    While their bites are not known to spread disease, they can cause itchy bumps and rashes not to mention the stigma of living or coming from an infected area.

    "While you sleep at night they are feeding on your blood, you are a meal ticket for them," says Booth. "That can lead to enormous psychological issues."

    There’s two types of people, says Booth: "the type that have had bed bugs and the people that will still get them. We’re living in a time where they’re becoming much more common."

    Scientists feed bed bugs (on purpose)

    Some researchers go to extraordinary lengths to keep bed bugs happy and well fed

    Harold Harlan captured this bed bug as it was starting to dine. (Photo has been cropped slightly.)

    H. Harlan/ AFPMB / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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    May 15, 2015 at 6:15 am

    When bed bugs suddenly made a comeback in recent years, biologists were just as surprised as everyone else. Few had studied the bugs because there seemed no need to do so. But as bed bugs became ever harder to kill, scientists began probing hard to find their weaknesses.

    To do that, they invited some of the bugs to stay in the lab. There, researchers could observe them closely. But to be good hosts, the scientists had to keep their bugs healthy and well-fed. And that has required learning how to deliver these critters the blood on which they thrive.

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    In the beginning, scientists didn’t know. But they figured a good first step was to recreate key features of the human body. For instance, they worked to warm the blood to the right temperature. And they had to enclose it in a skin-like membrane for the bugs to pierce with their needle-like mouths.

    Scientists at the Ohio State University in Columbus took a short-cut. They turned to ready-made feeders that had originally been designed to nourish other bloodthirsty insects in the lab: mosquitoes.

    Still other scientists took a more old-school approach. They fed the bugs from their own arms and legs.

    Harold Harlan became especially famous for this. A former entomologist with the U.S. Army, he had found bed bugs at an army base in New Jersey. This was during the early 1970s. Back then it was very rare to find any live bed bugs. So he brought some to his lab to study in his spare time. He raised them on his own blood. And he still does so today — more than 40 years later!

    Harlan has kept his bed bugs away from insecticides this entire time. As a result, these insects are more sensitive to the chemical insect killers than are the bed bugs infesting our homes. And that makes his critters quite valuable to scientists. Many ask to use some of his bed bugs in experiments to probe how they differ from the poison-defying “super bed bugs.”

    Harlan’s bugs also were the first to be used in two major projects aimed at mapping the bed-bug genome.These studies are attempting to identify all of the different genes in this insect. Such information could help scientists one day find ways to better control the pests.

    The Bed Bug Genome Consortium is conducting one of the studies. Some two dozen researchers from all over the world are collaborating on it. Scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College, the American Museum of Natural History and Fordham University are taking part in a related investigation. (All three of those institutions are in New York City.)

    This research can be difficult. It also will likely take a long time to complete.

    Power Words

    (for more about Power Words, click here)

    bed bugA parasitic insect that feeds exclusively on blood. The common bed bug,Cimex lectularius, sucks human blood and is mainly active at night. The insect’s bite can cause skin rashes and welts that sometimes look like a mosquito bite, but different people react in different ways.

    consortiumA group or association of independent organizations.

    entomologyThe scientific study of insects. One who does this is anentomologist

    gene(adj. genetic)A segment of DNA that codes, or holds instructions, for producing a protein. Offspring inherit genes from their parents. Genes influence how an organism looks and behaves

    genomeThe complete set of genes or genetic material in a cell or an organism. The study of this genetic inheritance housed within cells is known asgenomics.

    infestTo create a parasitic community, such as when wasps infest the porch of an abandoned house. Such a community of pests is known as an infestation.

    Bed Bugs

    Identification, images, and how to prevent infestation

    Identification

    • Colour Reddish brown, with abdomen darker as blood is digested
    • Size Adults are approximately 4 to 5 mm long, size of an apple seed
    • Description Bed bugs are an oval shape, they have a flattened body, two antennae and six legs

    Quick Links

    • How to identify bed bugs?
    • What are some key signs of bed bugs?
    • What to do if traces of bed bugs are found?
    • How can I prevent bed bug infestation?
    • Habitat, Diet, and Behaviour
    • Commonly Asked Questions

    How to identify bed bugs?

    Bed bugs are an oval shape and are up to 4-5 mm long when fully grown. Adult bed bugs have a flattened body and their skin colour is either rust brown or a deeper red brown.

    Due to the flattened body of a bed bug they can easily hide in small places such as baseboards, cracks in floors, under carpets, behind loose wallpaper, bed frames, sofas, behind picture frames and many other places which makes them very difficult to detect. They tend to stay together and large infestations will give off a sweet but unpleasant smell.

    What are some key signs of bed bugs?

    If you suspect bed bugs, or want to be proactive, look for live or dead bugs or the skins they can leave behind when they are molting. After feeding, bed bugs will regularly leave behind small spots of reddish-black fecal matter on your bedding, mattress or box springs. They will lay their eggs (1/32″ to 1/8″ in size) in dark crevices near feeding areas.

    Bed bug bites can also go unnoticed, and are even often misdiagnosed, making detection that much more difficult. Discover more answers to bed bug questions here.

    Bed bugs spread

    Once established, bed bugs tend to stay put but can spread due to any of the following;

    • Being disturbed (i.e. disassembling furniture or incorrect pesticide application)
    • A food shortage (i.e. no host) may cause them to migrate to neighbouring rooms
    • A shortage of harbourage spaces may cause them to migrate to neighbouring rooms
    • Infested furniture moved down a hall, or passed on to others
    • Vacuum cleaners used for multiple rooms
    • Commercial laundry machines

    What to do if traces of bed bugs are found?

    Do not

    • Disturb the room further. Leaving the “scene” untouched will help Orkin Canada diagnose the problem.
    • Take any items out of the room. Doing so will only help the bed bugs spread.

    Do

    • Stop using the room and “quarantine” it
    • If the room is occupied, work with management to move guests to a new room
    • Contact a professional pest control company immediately in order to inspect the infested room and/or pre-treat rooms to which any guests might be moved. In British Columbia you can only pre-treat when evidence of an infestation is found.

    How can I prevent bed bug infestation?

    Look for live or dead bugs or their skins, Check beds for red spots of fecal matter, Clean and vacuum bedrooms regularly, Protect mattresses and boxsprings with certified bed bug encasements, Use light coloured sheets to spot stains, Check all furniture near sleeping areas, Look around seams, crevices, and folds, Seal cracks in walls, trim, and bed frames.

    Since bed bugs are such good hitchhikers and often hide in hard to reach areas the best way to truly rid yourself of bed bugs is often professional pest control. Orkin Canada uses specially trained bed bug dogs, to detect anywhere live bed bugs and their eggs are hiding – and uses customized control strategies to make sure they’re gone for good.

    Habitat, Diet, and Behaviour

    What is the lifecycle of a bed bug?

    Bed bugs undergo gradual metamorphosis (egg, nymph, adult). Nymphs are smaller versions of the adults and will go through several molts until fully grown.

    Females lay 200 to 500 eggs in her lifetime, 10 to 50 at a time, on rough surfaces. Eggs then hatch within 6 to 17 days, with adult bedbugs having the ability to survive over 1 year without feeding.

    Commonly Asked Questions

    Why do I have bed bugs?

    Bed bugs are seeing a resurgence in Canada and even the cleanest of homes can fall victim to these painful pests. At night, bed bugs feed on sleeping humans, but by day, they hide in dark undisturbed areas like inside furniture, baseboards, floorboards, carpets, and even wallpaper.

    Bed bugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide and warmth that humans emit, which makes them particularly drawn to multi-unit buildings with lots of turnover like hotels or rental apartments, where they are often brought in on luggage or used furniture.

    Bed bugs do not cling to people but they are notorious hitch hikers and can hide in our belongings (i.e. suitcase, purse, laptop bags). From there they can be introduced into a home, hotel, office, hospital, or any other building as well as modes of transportation. Sanitation is not a factor in whether or not you get bed bugs.

    They are known to travel more than six metres from hiding in order to feed, but generally hide within two metres of their host, in large infestations that give off a sweet but unpleasant smell.

    Why are bed bugs back?

    Bed bugs never really left. They are common in many nations around the world. We are seeing a resurgence in North America for several reasons including a reduced use of pesticides, the use of second hand furniture and increased international travel as bed bugs are notorious hitch hikers.

    The combination of re-introduction, increased international travel and the fact that pest control professionals no longer use older pesticides (such as DDT, Chlordane and Lindane) means that bed bugs have been able to stage a resurgence and become a very serious pest in the 21st century. They have a unique ability to hide and due to their ability to spread, new inspection and control methods must be far more thorough and extensive than with many other pests.

    Bed bugs are parasitic insects that live near their hosts. Since they feed on humans (their hosts) their habitats include houses, hotels, or any property that we frequent. All they require is a protected area in close proximity to a feeding source. Bed bugs bite people when they are sleeping usually on exposed skin.

    When looking for a meal bed bugs can move very quickly to feed and then back into hiding after their meal. Bed bugs have been known to travel over 20 feet from hiding in order to feed but will generally hide within 3-6 feet of their host. Unless you know specifically how to look for bed bugs these pests can be easily overlooked.

    How worried should I be about bed bugs?

    You may find red spots of fecal matter on your bed after being bitten by bed bugs, but it can be maddeningly difficult to detect where the bugs are actually hiding.

    Bed bugs multiply quickly, with females laying up to 500 eggs in her lifetime. In just six months, a few of these pests can turn into a full-on infestation of more than 13,000 bed bugs. Adults can also survive for a year without feeding, so even if you leave, they might not.

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