How Bed Bugs Survive
Top Ten Tips to Prevent or Control Bed Bugs
1. Make sure you really have bed bugs, not fleas, ticks or other insects.
You can compare your insect to the pictures on our Identifying bed bugs Web page or show it to your local extension agent.Exit (Extension agents are trained in pest control issues and know your local area.)
2. Don’t panic!
3. Think through your treatment options — Don’t immediately reach for the spray can.
Be comprehensive in your approach. Try other things first. Integrated pest management (IPM) techniques may reduce the number of bed bugs and limit your contact with pesticides. If pesticides are needed, always follow label directions or hire a professional. There is help available to learn about treatment options. (4 pp, 480 K, About PDF)
4. Reduce the number of hiding places — Clean up the clutter.
A cluttered home provides more places for bed bugs to hide and makes locating and treating them harder. If bed bugs are in your mattress, using special bed bug covers (encasements) on your mattress and box springs makes it harder for bed bugs to get to you while you sleep. Leave the encasements on for a year. Be sure to buy a product that has been tested for bed bugs and is strong enough to last for the full year without tearing.
5. Regularly wash and heat-dry your bed sheets, blankets, bedspreads and any clothing that touches the floor.
This reduces the number of bed bugs. Bed bugs and their eggs can hide in laundry containers/hampers Remember to clean them when you do the laundry.
6. Do-it-yourself freezing may not be a reliable method for bed bug control.
While freezing can kill bed bugs, temperatures must remain very low for a long time. Home freezers may not be cold enough to kill bed bugs; always use a thermometer to accurately check the temperature. Putting things outside in freezing temperatures could kill bed bugs, but there are many factors that can affect the success of this method.
7. Kill bed bugs with heat, but be very careful.
Raising the indoor temperature with the thermostat or space heaters won’t do the job. Special equipment and very high temperatures are necessary for successful heat treatment. Black plastic bags in the sun might work to kill bed bugs in luggage or small items, if the contents become hot enough. Bed bugs die when their body temperatures reaches 45°C (113°F). To kill bed bugs with heat, the room or container must be even hotter to ensure sustained heat reaches the bugs no matter where they are hiding
8. Don’t pass your bed bugs on to others.
Bed bugs are good hitchhikers. If you throw out a mattress or furniture that has bed bugs in it, you should slash or in some way destroy it so that no one else takes it and gets bed bugs.
9. Reduce the number of bed bugs to reduce bites.
Thorough vacuuming can get rid of some of your bed bugs. Carefully vacuum rugs, floors, upholstered furniture, bed frames, under beds, around bed legs, and all cracks and crevices around the room. Change the bag after each use so the bed bugs can’t escape. Place the used bag in a tightly sealed plastic bag and in an outside garbage bin.
10. Turn to the professionals, if needed.
Hiring an experienced, responsible pest control professional can increase your chance of success in getting rid of bed bugs. If you hire an expert, be sure it’s a company with a good reputation and request that it use an IPM approach. Contact your state pesticide agency for guidance about hiring professional pest control companies. Also, EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety provides information about IPM approaches, how to choose a pest control company, safe handling of pesticides, and emergency information.
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Bed Bugs FAQs
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.
Where are bed bugs found?
Bed bugs are found across the globe from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.
Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.
Do bed bugs spread disease?
Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.
What health risks do bed bugs pose?
A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.
What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?
One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while sleeping. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs include:
- the bed bugs’ exoskeletons after molting,
- bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets,
- rusty–colored blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture, and
- a sweet musty odor.
How do I know if I’ve been bitten by a bed bug?
It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.
Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site, and, on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.
How did I get bed bugs?
Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel.
Who is at risk for getting bed bugs?
Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.
How are bed bugs treated and prevented?
Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.
This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.
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Bedbugs are small, oval, brownish insects that live on the blood of animals or humans. Adult bedbugs have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, however, their bodies swell and are a reddish color.
Bedbugs do not fly, but they can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings. Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each of which is about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime.
Immature bedbugs, called nymphs, shed their skins five times before reaching maturity and require a meal of blood before each shedding. Under favorable conditions the bugs can develop fully in as little as a month and produce three or more generations per year.
Although they are a nuisance, they are not thought to transmit diseases.
Where Bed Bugs Hide
Bedbugs may enter your home undetected through luggage, clothing, used beds and couches, and other items. Their flattened bodies make it possible for them to fit into tiny spaces, about the width of a credit card. Bedbugs do not have nests like ants or bees, but tend to live in groups in hiding places. Their initial hiding places are typically in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and headboards where they have easy access to people to bite in the night.
Over time, however, they may scatter through the bedroom, moving into any crevice or protected location. They may also spread to nearby rooms or apartments.
Because bedbugs live solely on blood, having them in your home is not a sign of dirtiness. You are as likely to find them in immaculate homes and hotel rooms as in filthy ones.
When Bedbugs Bite
Bedbugs are active mainly at night and usually bite people while they are sleeping. They feed by piercing the skin and withdrawing blood through an elongated beak. The bugs feed from three to 10 minutes to become engorged and then crawl away unnoticed.
Most bedbug bites are painless at first, but later turn into itchy welts. Unlike flea bites that are mainly around the ankles, bedbug bites are on any area of skin exposed while sleeping. Also, the bites do not have a red spot in the center like flea bites do.
People who don’t realize they have a bedbug infestation may attribute the itching and welts to other causes, such as mosquitoes. To confirm bedbug bites, you must find and identify the bugs themselves.
Signs of Infestation
If you wake up with itchy areas you didn’t have when you went to sleep, you may have bedbugs, particularly if you got a used bed or other used furniture around the time the bites started. Other signs that you have bedbugs include:
- Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases
- Dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls
- Bedbug fecal spots, egg shells, or shed skins in areas where bedbugs hide
- An offensive, musty odor from the bugs’ scent glands
If you suspect an infestation, remove all bedding and check it carefully for signs of the bugs or their excrement. Remove the dust cover over the bottom of the box springs and examine the seams in the wood framing. Peel back the fabric where it is stapled to the wood frame.
Also, check the area around the bed, including inside books, telephones or radios, the edge of the carpet, and even in electrical outlets. Check your closet, because bedbugs can attach to clothing. If you are uncertain about signs of bedbugs, call an exterminator, who will know what to look for.
If you find signs of infestation, begin steps to get rid of the bugs and prevent their return.
Getting rid of bedbugs begins with cleaning up the places where bedbugs live. This should include the following:
- Clean bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can’t be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes.
- Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
- Vacuum your bed and surrounding area frequently. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
- Encase mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs may live up to a year without feeding, so keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year to make sure all bugs in the mattress are dead.
- Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
- Get rid of clutter around the bed.
If your mattress is infested, you may want to get rid of it and get a new one, but take care to rid the rest of your home of bedbugs or they will infest your new mattress.
While cleaning up infested areas will be helpful in controlling bedbugs, getting rid of them usually requires chemical treatments. Because treating your bed and bedroom with insecticides can be harmful, it is important to use products that can be used safely in bedrooms. Do not treat mattresses and bedding unless the label specifically says you can use them on bedding.
Generally it is safest and most effective to hire an experienced pest control professional for bedbug extermination.
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: "Bed Bugs."
Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: "Bed Bugs."
The New York City Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene: "Stop Bed Bugs Safely."
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Lancaster County: "Managing Bed Bugs."
How Long Can Bed Bugs Live Without A Host? (A Simple Answer)
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Bed bugs are a very frustrating problem for lots of homeowners especially across many states in the United States.
Their excellent adaptability to a wide range of climates and their rate of reproduction have earned these parasites a notorious reputation throughout the country.
Because they get bitten every night by these nasty and stubborn parasites, a lot of homeowners are drawn into the wrong conclusion that leaving the house for a few days can starve the bed bugs to death or at least force them out of the property in search for a new host.
But does it really work?
The bed bugs’ ability to survive without a host depends on a number of factors. And understanding these critical elements can help you land on the ultimate answer to the question.
How Does A Bed Bug Feed?
Before we can really answer the main question, it is best that we first take into consideration how a bed bug feeds.
As we all now know, bed bugs don’t have a chewing mouth part that help them burrow deep into our skin. Instead, these parasites are equipped with a needle like proboscis which they use to pierce through our skin and into the nearest blood vessel.
Prior to feeding, the bed bug excretes an ample amount of saliva which acts as an anesthetic component. It numbs the nerves of the skin surrounding the target area so that the victim doesn’t feel a thing. The be bug’s saliva also acts as an anticoagulant which helps keep the blood flowing as it feeds.
Is Blood The Only Type Of Meal bed Bugs Prefer?
Yes. Blood is the only type of nourishment bed bugs require and accept. They can’t and will not feed on anything else other than a thirst quenching blood meal.
Bed bugs need blood for them to molt and to develop full sexual maturity. Proteins and other nutrients found in their host’s blood is essential for the development of their eggs.
The following video is a close up documentary on how a bed bug bites and feeds.
A blood meal from a human host is what bed bugs prefer. These nasty buggers are significantly attracted to us because of the heat signature that our bodies give off and the carbon dioxide that we exhale. But in the absence of a human host, bed bugs acquire blood meal from animals nearby.
How Often And How Long Does A Bed Bug Feed?
When an egg hatches, a nymph emerges. This nymph requires at least one blood meal to molt into the higher stage of its life. The nymph undergoes several molting process (less than two months) before it reaches full maturity.
Nymphs usually take about 5 minutes to feed. Adults on the other hand, may take around 10 minutes per feeding session. It then retreats to a safe spot for digestion of the blood meal it has acquired from its host.
Both nymph and adult bed bugs feed only once per week. If you get bitten by these critters every night, it simply means that you have a sizeable bed bug population to deal with.
How Long Can A Bed Bug Survive Without Feeding?
Basically, bed bugs can survive from several months to a full year without a host. But this survivability directly depends on a few factors.
Adult bed bugs can survive longer compared to the younger ones or nymphs. The absence of a host for a blood meal doesn’t hinder the nymphs from developing into full adults.
Rather, it drastically decreases the amount of time needed for nymphs to reach full maturity. Nymphs become adult bed bugs in just about a month resulting to significantly weaker insects.
Temperature of the direct environment also plays a crucial role on how long a bed bugs survives without a host. Under normal room temperature, adult bed bugs can linger for a year. Increased temperature on the other hand, remarkably decreases the total length of time a bed bug can survive without a host.
Read More Bed Bug Answers
Check out our other bed bug guides. Each guide is expertly crafted to help you make sure these pests never bother you again.
Oak Hill Gardens
Do Bed Bugs Live Outside? Where and How Long Can They Survive Outdoors?
We can hear you wondering:“How are bed bugs a gardening issue?”
Well, they are not, with respect to being a threat to your beautiful orchids or clematis. But if you know that these blood-sucking pests can attack you while doing a bit of weeding or planting, then, the problem suddenly becomes relevant to every keen green-fingered enthusiast out there. Not to mention the youngins with sensitive skin – your kids with an avid interest in gardening or a habit of just playing outdoors at every opportunity.
So, can bed bugs live outside the house?
Yes, quite worryingly, they can.
This post will answer the question and will explore how bed bugs survive outside and where. We’ll also explain why you should stay vigilant, even if your home interior is presently free of these minute biting pests.
Last but not least, you’ll learn how to prevent them from infesting both the outside and inside of your property.
How do “indoor” bed bugs come to live out in your garden?
Bed bugs won’t settle outdoors by choice. They are either unknowingly brought or driven outside.
The insects are renowned for their hitchhiking skills, as they can easily attach themselves to bags, clothes and shoes and this way, travel any distance. On that note, you can bring bed bugs to your property by buying second-hand garden furniture, cushions, throw-overs for your outside sofa or fluffy toys.
“A pest control treatment indoors can drive away a few survivors that run for dear life but “decide” to stay close to the inhabited building – their valuable former abode.”commented Alexander Crawley, an entomology consultant at Fantastic Pest Control in Australia, “Those will sneak and hide in cracks of wooden furniture, outdoor structures, wood piles, upholstered outdoor furnishings, trampolines and more.” he adds.
How far can bed bugs travel outside?
Well, bed bugs can travel on foot, be it on grass or hard surfaces, which are not too smooth. Considering their tiny size (about 4mm), they can cover a relatively big distance of up to 20 feet per day (or night). So can bed bugs travel through grass house to house? Yes, they can.
The pests have the ability to sense the release of carbon dioxide from their potential hosts (when breathing), as well as their heat. This means that they may also drop by and visit you, after leaving a neighboring property for whatever reason, like running away from an insecticidal treatment, getting hungry in a recently abandoned house or looking for additional food sources, due to bed-bug overcrowding and competition or in other words – due to the expansion of their existing colony.
Sometimes, even the use of regular gardening tools like a lawn mower, a leaf rake or even gardening boots could help them cut the distance and infest a new area.
Why do bed bugs try everything to move inside your home?
Despite that this article has a focus on bed bugs living outdoors, it’s important to know that sooner or later, they’ll attempt to relocate indoors, to live with you.
Why? They need blood to survive.
The insects don’t feed onanything else. Moreover, it’s human blood that they are genetically programmed to thrive on and reproduce, with some exceptions. Some types of bed bugs live by feeding on bats.
Also, if starving and as a last resort, the human-insect pests may settle for an emergency feed, sourced from pets, chickens or other domesticated animals.
So, the vermin will be always attracted to inhabited properties and live, breed and grow their colony near people. Hence, their name, as well. After all, what better opportunity to feed than when their host is resting nonchalantly in bed, sound asleep.
Okay, but where do bed bugs hide outside?
Okay, then. Bed bugs will not hide in a flower patch or directly in the grass of your lawn, but they can colonize temporarily the reclaimed or repurposed wooden beams of your raised vegetable bed, for instance.
Also, it’s not unheard of to spot a family of bed bugs and their eggs in crevices of second-hand garden planters, made from wood, wicker, rattan or even plastic that imitates the structure of the last two. If you want to avoid uninvited guests, you may want to buy your gardening pieces, like planters, new.
As discussed earlier in the post, bed bugs will also happily wait outdoors for better times to come in the following:
Outdoor buildings- This includes wooden exterior and interior structural fixtures, cracks, holes and crevices in those, as well as infested items in a said outdoor building, which are made or part-made of fabric.
Patio furniture- Bed bugs will snuggle in wooden, wicker, rattan furniture, upholstered furniture, cushions, furnishing covers and blankets.
Your car, camper van- The pests may try to escape the cold by moving into any type of vehicle, parked on your property (you may also bring bed bugs to your property via your travels by car).
Garden structures and items- We could be talking, here, about pergolas, wooden trellises and frames, etc.
Firewood pile- Or the insects could be in a temporary hideout in wooden building material, stacked near your house.
General clutter- Again, be it inside an outdoor building or storage unit, or outside, somewhere you keep disused equipment under a cover, bed bugs will make use of any old electronic appliance (TVs, radios, etc.) or even old gardening equipment, like a broken lawn mower.
How long can bed bugs make it, if living outdoors?
How long bed bugs can live outside your house will depend on several factors. Weather conditions, the presence/absence of the pests’ natural predators, as well as the duration of food deprivation will play a crucial role.
On a more lighthearted note, their fate depends on how long bed bugs have remained undetected. If you spot them on your garden sofa, you’ll do something about it, right?
But let’s see what exactly kills bed bugs, outside a timely insecticidal treatment, and how long it would take for them to die outdoors.
Here is the right place to note that the vermin-insects possess superior survival skills.
The enemies of bed bugs
Bed bugs do have some natural predators, which will eat them without a blink. Masked hunters, Pharaoh ants, common cockroaches, some lizards and spiders will all gladly devour any bed bugs that cross their path.
Still, this doesn’t mean that predators are a reliable bed bug control solution, because it’s unlikely that they can eliminate an entire outdoor colony of vampire-insects.
The biting insects are able to reach adulthood only if they regularly eat blood. Also, female bed bugs won’t be able to lay eggs if blood is not available.
However, bed bugs can go on without food for a very long time. We’re talking months, up to 5 months in warm weather conditions. If temperatures are low, though, an adult bed bug will self-regulate its own body temperature in sync with that outside. The result is that the insect goes into a state, where the lack of food stops being an issue, for a long while at least.
In lab conditions, it’s been determined that some bed bugs can survive for over a year without a single blood meal. Nymphs however, will die out much sooner, of course.
Heat and cold
With respect to heat, bed bugs won’t survive a professional heat treatment. They will struggle with temperatures above 120° Fahrenheit (49°C). Naturally, such heat cannot happen outside, or at least in most places across the world. So, the scorching summer sun cannot drive bed bugs to extinction, with some exceptions, maybe – in the desert.
If you’re curious as to what temperature can kill bed bugs, check out this video.
Cold weather will also pose no huge risk to bed bug survival, unless the temperature plummets under 1° – 0°F (-18°C).
As we’ve explained above, their body temperature also drops so that they can preserve their energy and survive for a significant length of time.
How do you get rid of bed bugs?
You can take measures to prevent bed bugs from hanging in and around your property. Here’s how.
It’s harder to treat contaminated outdoor surfaces against bed bugs with success unless you apply a professional pest control method in a repeated manner, at an interval of 2-4 weeks.
For instance, a heat treatment will prove reliable, if applied in storage units, outdoor buildings and vehicles.
Vacuuming garden furniture and applying an insecticidal product will also reduce the population of bed bugs.
Additionally, you can seal wooden and rattan furnishings with a strong oil-based varnish after the treatment.
Most importantly, you can learn from our tips below how to minimize the risk of getting a bed bugs problem in the first place or if your property has suffered an infestation in the past:
Keep watch and stay vigilant;
If you spot bites on your skin, consider that it could be bed bugs;
Wash clothes, bags straight away after returning from a trip;
Inspect and clean the interior of your car (motor home) on a regular basis;
Keep clutter to a minimum in outdoor buildings and storage rooms inside your home;
Inspect second-hand furniture, even when bought from a trusted thrift store, or best try to avoid purchasing used items that can be easily infested;
Maintain a high level of cleanliness in your property;
Have regular bed bugs inspections by hiring a professional;
Treat your home now and again against the biting insects as a preventative measure;
Keep good relations with your neighbors – say, the house next door has bed bugs – your neighbor should ideally warn you if their property has been recently treated against the pests.
Tip: Never throw out contaminated furniture without treating it, first. Otherwise, this could spread the problem elsewhere and drive the bed bugs to someone else’s garden.