How Do Bed Bugs Look When They Die
ENTFACT-636: Bed Bugs | Download PDF | En Español
by Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
Until fairly recently, most people (and even pest control professionals) 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. The pests persisted, however, in some areas of the world including parts of Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Over roughly the past decade, bed bugs have made a dramatic comeback in the U.S.― they’re appearing increasingly in homes, apartments, hotels, health care facilities, dormitories, shelters, schools and public transportation. Other places where bed bugs sometimes occur include movie theaters, laundries, rental furniture, and office buildings. Immigration and international travel have contributed to the resurgence of bed bugs in the U.S. Changes in modern pest control practice, less effective insecticides ― and a decrease in societal vigilance ― are other factors suspected for the recurrence.
Description and Habits
Bed bugs are small, brownish, flattened insects that feed solely on the blood of animals. Although the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius)prefers feeding on humans, it will also bite other warm-blooded animals, including dogs, cats, birds and rodents. It has done so since ancient times; bed bugs are mentioned in medieval European texts and classical Greek writings back to the time of Aristotle.
Adult bed bug feeding on a human.
Adult bed bugs are about 3/16” long and reddish-brown, with oval-shaped, flattened bodies. They are sometimes mistaken for ticks, cockroaches, carpet beetles or other household insects. The immature bed bugs (nymphs) resemble the adults, but are smaller and lighter in color. 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. When first laid, the eggs are sticky, causing them to adhere to surfaces. At room temperatures, bed bug eggs hatch in about a week. Newly emerged nymphs are straw-colored and no bigger than a pinhead.
Adults, nymphs, eggs, shed skins, and fecal spots on a mattress.
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 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. Consequently, it is usually impractical to leave buildings unoccupied in hopes of ‘starving out’ an infestation. When infested dwellings such as apartments are vacated, bed bugs often disperse to nearby units, or reduce their activity until the unit is reoccupied.
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, but do tend to congregate in habitual hiding places. Characteristically, these areas are marked by dark spotting and staining, which is the dried excrement of the bugs. Also present will be hatched and un-hatched eggs, the tannish shed skins of maturing nymphs, and the bugs themselves. Another possible sign are rusty or reddish smears on bed sheets or mattresses from crushed engorged bed bugs. Although it’s often stated that bed bugs have a telltale “buggy” odor, the smell is seldom evident except in extreme infestations and should not be relied upon for detection.
Dark spots on mattress and box spring are a telltale sign of 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, i.e., beds, couches and recliners. If infestations are allowed to persist, they also may disperse to other locations within the dwelling making elimination more difficult.
Bites and Health Concerns
Bed bugs usually bite people at night while they are sleeping. Hungry bed bugs may also feed during the daytime, especially if this is when the occupant normally sleeps. They feed by piercing the skin with an elongated beak through which they withdraw blood. Engorgement of the bed bug takes roughly three to 10 minutes, but because the bite is painless, the person seldom realizes they are being bitten. Bed bugs normally do not reside on people like head or body lice do; instead, immediately after feeding, bed bugs crawl to a secluded location to digest their meal. Symptoms after being bitten by bed bugs vary from person to person. Many develop an itchy red welt within a day or so of the bite. Others have little or no reaction. Sometimes the reaction is delayed days or even weeks after the actual bite occurs, which can make it difficult to determine where or when bites actually occurred. Studies conducted in bed bug-infested apartments suggest about 30 percent of people do not react even when bitten repeatedly over time, and there is still higher incidence of non-reactivity among the elderly. Unlike flea bites, which occur mainly around the lower legs and ankles, bed bugs feed on any skin exposed while sleeping (face, neck, shoulders, back, arms, legs, etc.). The welts and itching are often wrongly attributed to other causes, such as mosquitoes. For these reasons, infestations may go a long time unnoticed, and can become quite large before being detected.
The likelihood of bed bugs increases if the affected individual has been traveling, or if they have acquired used beds or furnishings before symptoms started to appear. Bed bugs also are suspect if you wake up with itchy welts you did not have when you went to sleep. It’s important to recognize, however, that not all bite-like reactions are due to bed bugs. Confirmation requires finding and identifying the bed bugs, shed skins, fecal spots, etc., which often requires the help of a professional. (Other possible sources of irritation that may be mistaken for bed bugs are discussed in University of Kentucky entomology fact sheet ENT-58,Invisible Itches: Insect and Non-Insect Causes).
A common concern with bed bugs is whether or not they transmit diseases. Although bed bugs can harbor various pathogens, transmission to humans has not been proven and is considered unlikely. Their medical significance is most commonly attributed to itching and inflammation from their bites. Antihistamines and corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce allergic reactions, and antiseptic or antibiotic ointments to prevent infection. Though not known to carry diseases, bed bugs can substantially reduce quality of life by causing discomfort, sleeplessness, anxiety, and embarrassment. According to some health experts, the added stress from living with bed bugs can have a significant impact on the emotional health and well-being of certain individuals.
Conventional insect repellents, like those used to deter ticks and mosquitoes, do not appear to be as effective against bed bugs. Therefore, attempting to avoid being bitten by applying insect repellent at bedtime is not recommended. Sleeping with the lights on is also not likely to deter hungry bed bugs, as they will adjust their feeding cycle to the host’s sleeping patterns.
How Infestations Originate
It often seems that bed bugs arise from nowhere. The bugs are efficient hitchhikers and are usually transported into dwellings on luggage, clothing, beds, furniture, and other items. This is a particular risk for hotels and apartments, where turnover of occupants is constant. Bed bugs are small and agile, escaping detection after crawling into suitcases, backpacks and belongings. Acquiring secondhand beds, couches and furniture is another way that the bugs are transported into buildings. Bed bugs also can be carried in on one’s clothing, shoes or wheelchair. Once bed bugs are introduced, they can crawl from room to room or floor to floor. They can also be transported throughout buildings on people and their belongings.
Unlike cockroaches and flies that feed on filth, there is often no relationship between bed bugs and cleanliness. Since the bugs feed solely on blood, pristine dwellings can be as vulnerable to infestation as are places of squalor. That said, poverty and privation can lead to increased risk of bed bug problems, as can the inability to hire a professional exterminator.
Some bed bug species are parasites of bats or birds, and may bite people if the wild hosts are no longer available. Although similar in overall appearance, the species of bed bugs that normally feed on bats, swallows, chimney swifts, pigeons or other wild hosts can be differentiated from those that prefer humans. Entomologists and knowledgeable pest managers can make this determination. If bat bugs or bird bugs are present, roosting and nesting sites should be the primary focus, and the animals should be removed and excluded from the building.
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. Nonetheless, owners and occupants can assist the professional in several important ways. Affording access to all living areas is crucial, and excess clutter will need to be removed. Belongings strewn about rooms offer many places for the bugs to hide, and impede inspection and treatment. Since bed bugs can disperse throughout a building, it often will be necessary to inspect adjoining rooms and apartments as well.
Where They Hide
Bed bugs can live in almost any crevice or protected location. The most common place to find them is the bed or where people sleep. This is especially true during the early stages of a problem. As infestations grow larger, the bugs tend to move beyond beds into other locations making control more difficult.
Bed bugs most often congregate along seams and edges of
mattresses and box springs. Blackish spots are excrement.
Bed bugs often hide in seams, folds and crevices of mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards. A thorough inspection requires dismantling the bed so that upper and lower seams and surfaces can be examined. Things to look for are the bugs themselves, shed skins of the nymphs (immature bed bugs), and the blackish fecal spots. The dark spots of dried bed bug excrement are often present along mattress seams or wherever the bugs have resided. Box springs afford many places for bed bugs to hide, especially along the upper seams and underneath, where the bottom edge of the box rests on the frame. If an underlying dust cover is present, it may have to be removed to gain access for inspection and possible treatment. Successful treatment of mattresses and box springs can be difficult, however, and infested ones may need to be discarded or encased in a protective cover.
Cracks and crevices of bed frames should also be examined, especially if the frame is wood. (Bed bugs have an affinity for wood and fabric more so than metal or plastic.) Wooden support slats, if present, should be removed and examined since bed bugs often congregate where the ends rest on the frame. Screw holes, knots and other recesses are also common hiding places. Headboards secured to walls should be removed and inspected. In hotels, the area behind the headboard is often the first place that bed bugs become established. Bed bugs also frequently hide within items stored under beds.
Upholstered chairs, recliners and sofas are typically the next most likely area for bed bugs, and should be examined carefully along seams, skirts and folds of fabric. Sofas and recliners can be major bed bug hotspots, especially when used for sleeping. Like beds, they can be difficult to treat and sometimes may need to be discarded.
Bed bugs also congregate along seams of sofas and recliners. Photo at right shows
bugs hiding near a recessed screw under a night stand (note the presence of fecal spots).
Nightstands and dressers may need to be emptied and examined inside and out, and tipped over to inspect the woodwork underneath. Oftentimes the bugs will be hiding in cracks, corners, and recesses. Other common bed bug hiding places include: along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially behind beds and sofas; cracks in wood molding; ceiling-wall junctures; behind wall-mounted pictures, mirrors, outlets and switch plates; under loose wallpaper; clothing and clutter within closets; and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.
Bed bugs often reside along baseboards. Photo at right shows eggs,
nymphs, adults and fecal spots near a carpet edge.
Bed bugs tend to congregate, but it’s also common to find a single bug or some eggs here and there. A thorough inspection and treatment may take up to several hours. Some companies use specially trained dogs to assist in finding small dispersed infestations, especially in such places as hotels, schools, libraries and office buildings. When properly trained, bed bug detection dogs can be quite effective. Relatively few companies are routinely using them, however, due to the expense of training and maintaining such animals. Reliability of some of the dogs is also being questioned as more enter the market.
Preparing for Treatment
Preparing for bed bug treatment is tedious yet important. Very comprehensive preparation is necessary when infestations are heavy and the bugs are widely dispersed. More limited prep may be adequate for light infestations since at these levels the bed bugs typically are more confined to sleeping areas (beds, sofas, and recliners). Pest control firms have their own policies, however, regarding preparation requirements which may also depend on the manner of treatment.
Some firms want beds stripped and furniture moved before they arrive, while other firms prefer to inspect first and perform these tasks themselves. Clutter and belongings on floors (especially beneath beds) must be removed since they impede treatment and afford additional places for bugs to hide. Bedding and garments normally will need to be laundered and/or hot dried (120°F minimum) since they cannot be treated with insecticides. An effective and efficient alternative to laundering is to simply place bedding, clothing, toys, shoes, backpacks, etc., in a clothes dryer set at medium-to-high heat for 10 to 20 minutes. This can be done in lieu of washing and will kill all bed bug life stages.
According to textile experts (Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, Laurel, MD), most garments designated as ‘dry-clean only’ (e.g., cotton, wool, silk, linen, rayon, nylon) will not be harmed provided they are dry before being placed in a clothes dryer at a moderate temperature setting. Dry cleaning procedures also kill bed bugs, but there is a risk of infesting the establishment when buggy items are tagged and sorted.
Items that cannot be placed in a washer or dryer can sometimes be de-infested by wrapping them in plastic and placing them outdoors in a hot, sunny location for at least a day (for example, on pavement or in a closed vehicle parked in the sun). Packing items loosely in garbage bags and elevating objects off the ground helps the heat permeate further, and will make it harder for bugs to find a cool place to hide. Monitoring with a thermometer is prudent to ensure that a temperature of at least 120°F is achieved wherever the bugs may be.
Bed bugs will also succumb to cold temperatures below 32°F, but the freezing temperatures must be maintained for a longer period (e.g., one to two weeks). Consequently, heating tends to be a better option throughout much of the country. Efforts to rid entire dwellings of bed bugs by raising or lowering the thermostat will be unsuccessful, although pest control firms are able to achieve lethal temperatures with supplemental heaters (see the subsequent section entitled"Heat Treatments"for more details).
Discarding or Encasement
Although most furnishings need not be discarded, in some cases this may be necessary. This is especially true of heavily infested beds, sofas and recliners where bugs and eggs often reside in hard-to-reach places. Consequently, pest control firms may recommend such items be discarded, especially when in poor condition. When infested items are discarded, bagging or wrapping them prevents dislodgement of bugs en route to the trash.
In the case of beds, a more economical option is to encase both the mattress and box spring in a protective cover like those used for allergy relief. Encasements specifically designed to help protect against bed bugs are available through retail or pest control firms. Higher quality ones tend to be more durable and comfortable to sleep on. Once the encasement is installed and zipped shut, any bugs which happen to be inside are entombed and eventually will die. Encasements also help protect newly purchased beds, and make it easier to spot and destroy any bugs residing on the outer surface during subsequent examination. Encasements will not, however, keep bed bugs from crawling onto a bed and biting a sleeping person.
Encasements are an economical alternative to discarding infested beds.
Vacuuming, Steaming, Freezing
General housecleaning measures, (e.g. vacuuming floors and surfaces), seldom reach where bed bugs hide. For this reason, repetitive vacuuming by occupants may not be worth the effort, especially compared to other important preparatory activities. Targeted vacuuming of bed bugs and infested harborages, however, can help remove some of the bugs before other treatment measures are undertaken. Bed bugs and especially the eggs can be difficult to dislodge. Optimum results will be achieved by moving and scraping the end of the suction wand along infested areas such as seams and fabric folds of beds and sofas, and the perimeter edge of wall-to-wall carpet. Bed bugs can survive the high speed trip down a vacuum, so it’s important to carefully dispose of the vacuum contents in a sealed trash bag afterwards.
One trick to make this disposal easier involves using the cut-off end of a nylon stocking (or a knee-high nylon stocking) and a rubber band. Insert the stocking (toe first) into the end of the vacuum suction wand/tube, leaving the opening of the stocking protruding out of the end of the suction wand. Then fold the stocking opening back over the end of the wand and use the rubber band to secure it there. When the vacuum is turned on and the bed bugs are sucked into the tube, they will be trapped in the stocking. Afterwards, carefully remove the rubber band and retrieve the bug-filled stocking. Then secure the end of the stocking with the rubber band and dispose of it.
Some pest control firms also employ commercial steamers or spot-freezing equipment to treat areas where bed bugs are found or suspected. Used correctly, they kill bugs and eggs on contact. Neither method, however, affords residual protection against bed bugs which may have been missed. Steaming and spot-freezing equipment also have limited ability to penetrate fabric, wood, and other materials where bed bugs often reside.
Steaming (left) and spot-freezing (right) kill bugs and eggs on contact but afford no lasting protection
Some pest control firms utilize specialized heating equipment to de-infest furnishings, rooms, and entire dwellings. The procedure involves heating up the infested item or area to temperatures lethal to bed bugs. Portable heaters and fans are used to gradually heat the air to about 120 – 130°F while monitoring with strategically placed sensors. By carefully controlling the temperature, bugs and eggs are killed wherever they may be without damaging household items.
Some preparation is still required (e.g. removal of heat-sensitive items such as aerosol cans, indoor plants and medications), but it is seldom necessary to bag, launder and/or hot dry bedding and clothing since these items will be heated along with other furnishings. Another advantage of heat treatment is that infestations can often be eliminated in one day, rather than over multiple days or weeks. Conversely, heat treatment alone has no lasting (residual) effect should bed bugs be reintroduced into the dwelling. Consequently, some companies recommend concurrently applying residual insecticides. To further minimize reintroduction, occupants are advised to take as few belongings as possible with them while the heat treatment is in progress.
Heat treatments are an effective way to eliminate bed bugs quickly, but
tend to be more costly than conventional treatment methods.
Heat treatments require specialized training and equipment, and may be more costly than conventional approaches relying principally on insecticides.
While the former methods are helpful, insecticides are widely used by most pest control companies. A variety of EPA-registered materials are available formulated as liquids, dusts and aerosols. Baits used to control ants and cockroaches are ineffective in this case since bed bugs must bite and feed on blood. Professional-use insecticides such as Temprid®, Transport® and Phantom® tend to be more effective than bed bug sprays sold by retailers. Bleach, alcohol, cigarette lighters, etc. should NOT be used to control bed bugs. Besides being ineffective, such actions can result in fires and other dangerous outcomes.
Application entails treating all areas where the bugs are found or tend to hide or crawl. This takes considerable effort and follow-ups are usually needed. Companies typically treat seams, folds and crevices of bed components, chairs and sofas, but usually will not spray the entire sleeping surface or seating area. They also do not spray bed sheets, blankets or clothing, which instead should be hot washed or heated in a dryer.
Fumigation using a penetrating gas is another way to de-infest dwellings or furnishings, but the procedure is only offered by certain companies. True fumigation is not the same as setting off a total release fogger or ‘bug bomb.’ (It should be noted that bug bombs are considered ineffective in the treatment of bed bugs, and can be quite dangerous if misused.) The fumigation process is technically complex and requires vacating the building for a period of days. The building is then sealed and injected with a lethal gas, usually sulfuryl fluoride. Because the entire building must be vacated, structural fumigation is logistically more challenging with multi-unit buildings such as apartments, than for single family homes. Bed bug fumigations tend to be more common in southern and western states, where the procedure is also used to control certain types of wood-dwelling termites.
Considering how time-consuming and costly it can be to eradicate bed bugs, it’s prudent to take precautions and avoid infestations in the first place. Householders should be vigilant when acquiring used furnishings, especially beds and couches. Discarded items should be avoided, and secondhand articles should be examined closely before being brought into the home. Look carefully in the folds and seams of furniture for signs of bed bugs (see the previous section entitled "Description and Habits" for more details). There is no reason to stop shopping in consignment stores, yard sales, etc., but it would be prudent to run clothing and fabric items through the washer or dryer before storing them in the home. The risk of acquiring bed bugs from items purchased in antique stores would generally be insignificant.
Discarded beds and couches might be infested and should be left alone. Devices
such as the ClimbUp® can be placed under beds and sofas to help monitor for
bed bugs. Bugs that crawl into the plastic dishes cannot escape.
Avoiding bed bugs is most challenging in hotels, apartment buildings, and other places where there are many people, high turnover and ongoing opportunities for introduction of the pests.Periodic, preventive inspection by tenants, housekeeping/maintenance staff, or pest control firms is the best way to detect infestations in their initial stages when they are easiest to control.Visual inspections can be supplemented by using various monitoring devices to capture and reveal bed bugs that may have been overlooked by occupants.
Additional Tips for At-Risk Groups
Business and Leisure Travelers
Checking beds for bed bugs was a common practice long ago, especially while traveling. Travelers today should consider doing the same, preferably before unpacking. This would entail examining the bed sheets and seams of the mattress and perhaps box spring for signs of bed bugs, especially along the head (pillow end) of the bed. Experts also remove and check behind headboards since this is a frequent hiding place for bed bugs in hotels. Headboards are heavy and cumbersome, however, and untrained persons should not attempt removal themselves.
To help guard against bed bugs while traveling, take a moment to inspect
beds. A small flashlight is useful for dimly-lit areas.
Vigilant travelers may also want to elevate suitcases off the floor on a stand, tabletop or other hard surface rather than storing them on the floor or another bed. Hyper-vigilant travelers may further opt to keep belongings in sealed plastic pouches and their suitcase in a zippered tote — however each traveler must decide how cautious they wish to be.
While encountering bed bugs in hotels is possible, typically only a small number of rooms have problems. If bed bugs are discovered, guests can request another room, preferably in another area of the building, since problems often extend to nearby units. Should you experience itchy welts suggestive of bed bug bites during your stay, it would be prudent upon returning home to place all clothing directly into the washer and/or dryer. Inspecting or vacuuming luggage upon arrival home is less useful since it’s hard to spot bed bugs inside a suitcase. The suitcase itself can either be treated or discarded.
Social Service and Emergency Workers
Caregivers, firefighters, and other service providers are sometimes required to enter and work in bed bug-infested dwellings. In doing so, there is the potential to transport some bugs home or to the workplace. It should be noted that bed bugs do not fly, nor jump onto people/pets as fleas do. During the day, bed bugs usually remain hidden and immobile, becoming more active at night when seeking a host. Consequently, the chance of picking up bed bugs by merely walking into an infested dwelling during the day is unlikely. The risk may increase while providing care but can be lessened by taking some precautions.
Bring in only what is needed, and avoid sitting or placing coats and other items on beds, floors and sofas where the bugs commonly reside. Essential items can be placed on a tabletop or other hard surface, preferably away from bedrooms and sleeping areas. Better to sit on a hard (non-upholstered) chair than on sofas and recliners. Also try to avoid leaning or brushing against beds and upholstered furniture. If such items are carried out of infested dwellings (e.g., by sanitation workers or firefighters), it’s best to wrap them in plastic or at least not hold them against your body during transport. Emergency Medical (EMS) personnel may need to take additional precautions, such as removing a patient’s bed bug-infested shoes or clothing, or installing plastic sheeting before transporting them in the emergency vehicle.
As mentioned earlier, applying insect repellent at bedtime will probably not deter bed bugs from biting. When working in severely infested dwellings, there may be some benefit to spraying tops and bottoms of shoes with DEET-based repellents. Those working in bed bug-infested environments may also want to hot wash or run clothing, etc. through a dryer upon returning home or to the office.
Schools and Daycares
Bed bugs are a growing problem in schools and daycares. Typically they are introduced by students or staff living with an infestation at home. Pinpointing where the bugs exist can be challenging in such environments since there are no beds or sleeping areas for the insects to congregate. (Similar challenges occur when bed bugs are found in offices, libraries and retail stores.) Usually only small numbers of bed bugs are spotted, often on a student’s clothing, backpack, chair or desk. While this does not necessarily confirm that the child’s residence also has bed bugs, the parents should be notified that the home should be inspected, preferably by a professional. Teachers, nurses, and staff should be educated about the bugs and what they look like. Bed bugs should also be considered if a student frequently has reddened itchy welts –but keep in mind such reactions can be for reasons other than bed bugs.
Bed bug incidents in schools are best handled by knowledgeable pest control firms. Widespread insecticide treatment of classrooms, hallways, buses, etc. is unnecessary, ineffective and imprudent. Effort instead should be spent checking chairs, desks, lockers, coat rooms, etc. in the vicinity of where the bugs were found, and treatment should be focused on those specific areas. Canine inspections can also be useful in finding small numbers of bed bugs in schools and other establishments where there are no beds.
Those Who Cannot Afford a Professional
Bed bug eradication is challenging and it’s prudent to hire a professional when resources allow. However treatment can be expensive, often costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. Those who cannot afford this often must cope with the problem themselves. A useful step that anyone can take to combat bed bugs is to install bed encasements. Covering the mattress and box spring can help eliminate a substantial portion of the bed bug population — especially if discovered early while most of the bugs are still confined to the bed area. Extra care should be taken when installing budget encasements since these can tear easily, especially on metal bed frames. Ideally both the mattress and box spring should be encased. If only one encasement is possible it’s often best to cover the box spring which is harder to subsequently inspect.
A torn encasement may no longer be effective.
With practice and a flashlight, nonprofessionals can become proficient in finding and destroying bed bugs. The process is made easier by reducing clutter, especially in bedrooms and sleeping areas. Bugs that are spotted can be removed with a vacuum (see previous discussion), or killed with over-the-counter insecticides labeled for such use. Most bed bug sprays intended for householders have little remaining effect after the spray has dried. Therefore it’s important to initially contact as many of the insects as possible with the spray droplets. Insecticide labels should be read carefully as some bed bug products should not be used on mattresses and seating areas. Some insecticides applied as powders or dusts (e.g., diatomaceous earth) will kill bed bugs although boric acid powder will not. However powders can be messy and difficult to apply, especially by nonprofessionals. Total release foggers (otherwise known as ‘bug bombs’) are ineffective against bed bugs and potentially dangerous when used incorrectly (see University of Kentucky entomology fact sheet Limitations of Home Insect Foggers).
Insecticide dusts should never be applied this heavy. A light deposit is all
that’s needed and is best accomplished with a professionally-designed duster.
Monitoring devices such as the previously mentioned ClimbUp® are useful for confirming the presence of bed bugs when a visual inspection cannot. When installed under bed legs, they also provide a barrier between floor and bed which can potentially reduce bites, especially when beds are pulled slightly away walls and encased.
The incidence of bed bugs in the United States and in many countries of the world has increased to the point where vigilance is a prudent practice. Some common sense tactics and taking modest precautions can go a long way towards helping avoid infestation.
Portuguese Translation:Prepared by Artur Weber & Adelina Domingos
CAUTION!Pesticide recommendations in this publication are registered for use in Kentucky, USA ONLY! The use of some products may not be legal in your state or country. Please check with your local county agent or regulatory official before using any pesticide mentioned in this publication.
Of course,ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS FOR SAFE USE OF ANY PESTICIDE!
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
Bed bugs have small, flat, oval-shaped bodies. They are wingless. Adults do have the vestiges of wings called wing pads, but they do not fully develop into functional wings.
Adults are brown in color, although their bodies redden after feeding. Full-grown bed bugs move relatively slowly and measure between 4 to 5 mm. Homeowners sometimes have the misconception that bed bugs are too small to see with the naked eye. The nymphs may be small and difficult to see, but the adults are detectable with the naked eye and may be found in the cracks and crevices they use to hide.
Newly hatched nymphs are approximately the size of the head of a pin and are white or tan until they feed. They often are described as being about the size and shape of an apple seed.
Bed Bug Control
Cimex lectularius L.
Learn what bed bugs look like, and how to detect if you have a bed bug Infestation.
Find out how bed bugs infiltrate your home and where they are attracted to.
Learn about bed bug bites. their feces and how they can impact your health.
Learn how Orkin handles bed bugs, homeopathic cures and the cost of bed bug extermination services.
HOW LONG CAN BED BUGS LIVE WITHOUT FEEDING?
How long can bed bugs live without blood? The answer depends on the age of the bed bug, if it is resistant to certain pesticides and the temperature range it is exposed to. “How long can bed bugs live without feeding before becoming adults?” is the first question to ask yourself.
A newly hatched bed bug is called a nymph. Nymphs go through five stages before becoming mature adults. When a bug molts, it sheds its skin. Immature bed bugs molt five times before reaching maturity and must feed in between every molt. For that reason, nymphs must feed more often. Despite their young age, newly hatched bed bugs can still survive for at least a few weeks without feeding.
But if nymphs can survive weeks without feeding, how long can bed bugs live without blood after maturity? That depends. When living in warm conditions, bed bugs will usually try to feed at regular intervals. Adult bed bugs can survive for about five months without a blood meal.
Once the bed bug settles on a host, it will feed for a few minutes. Length of feeding depends on the stage of development, how much it ate last time and how long it’s been since it last fed. After the bed bug is full, it will leave the host and return to a crack or crevice, typically where other bed bugs are gathered.
Bed bugs usually feed every three to seven days, which means that most of the population is in the digesting state, and not feeding much of the time. However, because bed bug infestations can spread so rapidly, it can often feel like you are waking up with new bites every morning. This can lead to high stress levels and a lack of sleep.
Don’t let bed bugs get the best of you. A pest control specialist can help you kick bed bugs out of your house and keep them out.
Polanco AM, Miller DM, Brewster CC. Survivorship During Starvation for Cimex lectularius L.. Insects. 2011; 2(2):232-242.
Controlling Bed Bugs by Hand
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Do-it-yourself bed bug control starts with carefully looking for bed bugs and squashing them or capturing them. To be successful you have to be patient and check all the places bed bugs may be hiding. This method will not kill all the bugs at once, but it can reduce the number of bed bugs in your home if done repeatedly.
Tools necessary to kill bed bugs by hand
Tools needed to find and kill bed bugs are easy to use and available at hardware stores or around your home. These include:
- A flashlight:Bed bugs hide in dark areas and in cracks and crevices. Bed bugs are a dark red to brown color, but they can be light brown if they haven’t been feeding. This makes it very hard to see them. When hunting for bed bugs hold your flashlight parallel to the surface being inspected, this will cause eggs and small bed bugs to cast a shadow, making them easier to find.
- A playing card or old credit card:Use one that is plastic or that has a plastic coating which allows their edges to be pushed into cracks and crevices. By moving the card’s edge along cracks and crevices, you can push bed bugs out where they can be captured or killed.
- A roll of tape:Wide, clear plastic shipping tape is a good option because it enables you to capture bed bugs, and it provides a closer look at them to confirm that it is a bed bug. As you see insects, or as you are digging along cracks and crevices, have a sticky edge of the tape exposed to quickly trap bed bugs.
- A cloth and hot soapy water:Like the sticky tape, a cloth with hot water can be useful for capturing bed bugs. Have a bucket of water handy and as you wipe an area, check the surface of the cloth for bed bugs and then immerse the cloth in the bucket. Wring the cloth to remove excess water; you do not need to soak the surface that you are wiping. Also, check the area that you just wiped because heat may cause hungry bed bugs to move. The cloth is particularly effective when you find a cluster or group of bed bugs. Keep in mind that wet surfaces will reduce the effectiveness of sticky tape as a trapping method.
- Plastic bags:Shopping bags and garbage bags are useful for holding items like clothes and bedding that may be infested. Placing infested items in bags will help you move these items without spreading bed bugs into other areas.
- Mattress Encasements:Mattress encasements are large “fabric bags” that you place a mattress inside. Once zippered closed, any surviving bed bugs will eventually starve. You will need an encasement for each mattress and box-spring in your home. If there are bed bugs in your mattress or box-spring they will start to die within two weeks, inside an encasement, but encasements should be left on for at least a year.There are many types of encasements so it is important to make sure you use an encasement designed for bed bug control.
Establishing the Clean Zone
To begin your search for bed bugs establish a clean zone into which you can move furniture and items which you have inspected and cleaned to reduce the chance that they will be re-contaminated.
Start in the corners and along edges of an open wall. With the card, see if you can dig things out of the cracks and crevices. Work your way along the cracks and crevices. For example, if you are checking a baseboard along the floor, see if you can get the card between the baseboard and the floor, as well as the top of the baseboard and the wall. If you have a bare tile or wood floor, consider using a damp cloth or map to wipe the floor. Don’t use too much water as floors can be slippery. Look for anything moving after you wipe the floor. If you have carpeted areas vacuum the clean area. SeeVacuuming Items to Capture Bed Bugs.Don’t forget to check pictures and other items on this wall.
You are now ready to inspect other items and put these into the clean zone. As you continue to move things into the clean zone, more of the room will open and you can expand this clean zone. Using this method means you will not have to move furniture and items more than twice. This will allow you to concentrate on searching for bed bugs, rather than moving furniture.
Sort clothes, bedding, and other items that can be laundered. Fewer things to inspect mean an easier job. See:Laundering Items to Kill Bed Bugs
Searching for Bed Bugs
With your tools by you, begin searching for bed bugs. Remember what you are looking for: adults, young bed bugs, eggs, molted skins and fecal spots. More information on how to identify bed bugs can be found in the factsheet titledHave I found a Bed Bug?
Start with the bed, including mattress, box-spring and bed frame. Inspect the visible areas first. Look along all edges and corners. Also check along all stitch lines and the mattress label. Five sides the mattress can be checked while the mattress is on the bed. When you are finished checking the upper surfaces, you can then stand the mattress upright so you can check the bottom of the mattress.
Repeat this same search with the box-spring. The only difference is that box-springs usually have plastic edge guards and a loose fabric called “ticking” stapled on the underside. These seams and edges on the underside of the box-spring are very common hiding places for bed bugs. To ensure there are no bed bugs inside the box-spring, you should remove the ticking and check the wood, cracks and crevices, and screw holes within. After inspection, the ticking can be re-stapled in place.
Check all sides of the bed frame, even if it is a metal frame. Pay attention to where the frame is joined together and any overlapping parts. The headboard and footboard are particular areas where bed bugs may set up their first infestation. Carefully check all surfaces, and look closely at any slots, screw holes and cracks in the furniture.
After the bed is complete, continue with any furniture that is in the room. Preferably, the larger furniture should be inspected first because it can be placed safely against the wall, in the clean zone, and other items can be placed around the larger furniture.
Start with the visible areas of furniture first. Look along all edges, corners and overhangs. Carefully look at molding details and any gaps. Move the furniture out from the wall and check the back. Look closely at the seam along the backer board and any screw holes.
Remove any drawers and check all sides, corners and edges. Remove items from the drawers and sort for laundering or other appropriate treatment.
Once the furniture is empty, you will need to check the bottom. You may have to obtain help to move the furniture and place it on its side. Make sure you take steps to protect the finish of the furniture – use a towel or soft item between the furniture and the floor.
Continue checking furniture and other items until everything is in the clean zone. You may have to expand the clean zone two or three times to accommodate everything. To expand the clean zone follow the same steps that you used to originally establish the clean zone.
After you are finished with all the furniture and objects in the room check the remaining areas of the room that are not in the clean zone. As described above check along baseboards, and in any other cracks or crevices.
Once you are finished, put the furniture back and do your laundry. Anything that was not inspected will have to undergo one of the other control methods (freezing, steam) or you will have to consider discarding the item.
It is highly recommended that you put mattress encasements on your mattress and box-spring. Encasements reduce the number of areas you would have to re-inspect and make it easier to find and control bed bugs in the future.
Everything You Need to Know About Bed Bug Bites
Bedbugs are small insects that feed on blood from humans or animals. They can live in your bed, furniture, carpet, clothing, and other belongings. They’re most active at night, feeding on people while they sleep.
Bedbugs can be 1 to 7 millimeters long. They’re flat, oval-shaped, and reddish-brown in color. They don’t have wings, so they rely on animals or humans to carry them from one place to another.
Although bedbug bites are rarely dangerous, they can be very itchy. In some cases, they become infected or cause an allergic reaction.
If you suspect there are bedbugs living in your home, it’s important to get rid of them.
Some people don’t develop noticeable symptoms from bedbug bites. When symptoms do develop, the bites tend to be:
- red and swollen, with a dark spot at the center of each bite
- arranged in lines or clusters, with multiple bites grouped together
Bedbugs can bite any part of your body. But they’ll usually bite areas of skin that are exposed while you sleep, such as your face, neck, arms, and hands. In some cases, the bites may develop into fluid-filled blisters.
If a bedbug bites your skin, you won’t feel it right away because the bugs excrete a tiny amount of anesthetic before feeding on people. It can sometimes take a few days for symptoms of bed bug bites to develop.
Bedbug bites often become noticeably red and swollen. Multiple bites may appear in a line or cluster in a small area of your body. The bites tend to be itchy. They may cause a burning sensation.
If you have bedbugs living in your home, they may not feed every single night. In fact, they can go multiple days without eating. It might take a few weeks to realize that the bites are part of a larger pattern.
Scratching bug bites can cause them to bleed or become infected. Learn more about the symptoms of an infected bug bite.
If you suspect there are bedbugs in your home, look for signs of them in your bed and other areas. For example, they often hide in:
- box springs
- bed frames
- pillows and bedding
- cracks or seams of furniture
- carpeting around baseboards
- spaces behind light switches and electrical outlet plates
You may see the bugs themselves. You may also find drops of blood or small black dots of bug droppings in your bed. If you find bedbugs, call your landlord or a pest control company.
To contain and eliminate the infestation, it helps to:
- Vacuum and steam-clean your floors, mattresses, furniture, and appliances.
- Launder your linens, drapes, and clothing using the hottest settings of your washing machine and dryer.
- Seal items that can’t be laundered in plastic bags and store them for several days at 0°F (-17°C) or for several months at warmer temperatures.
- Heat items that can be safely heated to 115°F (46°C).
- Fill gaps around your baseboards and cracks in furniture with caulking.
Several insecticides are also available to kill bedbugs. A pest control company may have access to insecticides or equipment that might be difficult for you to buy, rent, or use on your own. Find more tips for managing bedbug infestations and learn when to call a professional.
In most cases, bedbug bites get better within one to two weeks. To relieve symptoms, it may help to:
- Apply anti-itch cream or calamine lotion to bites.
- Take an oral antihistamine to reduce itching and burning.
- Use an over-the-counter pain reliever to relieve swelling and pain.
In rare cases, bedbug bites can cause allergic reactions. If you develop signs or symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, call 911.
Sometimes, bedbug bites can cause an infection known as cellulitis. To reduce the risk of infection, wash the bites with soap and water and try not to scratch them. Learn when it’s time to visit your doctor for treatment.
In addition to over-the-counter medications, there are several home remedies that may help relieve the symptoms of bedbug bites.
To soothe bitten areas, it may help to apply one or more of the following:
- a cold cloth or an ice pack wrapped in a towel
- a thin paste of baking soda and water
- certain types of essential oils
Although more research is needed, some studies suggest that camphor oil, chamomile oil, or some other types of essential oil may help relieve bug bites. Take a moment to learn more about seven essential oils that might help treat bites.
If you suspect that your baby or child has been bitten by bedbugs, check their sheets, mattress, bed frame, and nearby baseboards for signs of the bugs.
To treat bedbug bites on your baby or child, wash the bites with soap and water. Consider applying a cold compress or calamine lotion.
Talk to your child’s doctor or pharmacist before using topical steroid creams or oral antihistamines to treat the bites. Some medications may not be safe for babies or young children.
If your child is old enough to understand your instructions, ask them not to scratch the bites. To prevent scratching, it may also help to trim your child’s nails and cover the bites with a bandage.
Bedbug bites and fleabites are quite similar in appearance. Both can cause red bumps to form on your skin. Both can be very itchy.
When fleas bite you, they typically bite the lower half or your body or warm, moist areas around joints. For example, they may bite:
- your feet
- your legs
- your armpits
- the inside of your elbows or knees
Bedbugs are more likely to bite upper parts of your body, such as your:
If you suspect that bedbugs or fleas have bitten you, check for signs of the bugs in your home. Bedbugs often hide in the seams of mattresses, cracks of bed frames and headboards, and baseboards around beds. Fleas tend to live on family pets and in carpet or upholstered furniture.
If you find bedbugs or fleas, it’s important to treat your home or pet to get rid of them. Get the information you need to identify and treat infestations of these pests.
Bedbug bites and mosquito bites can both be red, swollen, and itchy. If you have a line of bites that appear in a small area of your body, they’re more likely to be bedbug bites. Bites that appear in no apparent pattern are more likely to be mosquito bites.
Both bedbug bites and mosquito bites tend to get better on their own, within a week or two. To relieve itching and other symptoms, it may help to apply a cold compress, calamine lotion, or other topical treatments. Taking an oral antihistamine can help as well.
It’s also possible to confuse bedbug bites with spider bites, ant bites, or other insect bites. Find out more about the differences between these types of bites.
Sometimes, people mistake hives for bedbug bites. Hives are red bumps that can develop on your skin as a result of an allergic reaction or other cause. Like bedbug bites, they’re often itchy.
If you develop red bumps on your skin that get larger, change shape, or spread from one part of your body to another in a short period of time, they’re more likely to be hives.
A small group or line of bumps that appear on one part of your body without changing shape or location are more likely to be bedbug bites.
If you develop hives along with breathing difficulties, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting, get medical help right away. You might be experiencing anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Learn more about anaphylaxis and other potential causes of hives.
Spider bites can be red and itchy, much like bedbug bites. But unlike bedbugs, spiders rarely bite more than once. If you only have one bite on your body, it’s probably not from bedbugs.
Spider bites often take longer to heal than other types of bug bites. Some spider bites can cause serious damage to your skin, especially if they get infected. To reduce the risk of infection, wash any bug bites with soap and water.
Some spiders are poisonous. If you suspect a poisonous spider has bitten you, get medical help right away.
Bedbugs can live in any home or public area. But they’re common in places that have a lot of people, a lot of turnover, and close quarters. You may be at increased risk for encountering bedbugs if you live or work in a:
- homeless shelter
- military barrack
- college dorm
- apartment complex
- business office
Unlike some types of bugs, bedbugs don’t transmit diseases when they bite. But in some cases, bedbug bites can become infected. Potential signs and symptoms of an infection include:
- pain and tenderness radiating from the bite
- redness, swelling, or warmth around the bite
- red streaks or spots near the bite
- pus or drainage from the bite
- dimpling of your skin
If have a bedbug allergy, you may also develop an allergic reaction after being bitten. This may cause painful swelling or intense itching around the bite. In some cases, it can also trigger a potentially life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.
If you suspect that you’ve developed an infection or allergic reaction to a bedbug bite, contact your doctor. Get emergency medical care if you develop any of the following after being bitten:
- trouble breathing
Bedbugs don’t just bite humans. They can also feed on family pets.
If you have a pet who’s been bitten by bedbugs, the bites will likely get better on their own. But in some cases, they might become infected. Make an appointment with a veterinarian if you suspect your pet has an infected bite.
If you hire a pest control expert to get rid of bedbugs in your home, let them know if you have a pet. Some insecticides may be safer for your pet than others. It’s also important to wash your pet’s bed, stuffed toys, and other accessories where bedbugs may be living.