How Do Bed Bugs Sense Humans
Everything you never wanted to know about bed bugs, and more
Chercheur à l’Institut de systématique, évolution, biodiversité (UMR 7205 MNHN-CNRS-UPMC-EPHE), Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (MNHN)
Romain Garrouste has received financing from the MNHN, CNRS, National Geographic, LABEX BCDiv, ANR, Sorbonne Universités and the Ile de France region, among others.
Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle provides funding as a member of The Conversation FR.
The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations
If some insects could save the world, others do their best to seriously complicate life on Earth. Among them the prize perhaps goes to the bed bug, which after decades of absence has returned to our homes, hotels and public facilities to seriously disturb us.
These intrepid little insects aren’t picky about where they set up shop – luxury suites and hospitals, public housing and rich neighbourhoods are all equally attractive to them. Given that bed bugs like to hang out where people congregate in the largest numbers, however, they prefer the city over the country.
So why have bed bugs returned, why are they so successful and what solutions exist to help us get rid of them? And beyond our fears and phobias, what is the true impact of these little demons?
What do they want?
The bed bug,Cimex lectularius, is a small insect, generally 6mm in length (about a quarter inch). It feeds exclusively on human blood and has great sensory capabilities that allow it to detect its prey even in complete darkness.
The insect’s biology reflects its role as an external parasite: high fertility (a single female can lay up to 500 eggs), the ability to resist deprivation (it can go three months or more without feeding) and high mobility.
While the bed bug long ago lost its wings, it’s perfectly adapted to be transported by its hosts and their belongings – it can hitch a ride on clothing, furniture, luggage and more.
Another peculiarity that may explain the bed bug’s success is its curious mode of reproduction – males inject their sperm directly into the abdomen of females using a syringe-like organ, a process called traumatic insemination.
To locate others of its species, and thus regroup, bed bugs have an effective chemical ecology, including an odour that humans can smell.
Traumatic copulation by a maleCimex lectularius. The ventral shell of the female (above) is pierced by the male’s syringe-like organ. Rickard Ignell/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA
Blood meals are needed for the adults to lay eggs and for the larvae to complete their development. The insect’s bite and its saliva causes itching and allergies, as well as social phobias and even outsized fears.
But rest assured: even in the most highly infested setting, the bed bugs’ small size means that they only withdrawn a tiny quantity of blood – there’s no risk of anaemia, even if our discomfort remains.
Because of its age-old companionship with humans, bed bugs are one of the most widely distributed insects in the world. They can live in polar latitudes, high altitudes, deserts and… everywhere else.
In the tropics, a second species proliferates,Cimex hemipterus, now also present in Europe (in south of France). It has same way of life and the same appetite for human blood.
Nice and warm, in the cave…
But why does this darn bug “love” us so much? Part of the family Cimicidae, this strict hematophagous – meaning “blood eating” – insect can only survive thanks to hot-blooded hosts. Some specialize in bats, others on birds. Two are particularly fond of humans,C. lectulariusandC. hemipterus.
All bed bugs are equipped with mouthpieces that have been transformed to bite through the integumentary system of its host – the skin, fur or feathers that protect it. All the species of this family (there are about a hundred in the world) live at the expense of their hosts, and feed on them in their nests or special habitats such as caves.
This is where climate change comes in. Not today, but tens of thousands of years ago. The first modern human populations had to deal with several glaciations – the previous one in Europe lasted from the period -115,000 to -10,000.
Given the cold climate in formerly temperate areas, humans sheltered themselves in caves when possible. Unfortunately,Cimicidaeand other parasites already lived there, taking advantage of the presence of birds, bats and other hot-blooded mammals.
Bites fromCimex lectularius. Hermann Luyken/Wikimedia
It is thought that bed bugs’ developed their fondness for humans and their blood during this time. They then hitched a ride with us on our migrations during warmer weather, and a true domestication – known as commensalism, to be precise – was established.
While still theoretical, this hypothesis is supported by genetic analysis of two lineages of bed bugs: one feeds off bats, the other off humans. There is also archaeological evidence of the presence ofCimicidaein early human settlements. And looking farther back, the first knownCimicidae, found in Burmese amber dating about 99 million years ago, had wings.
This relative long history is perhaps only the beginning, because it seems that there has not yet been an adaptation of human pathogens to take advantage of this “new” vector.
While the bites of bed bugs are unpleasant, they’re not particularly dangerous. This is a crucial problem: if the viruses bacteria that infect humans could be transmitted through bed-bug bites, what does the future hold for us?
Why have they returned?
While bed bugs had followed humankind and lived off our blood for millennia, beginning in the 1950s we got the upper hand through improved living conditions and the use of synthetic insecticides.
The bed bugs simply bided their time, and were able to make a comeback thanks to a phenomenon known as pesticide resistance. This has allowed them to progressively rebuild their populations and reconquer territories from which they’d been banished. Any new pesticides would inevitably fall victim to the same process.
Our increased ability to travel has also played a role in the bed bugs’ return, as well as the psychological and social stigma associated with infestations. For example, if bed bugs move into your town’s luxury hotel, are its owners likely to want big red pest-control van out front? Not particularly.
Sniffing them out
When it comes to fighting bed bugs, detection is the first step. Given that these insects have millions of years of experience hiding from their annoyed hosts, specially trained dogs can sometimes be used.
If bed bugs have one weakness, it’s that they’re intolerant of extremely high or low temperatures. Washing clothes and bedding at the highest possible setting followed by drying for at least 30 minutes at high heat should do the trick. You can also freeze clothing or other objects you suspect of being infested.
There are also traditional methods: for example, the sticky leaves of some plants can be used to trap them, and it is known that powdery substances repel them. A bed with its four feet placed in low dishes filled with flour or diatomaceous earth is thus protected. But remember that bed bugs can also drop from the ceiling…
A combination of early detection, careful hygiene and continuous control afterward (to prevent any remaining bed bugs from feeding, and thus causing them to eventually die of hunger) is essential.
But remember that the bed bug is devious: in the absence of food or at low temperatures, adults can enter a state of dormancy called diapause that allows them to wait for a better tomorrow.
On your nice clean sheets, an unwanted guest. Romain Garrouste , CC BY
While bed bugs themselves are preyed on by spiders and centipedes, any kind of biological control would be complex to implement. Indeed, despite such predators’ proven effectiveness, it seems counter-intuitive to release evenmoreinsects in your house to fight bed bugs.
The scene of the crime
Thus while bed bugs aren’t particularly nice companions to have, there are ways to fight back, and for now at least they don’t spread serious diseases. But this situation could change and it’s worth considering improving how we control these unwanted guests.
But there’s one aspect – albeit a slightly gruesome one – where bed bugs could remain useful: Because human DNA can persist for up to 90 days after a blood meal, police investigators could potentially use them in criminal investigations. The bed bug could thus help found a new branch of police science, “forensic hematophagy”.
This article was originally published in French
How Do Bed Bugs Find You?
August 23, 2018 by pb
Bed bugs can see you!
Well. No not really. They have eyes. But that’s not necessarily how they see you.
But what bed bugs do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills they have acquired over a very long period of time. Skills that make them a nightmare for people like you and me.
Although bed bugs aren’t quite on Liam Neeson level of finding people, they are excellent at finding humans.
So how do they do it? How do bed bugs find you?
Bed Bugs are attracted to the Co2 we exhale (especially to at night when a large cloud of it hangs over us like a large neon sign), the warmth of our bodies, and even our smell!
But, How Do Bed Bugs Find Us?
Bedbugs are adapted to find food (us) from thermal signature (heat) and then feed by locating and piercing skin. This approach has been used to make artificial feeders for laboratory studies and the work of the Sheffield University Entomology group in creating these feeders confirms that bed bugs cannot lap up blood from a heated pool.
Blood itself is not an attractive for bedbugs. The bugs find us by warmth and CO2.
When you’re going to bed, most likely you’re the warmest thing in a bedroom (especially if you’ve given up incandescent light bulbs and switched to LEDs). All of the furniture in the room is at about room temperature, usually between 68 and 85 degrees as determined by the temperature outside or your home’s ventilation system.
So you’re lying there in bed with a toasty core temperature 98.6 degrees, with a skin temperature of about 91 degrees. Bed bugs are attracted to this warmth and will seek you out.
Your body heat is an attractant but only close up, like 8-10 inches. Other factors may entice the bed bugs from further away (CO2) but once they get in range and can feel the heat that driving element takes over and the bugs come right for you.
Did you know that bed bugs can sense Carbon dioxide? Yeah, weird right?
There have been numerous entomological studies showing not only the bed bugs attraction to C02 but specifically the appeal of the release of CO2 that is consistent with our sleeping patterns.
There was a presentation at the National Pest Management Association’s national conference on bed bugs (PestWorld) where C02 was used as an attractant between two diametric poles with nearly 85% of the bugs moving towards the C02 pole.
The numbers of bedbugs captured were 656 and 5898 in traps without and with CO2 , respectively. The numbers of bedbugs of all development stages captured were significantly greater in traps with CO2.
CO2 is a universal thing around humans. We exhale it with every breath we take. When we sleep, we emitted carbon dioxide, and a cloud of it sits in the room, lingering. That lingering CO2 is a giant flashing neon arrow over your body advertising an “all you can eat buffet” to bed bugs.
You might try sleeping with a ceiling fan on, which can distribute the carbon dioxide evenly throughout the room. That might work well if it were their only way of detecting you, but unfortunately, they can also locate you other numerous ways.
Bed bugs like the smell of us!
An interesting twist to the bed bugs phenomenon is their attraction to dirty laundry.
In an article on popsci.com, discusses bed bugs attraction to dirty laundry and how researchers tested their hypothesis.
Researchers asked volunteers to wear white cotton t-shirts and socks for three hours in the afternoon, then placed the soiled items into plain cotton tote bags. Then they fed precisely 10 bed bugs a diet of fresh human blood and placed them in a container at the center of a controlled room. Four bags, two
with dirty laundry and two with clean versions of the same clothes, were spaced at even intervals in a cross pattern around the bugs.
Once the bed bugs had acclimated to their new home, the container was lifted; they had four days to explore the room. In some runs, the room also contained a block of dry ice to simulate a sleeping human. When the group repeated this multiple times and gathered all the data, they found that bed bugs were twice as likely to make their home in dirty laundry as they were clean laundry. They didn’t wander aimlessly around the room or hide in a corner—they actively chose to live inside the clothes that smelled of human.
This is an excellent thing to remember when you’re on vacation. Keep your dirty laundry in a sealed bag and throw in the dryer when you get home to be sure to kill off any traveling bed bugs.
Insects and Ticks > Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are well known as annoying biting pests, and they are increasing in importance, including in hotels and other lodging establishments in the U.S. You are encouraged to learn more about the biology of bed bugs and their association with homes, apartments, hotels, and lodging establishments so that you can make more informed decisions about health risks, how to protect yourself when traveling, and whether bed bug control is warranted in a residence or lodging establishment.
Are Bed Bugs a Public Health Risk?
Bed bugs require blood in order to reproduce and complete their life cycle. The effect of bed bug bites varies among people, but they eventually produce red welts that itch. The bites themselves are not painful and typically are not felt. However, frequent feeding can disrupt people’s sleep and make them irritable, and seeing bites may cause emotional distress in some people. Heavy rates of feeding can result in significant blood loss and eventually lead to anemia, especially in malnourished children.
At least 27 agents of human disease have been found in bed bugs, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and parasitic worms. None of these agents reproduce or multiply within bed bugs, and very few survive for any length of time inside a bed bug. There is no evidence that bed bugs are involved in the transmission (via bite or infected feces) of any disease agent, including hepatitis B virus and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Bed bugs belong to the family Cimicidae of the insect order Hemiptera, the group of insects known as "true bugs." In addition to the three species that are associated with humans, there are at least 88 species of Cimicidae in the world that live with and feed on bats or birds. Approximately 10-12 species of these bugs occur in the continental U.S., including four species in Indiana. Two species are known as "bat bugs," one is known as a "swallow bug," and one is known as a "purple martin bug." Bat bugs and swallow bugs typically feed on their bat or bird hosts, but will feed on humans if their normal sources of blood are not available. The effects of their bites are similar to those associated with the bites of bed bugs. There is no evidence that bat bugs and swallow bugs transmit disease agents to humans.
There are two additional groups of Hemiptera that bite humans, the so-called "kissing bugs" and "assassin bugs," both of which belong to the family Reduviidae. Kissing bugs feed on the blood of mammals and birds, and transmit a protozoan parasite that causes a disease of humans known as "Chagas Disease." Chagas Disease is widespread in Central and South America, and an occasional case occurs in Texas. Assassin bugs, instead of being blood feeders, are predators on other insects, including crop pests. They are beneficial insects, but they will bite humans if mishandled, and the bites are very painful.
How Many Types of Bed Bugs Are There?
There is only one species of bed bug in Indiana,Cimex lectularius. This species is a pest of humans worldwide, including the entire U.S., and has over 50 common names, among them "mahogany flat," "redcoat," "wall louse," and "bed louse." A second species of bed bug,Cimex hemipterus, is limited to tropical regions of the world. A third species of bed bug,Leptocimex boueti, lives with and feeds on both humans and bats in West Africa.
How Can I Recognize a Bed Bug?
Adult bed bugs are about ¼ inch long, oval, reddish-brown, and wingless. Their body is very flat, and they possess long, slender legs and antennae. They have a long, segmented proboscis (beak) that extends forward when the bug takes a blood meal. At rest, the proboscis lies beneath the body and projects backwards between the legs. Immature bed bugs are known either as "larvae" or "nymphs." They closely resemble adults, but are smaller and less deeply pigmented.
What Is the Life Cycle of Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs develop from egg to adult via a process called "gradual metamorphosis." This means the last larval stage develops directly into an adult without passing through a non-feeding pupal stage. There are five larval stages, and each one requires a blood meal before molting into the next life cycle stage. Both adult male and female bed bugs feed on blood and take repeated blood meals during their lives. Females require blood for the development of eggs.
The five larval stages are completed in about a month under suitable conditions of temperature, humidity, and availability of hosts for blood meals. Larvae can survive inside dwellings for several months without a blood meal, but they do not molt into the next life cycle stage until they engorge on blood. Adults can survive even longer under the same conditions, but, again, do not develop eggs unless they feed on blood.
Where Are Bed Bugs Found Inside Dwellings?
Bed bugs typically are active at night and hide during the daytime. Being very flat, they are able to find a wide variety of places in which to hide. Typical hiding places include beneath loose flooring, behind loose wallpaper, inside box springs, in mattresses, and in upholstered furniture. One common hiding place in hotel rooms is behind bed headboards that are fastened to the wall and another is behind moldings just above the floor. Bed bugs also hide behind electric switch plates and inside appliances. However, sites that have surfaces consisting of plaster, stone, and metal typically do not harbor bed bugs.
How Do Humans Influence Bed Bug Development and Dispersal?
Human dwellings provide bed bugs with a place to live and access to a source of blood meals. Bed bugs commonly infest larger buildings such as apartments, dorms, prisons, and theaters, but they also can occur in individual hotel rooms and in private homes. There is a common misconception that bed bug infestations occur only in poorly constructed and poorly maintained buildings with unsanitary conditions. However, this is not the case, as explained below. Modern construction has aided the spread of infestations by enabling bed bugs to move from room to room via central heating ducts.
Humans can aid the dispersal of bed bugs from one structure to another via the movement of infested bedding, furniture, and packing materials. Even more widespread dispersal is associated with the movement of travelers via infested clothing, luggage, and lap top computers. International travelers from countries that have heavy bed bug infestations can be a source of bed bug infestations in hotel rooms, and there has been an increasing incidence of bed bugs in lodging establishments around the world, including in the U.S. Bed bugs do not require unsanitary conditions, and bed bugs do not discriminate between economy or luxury hotel rooms. Bed bugs only need a source of blood provided by humans, and they can exist in the cleanest hotels, motels, apartments, and homes.
How Far Do Bed Bugs Travel to Feed and Lay Eggs?
Bed bugs typically do not travel far to feed and lay eggs once they become established in a building. Females lay eggs more or less continuously as long as they have access to blood meals. A well-fed female is capable of laying about 500 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs are laid singly in the same sites that harbor larvae and adults. These sites often are marked by masses of bed bug feces, which appear as yellowish to reddish-black specks and contain the remnants of digested blood. Large concentrations of bed bugs may be accompanied by a characteristic sweetish odor caused in part by secretions from scent glands.
What Should I Know About the Feeding Habits of Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs feed on warm-blooded animals. They have a normal host with which they live and on which they feed, but they will feed on other species. For example, bed bug larvae and adults feed readily on humans, bats, and chickens, and they do so when the host is at rest. Thus bed bugs living with humans typically feed at night while a person sleeps, but they also will feed during the day in dark structures such as infested theaters with upholstered seats. Male and female adults usually feed every 3-4 days and become engorged with blood in about 10-15 minutes.
Bed bugs detect carbon dioxide emitted from warm-blooded animals and respond to warmth and moisture as they approach the potential host. On humans, they tend to feed on exposed surfaces such as the face, neck, arms, and hands. Again, the bites are painless, and the host typically is not disturbed while bed bugs feed.
How Can I Avoid Being Bitten by Bed Bugs?
Preventing bed bug infestations is the best approach. This involves thoroughly searching for bed bugs or signs of infestation in any suitable hiding place, such as bedding, upholstered furniture, or packing materials that might be introduced into your home or apartment. You should search for feces, eggs, and shed "skins" of larval bed bugs, as well as for active bed bugs.
When staying in a hotel room, it is good practice to inspect the room for bed bug infestation. Upon arrival in a guest room, check the mattress, box springs, and behind the headboard before using the bed. It is very important to report suspected bed bug infestations to the hotel management immediately so that steps to control the infestation and prevent subsequent spread can be implemented as quickly as possible.
Hotel guests should place luggage and clothing on dressers or on luggage racks. Avoid placing bags and personal items on beds or upholstered furnishings because these types of fixtures may harbor bed bugs. Guests also should be vigilant and keep suitcases, brief cases, and computers and their cases closed when not in use. It is a good idea to search these items prior to vacating the room and again prior to bringing the items inside your home.
What Should I Do About a Bed Bug Infestation in My Residence?
Control of an infestation of bed bugs is very difficult and is best left to professional pest control companies that have both the approved insecticides and the application equipment to effectively treat the various places where bed bugs hide. The representative of the pest control company should examine the residence and describe any pre-treatment responsibilities of the homeowner. For example, eliminating or at least reducing clutter in rooms to be treated is a necessity, and infested bedding may have to be discarded before the infestation is treated.
What Should Hotel Managers Do About Bed Bugs?
Training housekeeping and maintenance staff to check for bed bugs is strongly recommended in order to identify an infestation. A professional pest control company should be contacted immediately if an infestation is found.
Hotel staff should examine guest rooms closely, including sheets and bedding. In infested rooms, sheets and pillowcases used by guests who are bitten by bed bugs may have small bloodstains, which appear as small reddish brown spots. Mattress seams should be examined for brown spots that could be bed bug feces, for shed skins, and for active bed bugs. Cracks and crevices should be examined using a flashlight. Sites to be searched include behind bed headboards, furniture seams, draperies, floor moldings, areas where wallpaper is loose, and behind picture frames and baseboards, especially those located near the beds. If a centralized forced-air heating system exists, the heating ducts in guest rooms should be checked for signs of bed bugs.
Where Can I Find More Information on Bed Bugs?
The following Web site contains accurate and detailed information about bed bug biology and bed bug control.
A recent symposium devoted to bed bugs took place at a meeting of the Entomological Society of America. The symposium was published in the journalAmerican Entomologist, Volume 52, number 2, Summer 2006.
We greatly appreciate the information pertaining to bed bugs provided by Dr. Sheryl kline, Department of hospitality & Tourism Management, Purdue University.
An excellent reference book devoted to the biology of bed bugs and their relatives is:
Usinger, R.L. 1966,Monograph of the Cimicidae (Hemiptera: Heteroptera).Thomas Say Foundation, Vol. 7, Entomological Society of America, College Park, MD.
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Bed Bug Confidential: An Expert Explains How to Defend against the Dreaded Pests
Everything you ever wanted to know about bed bugs but were afraid to ask
- By Kate Wong on January 23, 2012
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Chances are, you or someone you know has had a run-in with bed bugs. It might have happened in a scrupulously clean bedroom. Or maybe it was a hotel room, office or college dorm. In the February issue ofScientific Americanentomologist Kenneth Haynes of the University of Kentucky explains how, after a lengthy absence, bed bugs are staging a comeback. The good news is scientists are intensively studying these insects, and their insights suggest novel ways of detecting the bugs and eradicating infestations. Some of those potential solutions are a long way off, however. In the meantime the best bet is to avoid bringing bed bugs home in the first place. I called Haynes to ask him how to do that and what to do if one suspects an infestation (eek!), among a bunch of other practical-minded questions.
Do bed bugs only feed on humans?
No. Bed bugs are also pests in poultry operations, and they’re known to parasitize bats. Some labs that study bed bugs rear them on guinea pigs and mice. The bugs might feed on cats and dogs. Fur is probably a barrier to them, but they could feed at any place on the body without fur. Bed bugs are not specific to humans, but they are adapted to parasitizing us.
Could you have a bed bug infestation in your home and not know it?
That’s very possible. I have heard of couples reporting that only one partner is getting bitten. The truth is that both are getting bitten, but only one has a reaction to the bites. Thirty percent of people or more don’t react to bed bug bites at all, and the elderly are less reactive than the rest of the population. Among those people who do react to the bites, most of them don’t respond to early bites, but develop a sensitivity to subsequent ones. Those individuals who are not sensitive to bed bug bites may not know they have an infestation. Because bed bugs are nocturnally active, it’s hard to see other signs of their presence—unless you’re accustomed to waking up at 3 A.M. and taking a census. With a huge infestation, bed bugs start to move away from the bed, so you’re more likely to see one in an exposed place during the day. In very severe infestations people can become anemic. That takes a lot of bugs though—maybe 100,000 feeding once a week or more.
Another clue to infestation is odor. Like many species of bugs, bed bugs release odors called alarm pheromones. When a group of bed bugs gets disturbed, you may get a whiff of that odor, which is similar to the odor stink bugs give off. At higher concentrations the odor is unpleasant. Some people say at low concentrations it’s a pleasant smell—like coriander. In fact, older literature refers to the bed bug as the coriander bug. I’ve tried to smell the coriander scent in bed bug alarm pheromones and have not been able to make the connection, however.
What can one do to avoid getting bed bugs?
The first thing is you have to be able to recognize and distinguish a bed bug from any other insect. Everything starts to look like a bed bug if you start to worry about them. An adult bed bug is about the size and shape of an apple seed. If it has not fed recently it will be flattened and brown. If it has fed it will be round in circumference and reddish. Immature bed bugs have a similar appearance to adults, with the smallest being the size of the head of a pin. You can then learn to look for their fecal spots, which can be easier to detect than the bugs themselves. Check your hotel rooms when you travel. And think twice before bringing home used furniture. If you are purchasing used furniture, ask the furniture store how they deal with bed bugs. If they have no plan whatsoever, that’s probably not a good sign. If you purchase used clothing, put it through a clothes dryer on a medium to high setting for a cycle as soon as you bring it home. And before you move into an apartment, ask the landlord whether there has been a bed bug infestation, or whether the building has ever been treated for bed bugs.
What should one do upon suspecting a bed bug infestation
The first question I would ask that person is, what makes you think you have bed bugs? A skin reaction alone does not necessarily indicate the presence of bed bugs. Other bugs, allergies and irritants in the environment can produce similar skin reactions. And it’s hard to confidently identify a bed bug bite because reactions vary from person to person. My next question would be, have you seen an insect in an area where you sleep and, if so, was it the correct size and shape to be a bed bug? Carpet beetles in an immature stage are commonly mistaken for bed bugs. The carpet beetle actually doesn’t look anything like a bed bug, but it is the right size. And it’s another common insect to have indoors around the bed. If you find an insect that you think is a bed bug, save it in a pill bottle or another container so its key characteristics won’t get crushed and a professional can identify it.
I wouldn’t try to get rid of an infestation on my own. I would call a pest control operator. A good pest control operator will spend a fair amount of time inspecting the place for evidence of bed bugs, and will educate the person on what makes it clear that it’s a bed bug infestation.
Once you have a suspicion or a confirmed infestation, do not spread things outside of the bedroom. Don’t take linens off the bed and go to sleep somewhere else—that will just move the infestation to other rooms. Ultimately pest control operators will tell you to put everything you can through the washer and dryer, since bed bugs cannot withstand high temperatures. I don’t think bed bugs would be able to survive solvent-based dry cleaning, but I don’t have any first-hand knowledge that that’s true. Unfortunately, dry cleaners and Laundromats can be places where people pick up bed bugs. I think it’s a low probability, but it only takes one adult female bed bug that has been mated to get an infestation going.
The safest and most effective approach to getting rid of bed bugs is heat treatment, in which a trained professional heats the home’s rooms one by one to a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius and sustains the heat for four hours. Heat does not penetrate well into wall voids, though, so desiccant dusts are often applied to those areas. No single technique can eliminate bed bugs—combinations of approaches are essential to getting the job done.
What are the mistakes people make in trying to get rid of bed bugs on their own, without professional help?
DIY approaches come with risk. It’s not uncommon for someone to use a pest-control bomb or fogger that is available over the counter. These don’t work well against bed bugs, according to research from Ohio State University. They can also expose people to toxic chemicals. Neither are over-the-counter aerosol insecticides effective against bed bugs. Most of these products have either pyrethrin or a pyrethroid as a main ingredient and those compounds have the same mode of action as DDT, which bed bugs have become resistant to. If you spray the bug directly you might kill it, but that is not going to get rid of the infestation. The problem is finding all the bed bugs. Some just can’t be reached with insecticide. It’s difficult for nonprofessionals to do anything more than kill what they can see, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s there.
Some of the dusts that are available to consumers, such as diatomaceous earth, can help in this regard. Pest controllers will put dusts in wall voids and other places where pesticide won’t reach. What happens is the bugs will wander through the dust and pick up particles and be more vulnerable to desiccation after that exposure. But dusts will not solve the problem if deployed incorrectly, and if they are applied at too high a level they can cause breathing difficulties in some people.
The Internet abounds with so-called miracle cures for bed bugs. But bed bugs are hard to get rid of, so anything that advertises an immediate solution is not accurate—it’s snake oil. These "cures" have included (as reported by pest control operators who come in afterward to tackle bed bugs correctly) using bleach, ammonia and even DIY heat treatment, which carries fire risk.
Another solution you hear about is vacuuming. You can vacuum up a lot of insects, but eggs are harder to get, and vacuuming won’t in and of itself kill bed bugs. Indeed, vacuuming can end up spreading bed bugs to other rooms—when emptying the canister, for example. Pest control operators who use vacuums take measures to prevent bed bugs from escaping when the vacuum is emptied.
Encasing mattresses is one of many good parts of a solution, but it doesn’t get rid of the infestation. There are going to be other bugs away from the mattress, hiding nearby. What mattress covers are good at is entombing the sometimes large number of bed bugs that can live on a mattress. And because the covers tend to be uniform in color and don’t have a lot of seams that the bugs can hide in, it’s easier to see the insects.
Given that you work with bed bugs, how do you avoid bringing them home?
I have four risk factors. I work with bed bugs in a lab situation, so we have to take extreme precautions to prevent escapes there. I visit infested apartments sometimes. I travel a fair amount, so I may be exposed to bed bugs in hotels. And I’ve had college-age kids, who can bring bed bugs home from dorms.
In the lab we handle all the bed bugs in a specific room that we steam clean once a week, and we have double-stick tape barriers that they can’t walk through (as long as the adhesive remains dust-free). And the bed bugs themselves are enclosed in containers that they can’t get out of. We actually feed them inside those containers—we lay a blood reservoir against the cloth "lid" and the bed bugs have to push their mouthparts through the cloth into the reservoir to eat.
If I go to an infested apartment, then when I leave I check my shoes very carefully for bugs that may have crawled onto them. I also keep a change of clothes in my garage and put them on before entering my house. Once inside, I immediately put the clothes I wore to the infested apartment in the dryer, which is located in a room just off the garage.
When staying in a hotel, I check the bed before I bring the suitcase into the sleeping part of the room so that if I have to ask the manager for another room, then I haven’t exposed my suitcase to the bugs. When settling in, I put my suitcase up on the suitcase stand or the desktop so that any bugs are less likely to crawl into it. An extreme measure would be putting the suitcase in the tub. If it’s a porcelain tub, bed bugs would have a hard time crawling up it. It’s also unlikely that they would randomly crawl up a tub, because it’s not near the bed. But if I don’t see bed bugs in the room when I inspect it, I just put my suitcase on the stand because I know the probability is really low that a bug is going to crawl up the stand and into my suitcase. I keep my clothes in the suitcase or hang them in the closet—I don’t leave them on the floor because wandering bed bugs might crawl into them.
I actually haven’t found bed bugs in my hotel rooms, but I’ve seen them in other peoples’ rooms. Enough of my students and postdocs have found them that I’m surprised I haven’t seen them yet in a room where I’m staying.
How should one check a hotel room for bed bugs?
Bring a little flashlight—hotel room lighting is always pretty poor and the dimmer the lighting, the harder it is to see small bed bugs or their fecal spots. I would pull back the bed covers and look all around the head of the bed. Pull back the sheets, too, and look at mattress seams and edges that are exposed. bed bugs love to hide under mattress tags. Look all around the box springs, too. If there’s a dust ruffle, pull it up and look under it as much as possible. Look for moving bugs and stationary, hiding bugs.
The space behind the headboard is prime bed bug territory. Most headboards are hanging on the wall. If my wife is with me, we’ll remove it and look behind it. This exposes a lot of possible bed bug territory. Even if you don’t remove headboard, look around it. Or if you move the bed out from wall, look at the wall under the headboard.
Bed bugs could also be at the foot of the bed, but they’re more likely to reside at the head of the bed. The foot of the bed, if the sheets are tucked in, doesn’t allow bed bugs easy access to a sleeping host. The bugs would have to come up to the head of the bed to get you, and they typically minimize the distance to the host.
All of the stages of bed bugs are visible, at least if you don’t need reading glasses and you have a sufficient amount of light. So if you’re looking closely enough, you can even see bugs in the nymphal first instar stage. A fecal spot, for its part, can be as large as a bed bug itself in terms of the area it covers. The spots are basically digested blood, so most are dark in color. On a white mattress, they stand out pretty well.
Are there tactics that professional exterminators use that don’t work?
No one tactic alone will be effective. A good pest control operator will develop a strategy to deal with the bed bugs that takes the particulars of the setting into account, and will return several times to check on progress. Dry ice sprays that freeze bed bugs have limited potential to reach hidden bugs. Steam has somewhat better penetrating ability. The downside of steam is that it leaves moisture behind. Dry ice doesn’t leave any residue at all. Vacuuming has a role, but it has limitations, too. Some insecticides leave behind deposits that are slow to act but are effective in the long-term. Other insecticides kill on contact, but only reach insects that are in view. Insecticide resistance makes the choice of tactics more difficult.
An important thing to remember is that good professional pest controllers do get rid of bed bugs. The fine line that bed bug experts have to walk in talking to the public is the line where the anxiety and depression and so forth that can result from thinking about bed bugs too much can cause more problems than the bugs themselves would.
Do Bed Bugs Smell? Why and What Can You Do About It?
If you are reading this, you probably know that bed bugs have made a comeback. If you are dealing with a particularly large infestation, then you are also probably dealing with a nasty ‘buggy’ odor around your sleeping quarters. Yes, bed bugs smell and the description of this smell will vary based on who you ask. Some people report bed bug smell as a sickeningly ‘sweet smell of almonds’; still others claim it to be ‘woody’, while a third group claims it to be like “the smell of rotten raspberries”. In general: bed bug smell is nothing like anything you have experienced before and can also be very annoying.
In this guide, we will see what to do about bed bug smell.
Bed Bug infestation and how it occurs
If you are waking up each night with bite marks on your body, you might not attribute them to bed bugs at first. This is because; most people feel that they simplycannothave bed bugs as their premises are “spotlessly clean”. The thing is: bed bugs do not care how clean or unclean your surroundings are.The fact that you have bed bugs is also (usually) not through any fault of yours: these critters might have simply hitched a ride through your luggage from an infested motel or might have arrived at your doorstep courtesy of a recent guest.
“But I stayed in the best five-star resort!”
Again: immaterial. You might have stayed in the best of the best motels/hotels but even these are not completely devoid of bed bugs.Travelers unknowingly dump bed bug eggs in these places and this is how bed bugs have spread throughout the country. Also, you could even have brought bed bugs home through infested planes or buses.
The question is: what can you do about the bed bug infestation and its foul odor?
What are the reasons behind bed bug smell?
Bed bugs come out of their hiding places at night for a blood meal from you, the host. While you are sleeping, a single bed bug might bite you and could feed for up to 10 minutes. The bugs use the blood to grow and develop and the female bugs also use it for reproduction and laying hundreds of eggs.
As bed bugs move from stage to stage, they discard their exoskeletons. The bed bug smell usually arises due to these discarded shells, as well as the digested or partially digested blood meals. Also, you might see dried blood and rust colored spots around your sleeping quarters. All these factors also contribute to the nasty bitter-sweet smell in your surroundings. The male bed bugs also tend to secrete pheromones for attracting females and a mixture of all these odors contribute to bad bed bug smell in very large infestations.
What to do about bed bug odor?
The solution to getting rid of bed bug smell is to get rid of the infestation.Make sure that you discard all old mattresses and bedroom linen that has been ruined and stained completely thanks to the bed bugs. If you have new mattresses, you could enclose them in mattress encasements. The rest of the washable bed linen needs to be tossed in the washing machine on its highest heat setting preferably 120F. Where applicable, you could use some detergent and bleach to kill bed bug eggs.
Experienced pest controllers know where to look for bed bugs exactly since these critters are known to hide in cracks and crevices. The K9/dog bed bug detection units also use the bed bug smell to find out where bugs are hiding. You could consider enrolling the services of a good pest control company to get rid of the bed bug smell. Also, you can do the following things at home to assist with the professional bed bug eradication:
- Strip beds, sofas etc off their upholstery and linen. Toss everything in the washing machine and wash it using highest heat.
- Move furniture away from walls so that the professionals can treat areas behind and underneath it.
- Items which are not washable must be stored in plastic bags and taken outdoors in the sun and placed there for at least a day. If possible, you could spray the non-electronic items with bed bug sprays or powders.
- As stated before, cover the mattress with encasement. Spray and treat the bed’s box spring using bed bug products as advised by the professionals.
- Follow good housekeeping measures like vacuuming, wiping down surfaces etc. Your professionals might also use steaming or spot freezing treatment to get rid of bed bugs and the bed bug smell.
- EPA registered bed bug products like sprays, aerosols and powders can also be used.
- Fumigation through the use of bed bug bombs and foggers is another known method of bed bug elimination.
These are the tried and tested methods of bed bug elimination. Also check other resources on this website to ensure complete eradication of the bed bug smell.
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