Bed Bugs


Bed bug on skin
CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan; Richard Pollack.
Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki. Wikimedia.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are light brown, parasitic insects that feed on warm-blooded animals, including humans. They are "obligatory hematophagous" insects, meaning that they feed only on blood for their nutrients. Bed bugs require a host to survive.

The lifespan of a bed bug ranges from 6 to 12 months. They go through five nymphal stages, molting each time as they transform. The molts appear clear and empty, but are still shaped in the bed bug's form. Bed bugs need to feed on an adequate amount of blood at least once per life stage in order to process to the next stage and to reproduce, though they may feed more frequently if a host is readily available. Bed bugs are drawn to their hosts by carbon dioxide emissions and heat.



Female bed bugs lay white eggs in sticky clusters in crevices or in their hiding areas, which might even include the fold of a sheet. During a female bed bug's life span she may lay between 200-500 eggs.

Bed Bug
How to identify a bed bug

Bed bugs are a flat, oval shape, with a pair of front wings and a segmented abdomen. They are light brown in color until they feed, then their color changes to a red brown. When feeding, their bodies become rounded, swelling up with blood while they suck with their stylet, a process that can take 3 to 10 minutes.

The size of a bed bug ranges from 1/16th of an inch to ¼ of an inch. Bed bugs are generally nocturnal, so in order to identify or detect them in your home, you will need to search for them.

Bed bugs hide in dark corners, crevices and seams of furniture. They are often found in or near beds and couches, as they tend to stay close to their hosts. Be sure to inspect your home or hotel room for bed bugs. Look in seams, folds and crevices for fecal traces, blood spots, and molts while inspecting items.

Common hiding places of bed bugs

  • Seams of pillows and mattresses
  • Between couch cushions and in crevices on the couch
  • On the headboard of beds
  • On clothes
  • On luggage or backpacks
  • On bed linens and blankets


Symptoms and signs

Wooman with bed bug bites
Picture taken with permission of women
affected by bed bugs in infested dwelling,
by Andy Brookes BSc(Biol),FRES. Wikimedia.

The most common indication that bed bugs are present is the appearance of bites, though the range of responses to the bites varies considerably. Some people don't have any reaction, and the proximity of bed bugs may go undetected. Other individuals may have a bite that ranges from a small red spot or itchy bump to a rash or even a blister. Since the bite of a bed bug is hard to identify, other steps can be taken to try to locate them in your home, or in the location where the bites occurred.

  • Itchy bites and skin rashes are usually the first noticeable signs that bed bugs may be present
  • Fecal spots, blood spots or smears on bed sheets and molts are other signs to identify an infestation of bed bugs
  • Visual identification of bed bugs

Other symptoms of bed bug bites can be psychological. Humans that are bitten frequently display signs of nervousness, agitation and sleeplessness.

Bed bug infestations and how to get rid of bed bugs

Pesticides are used in combination with other techniques to remove and eliminate bed bug infestations. Trained dogs have been used to track down areas that are infested in a home or business. Bed bugs have a peculiar, distinctive odor, sometimes compared to cilantro or coriander, making trained dogs an especially valuable tool in their discovery. Pest control specialists can also discover infested areas by visual means.

  • Insecticides are used to kill bed bugs (use in cracks and crevices where bed bugs breed and hide).
  • Heat treatment of infected items is also used to kill bed bugs.
  • Linens, towels and clothes are washed and dried in a hot dryer to kill bed bugs.
  • Beds and mattresses that are infected should be discarded, but are sometimes heat treated.
  • Mattresses and couches can be enclosed in a plastic encasement (this is a controversial treatment … be sure research the pros and cons).
  • Multiple treatments are usually needed to eliminate bed bug infestations.
  • The services of a reputable pest control company are highly advisable as bed bug infestations are pernicious and hard to eradicate.

What causes a bed bug infestation?

Bed bugs and their eggs can be introduced to a new environment by traveling on their host or on items such as in luggage, furniture or in rugs.

Common ways that bed bugs can travel on a host or item

  • Bed bugs and eggs can be carried into a home on your pets.
  • A nearby infestation can travel and move into your home through shared vents or ducts.
  • Infested items such as furniture, rugs and other household items can transport bugs and eggs into your home.
  • Wild animals such as bats and coyotes can also carry bed bugs and eggs, but it is unlikely that they will enter your home or be the primary transporter of the bugs and eggs into your house.
  • People can also carry bed bug passengers on their clothing, in their luggage or on their body.

How to prevent bed bugs?

  • Be careful, be sure to inspect any secondhand items you buy at thrift stores, garage sales, etc. for bed bugs.
  • Inspect your furniture after it has been in a storage unit, moving truck, or other location where bed bugs may be transmitted.
  • Inspect hotel rooms where you stay (headboards, beds, chairs, couches, etc.).
  • Keep luggage off the floor when traveling.
  • Carefully inspect homes or apartments that you are moving into before you have unpacked.


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