Of all the pests that plague the average homeowner, bed bugs might be the most unpleasant to think about. They strike when you’re at your most vulnerable, suck your blood, poop on your sheets, then hide out during the day to do it again the next night. We get not wanting to have to deal with all that. However, because nobody likes thinking about bed bugs, they are also among the most misunderstood of the common household pests.
We think that’s a shame, because when it comes to the enemy of beauty sleepers everywhere, knowing is half the battle. That’s why we put together this exhaustive primer on what you need to know about bed bugs. This might surprise you, but when Sun Tzu said, “if you know your enemy and yourself, you will not be imperiled in 100 battles,” he was talking about bed bugs.
By understanding bed bugs, you can follow surprisingly easy steps to prevent infestations and rest easy. The best way to “sleep tight” tomorrow is to get educated today.
What is a bed bug?
Bed bugs are reddish-brown translucent insects that resemble small beetles or wood ticks. Fully grown, they range from 4 to 5 millimeters long and 1.5 to 3 millimeters wide (about the size of an apple seed). Bed bugs have wings, but cannot fly, and generally have bands on their abdomens. Like ants, they’re quick for their size and are adept at climbing sheer surfaces such as walls and ceilings. Bed bugs molt as they age, grow, and feed, leaving behind clear, crusty shell casings. The bugs must molt six times before reaching adulthood, and require a blood meal before making each molt.
Female bed bugs can lay 3 to 4 eggs every day until they die. A single female bed bug has been known to deposit as many as 500 eggs. Bed bug eggs are very small (about the size of a pinhead) and pearly white. They hatch, producing one bed bug larva, after about 5 to 10 days. A bed bug’s natural lifespan is about 10-11 months. When they’ve recently fed, bed bugs turn a reddish-purple color and look bloated. This is because they feed on blood until engorged, to give them the required energy to molt and grow.
Why Do Bed Bugs Bite, and Why Do They Like Beds?
Bed bugs feed on blood to survive, grow, and reproduce. Humans do tend to naturally create ideal bed bug living conditions in their homes, however. For example, bed bugs like beds because they need warmth, prefer to be covered and sheltered whenever they aren’t feeding, and want close, easy access to food.
Bed bugs take 5 to 10 minutes to feed, so they need target prey that won’t notice them while they’re going at it. That’s why bed bugs generally only bite sleeping prey. They feed about an hour before dawn and then return to hiding places--cracks, crevices, seams--to rest. Bed bugs are very small, so they can only consume a very small quantity of blood before becoming engorged and hiding to digest and grow.
Bed bug bites are generally painless and resemble mosquito or flea bites. The site of bed bug bites can become red, swollen, and itchy. Though this may not come as much of a relief, the effects of bed bug bites are mostly psychological. Bed bugs aren’t known to transmit diseases through their bites, and not everyone reacts to their saliva. A bed bug infestation is disgusting, stressful, and scary, but not dangerous.
How Do You Get Bed Bugs?
There’s no reason to be ashamed of having bed bugs. The common belief is that they’re the product of lazy housekeeping, but that simply isn’t true. Bed bugs are consummate hitchhikers. They stowaway in luggage, furniture, pillows, covers, sheets, boxes, and pretty much anything else that could be a good hiding place for an insect hobo. Any used clothing or furniture you bring into your home could be a hideout for bed bugs. Keep an especially close eye on old books, antiques, or cloth furniture. Bed bugs love to use that stuff as their own mini-Trojan Horse.
The most common way bed bugs get introduced to new places is by grabbing a free lift from travelers. People will check into a hotel, lay out their luggage, and go to sleep. Then, when they pack up the next day, they have a few new “friends” in their suitcase who are excited to move into their new home!
How Do You Spot Them?
Bed bugs are tiny and they hide all day, so it can be hard to know you have them at first. Obviously, the easiest way to find out you have bed bugs is to wake up with itchy bite marks. We doubt that’s how you want to find out, though. The trick to finding bed bugs isn’t really a trick at all--just be aware. Check warm, confined, and covered places; think the seams of your bedding, the insides, corners, and sides of your box spring, your dust cover, and your bed frame. Check all the cracks and crevices, and consider using a flashlight and magnifying glass.
Check buttons, folds, rips in wallpaper, cracks in flooring or your walls, or underneath the edge of carpeting. One of the most noticeable signs of a bed bug infestation are very small black spots stained on furniture and covers. This is bed bug fecal matter--secretions that occur during feeding. These deposits accumulate in cracks, crevices, and anywhere bed bugs roost. These black, dark brown, or reddish spots are very distinctive and are the best way to find bed bugs, but they may not be very noticeable until the infestation is severe.
How Do You Prevent Them?
There are a number of pretty routine steps you can take to minimize the chances you’ll get bed bugs. For instance, you probably already dust, vacuum, and periodically scrub down your furniture, but remembering to clean out the hard-to-reach spots can make a big difference. While you’re vacuuming under the couch cushions, for instance, flip your couch over and vacuum its underside. Vacuuming regularly in cracks, crevices, and corners is important, too. This can be especially effective if you use a vacuum head that can fit deep down into tight spaces.
If you have any sizable cracks in your walls or flooring, or if you have peeling wallpaper, you should consider repairing it. When you’re shopping for linens or mattresses, look into bed bug “proof” products. Bud bug-proofed bedding is tighter-fitting than most sheets or dust covers, and zips up to keep pests from sneaking in. You could also choose light bedding, which would make signs of bed bugs easier to spot.
Most importantly, keep the possibility of bed bugs in mind while traveling. Keep your luggage and travel bags off the ground and tightly closed, and thoroughly check and double check to see that you aren’t bringing any unwanted travelers with you. When you return home, throw everything you brought with you into the dryer for about 30 minutes. This should kill off any bed bugs that got by you.
Unfortunately, bed bugs have adapted to evade human attempts to fight them off.
Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, those bloodsuckers will sneak their way in anyway. When you’ve got bed bugs, the best thing you can do is call a professional. At the risk of bragging, Plunkett's Pest Control has been taking down bed bugs for over 100 years, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Schedule a consultation with us--we guarantee we’ll have your problem solved fast so you can sleep tight.