Bed Bug: All You Need to Know for a Pest-Free Home

Bed bugs are small, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals while they sleep.

They are reddish-brown in color, wingless, and can range from 1mm to 7mm in size.

These pests can survive for several months without a blood meal, making them persistent and difficult to eliminate.

Spotting bed bugs in your home can be challenging, as they tend to hide in small cracks and crevices during the day.

Bed Bug
Bed Bug

The most common signs of bed bugs are rusty or tarry spots found on bed sheets or in hiding places, which are the remains of earlier blood meals.

Bed bugs go through six life stages, requiring at least one blood meal to develop to the next stage.

Preventing bed bug infestations involves maintaining cleanliness and taking precautions while traveling.

For example, it’s essential to inspect hotel rooms for bed bugs, avoid placing luggage on the floor, and wash all clothes and personal items upon returning home.

Additionally, regular vacuuming and sealing of any cracks or openings in your home can help keep bed bugs at bay.

Identifying Bed Bugs

Physical Characteristics

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) exhibit reddish-brown color and flat bodies.

Their size varies, ranging from 1mm to 7mm, which is approximately the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny1.

Here’s a brief comparison of bed bugs and other insects:

InsectColorShapeSize
Bed bugReddish-brownFlat1mm to 7mm
FleaBrownishOval1.5mm to 3.3mm
Dust miteWhiteOval0.2mm to 0.3mm
Carpet beetleMulticoloredOval2mm to 5mm

Signs of Infestation

Detecting bed bugs is essential in addressing infestations. Some common signs include:

  • Blood spots: On sheets and mattresses, resulting from crushed bed bugs after feeding
  • Black dots: Fecal matter from bed bugs left on beds, furniture, and wallpapers
  • Musty odor: Secreted by bed bugs while hiding in cracks, crevices, and seams of furniture2

Bed bugs can also be found in various other locations around the house:

  • Near the piping, seams, and tags of the mattress and box spring
  • In cracks on the bed frame and headboard
  • In the seams of chairs and couches
  • Between cushions and in the folds of curtains3

Remember to check these signs and inspect places where bed bugs may reside to prevent further infestation.

Bed Bug

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs and Nymphs

Bed bugs begin their life cycle as eggs. These eggs are small, measuring about 1mm in size1.

Female bed bugs can lay up to 500 eggs during their lifetime2.

After hatching, bed bugs go through five nymph stages, with each stage requiring at least one blood meal3.

The size of nymphs ranges from 1.5mm to 3mm4.

Nymphs need blood meals to develop and shed their exoskeletons.

The time it takes for a nymph to reach the next stage varies depending on factors like temperature and availability of blood meals.

Adult Bed Bugs

Adult bed bugs are oval-shaped, flattened insects, with an average length of 5mm5. They have a reddish-brown color6.

Adult bed bugs also require blood meals, but they can live for several months without feeding7.

Comparison Table:

 EggsNymphsAdult Bed Bugs
Size1mm81.5mm – 3mm9~5mm10
Blood meal needed?NoYesYes
Duration~2 weeks11Varies12Several months13

Bed Bug

The duration of each life stage varies based on factors like temperature and access to blood meals.

While adult bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases, their bites can cause skin irritation and itching.

The presence of bed bugs can cause emotional distress, leading to the need for effective control methods.

Bed Bug Bites and Health Risks

Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites

Bed bug bites often resemble mosquito bites and can be mistaken for other insect bites. Some common symptoms include:

  • Itching: Bites usually cause itchiness and discomfort
  • Redness: Bed bug bites often appear as small red welts
  • Clusters: Bites tend to occur in clusters or zigzag patterns

Bites are more likely to appear on exposed areas, such as the face, neck, or arms.

Allergic Reactions and Complications

While most people experience mild reactions to bed bug bites, some individuals may develop more severe symptoms:

  • Allergic reaction: In rare cases, bed bug bites can cause an allergic response, leading to hives or swelling
  • Infection: Scratching the bites can potentially cause infection if not properly treated

It is important to consult a healthcare provider if you suspect an allergic reaction or infection related to bed bug bites.

In extreme cases, anaphylaxis may occur, requiring immediate medical attention.

When comparing bed bug bites to mosquito bites, consider the following:

Bed Bug BitesMosquito Bites
Generally occur at nightOccur day and night, more common during warmer months
Bite patterns appear in clusters or zigzagsBites are more randomly distributed on the body
Bites often appear on face, neck, and armsCan bite any exposed skin
Not known to transmit diseasesCan transmit diseases like Zika and malaria

Bed Bug

To manage bed bug bites, consider:

  • Applying an ice pack to reduce swelling
  • Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine to alleviate itchiness
  • Using a topical cream or ointment to soothe the area
  • Contacting a healthcare provider if complications arise

Preventing and Controlling Infestations

Travel and Luggage Precautions

When traveling, place luggage on luggage racks rather than on beds or floors to minimize encounters with bed bugs.

Inspect your accommodations for any signs of bed bug activity, such as small reddish-brown insects or tiny spots on mattresses, box springs, or headboards.

If you suspect an infestation, change rooms or establishments.

Upon returning home, unpack on a hard surface and immediately launder all clothing and bedding in hot water.

Vacuum suitcases and store them away from sleeping areas.

Cleaning and Organization Tips

Regular cleaning can help prevent bed bug infestations. Vacuum carpets, upholstered furniture, and baseboards frequently.

Reduce clutter to eliminate hiding spots for bed bugs. Encase mattresses and box springs with protective covers to prevent infestations.

If you see signs of a bed bug infestation, remove the items and place them in plastic bags.

Launder in hot water, or use heat treatment to kill the bugs. Seal small hiding areas using caulking.

Bed Bug

Professional Pest Control Services

If you’re unable to control an infestation on your own, consider hiring an exterminator.

Pest control companies can provide comprehensive inspections and use insecticides, heat treatments, or a combination of methods.

Ask for references and confirm that technicians are trained in bed bug control.

MethodProsCons
Do-It-YourselfCost-effective, immediate actionMay not be effective in all cases
Professional ExterminatorMore thorough, specialized knowledgeCan be expensive, may require multiple visits

Remember, prevention and early detection are key to combating bed bug infestations.

By taking precautions while traveling, maintaining a clean and organized living space, and considering professional assistance when needed, you can minimize the risk and impact of these pesky pests.

When to Involve a Landlord or Property Manager

As a tenant, it is essential to know when to involve your landlord or property manager in your bed bug situation. Here are some cases when you should reach out:

Bed bug infestation identified:

Alert your landlord or property manager immediately if you have found or suspect bed bugs in your rental space.

Early detection can help prevent the infestation from spreading to other units.

Bed Bug

Failed DIY bed bug treatments:

If you have attempted DIY bed bug treatments without success, involving your landlord may be necessary.

They can help coordinate professional extermination efforts.

Suspected bed bug presence in common areas:

If you notice or suspect bed bugs in common areas of your building, inform your landlord or property manager.

It is crucial to address infestations in communal spaces to protect all tenants.

Unclear responsibilities or lack of action:

If you are unsure of who is responsible for handling bed bug extermination or if your landlord is not taking prompt action, consulting your rental agreement and local laws may be helpful.

In many places, landlords are required to address bed bug issues, especially when they pose a threat to tenant wellbeing.

Familiarize yourself with relevant laws and regulations to ensure your rights are protected.

Bed Bug

Bed Bugs and Animals

Bed bugs can feed on the blood of both people and animals while they sleep.

Although bed bugs prefer humans, they can infest and feed on animals as well. Some common animals affected by bed bugs include:

  • Birds
  • Bats
  • Rodents
  • Domestic pets (such as dogs and cats)

Pets can be the unintentional transporters of bed bugs in your home, but it’s essential to remember that bed bugs do not prefer to live on animals’ bodies.

They generally reside in hiding spots such as mattress seams or furniture crevices and come out to feed on their host 2.

Here are some tips for preventing bed bug infestation in animals:

  • Regularly inspecting pet bedding and areas where animals sleep or rest.
  • Washing pet bedding frequently in hot water.
  • Vacuuming around pet sleeping areas to eliminate bed bugs and their eggs 3.

Lastly, there are some animals that might actually help you prevent bed bugs, such as cockroaches, ants, spiders and more.

Inspecting and Treating Your Home

Bedroom Inspection and Treatment

Bed bugs are active at night and usually hide in tiny crevices and seams. To inspect your bedroom, focus on the following areas:

  • Piping, seams, and tags of the mattress and box spring
  • Cracks on the bed frame and headboard

During inspection, look for dark spots which indicate bed bug feces. To treat your bedroom, consider the following steps:

  1. Move the bed at least 6 inches away from the wall.
  2. Remove all bed bugs, larvae, and eggs from the bed, frame, and headboard.
  3. Use bed-bug-proof covers or encasements on your mattress and boxspring.

Bed Bug

Furniture and Upholstery Treatment

Bed bugs can also reside in furniture and upholstery. Check for their presence in:

  • Seams of chairs and couches
  • Spaces between cushions
  • Folds of curtains
  • Drawer joints

To treat infested sofas and furniture, follow these steps:

  1. Vacuum all surfaces, seams, and crevices thoroughly.
  2. Apply a suitable bed bug pesticide approved by the EPA, following the label instructions.

Pros and Cons of Bed Bug Treatment Methods:

Treatment MethodProsCons
VacuumingNon-toxic; Removes live bugs, dead bugs, and eggsMay not reach deep infestations; Requires repeated use
PesticidesEffective in killing bed bugs; Wide range of products availableMay be harmful to humans and pets if misused; Some bed bugs may develop resistance to certain chemicals

Common Misconceptions about Bed Bugs

One common misconception is that bed bugs only infest dirty environments. In reality, they can be found in both clean and cluttered spaces.

Bed bugs are attracted to warmth, carbon dioxide, and blood meals, not dirt.

Another myth is that bed bugs only live in beds. While they do prefer to reside near sleeping areas, they can also be found in various other places, such as:

  • Seams of chairs and couches
  • Between cushions
  • In the folds of curtains
  • In drawer joints

Many people believe that bed bugs bite only during the night.

However, they can bite at any time, given the opportunity. They are simply more active at night when their hosts are asleep.

Bed Bug

A common false assumption is that bed bugs transmit diseases. Fortunately, research shows that they do not transmit any known diseases to humans.

A prevalent myth is that changing pajamas or sleeping naked can prevent bed bug bites.

This is not true, as bed bugs can crawl under sheets and bite exposed skin, regardless of clothing choices.

Lastly, some think that all bed bug infestations require professional extermination.

While severe infestations may need expert help, early detection and diligent cleaning can control many infestations.

MisconceptionFact
Bed bugs only infest dirty placesFound in both clean and cluttered environments
Bed bugs only live in bedsCan be found in various locations, not just beds
Bed bugs only bite at nightCan bite anytime, more active at night
Bed bugs transmit diseasesDo not transmit any known diseases
Changing pajamas prevents bitesClothing choices do not impact bed bug bites
All infestations need exterminationEarly detection and cleaning can control many infestations

Conclusion

To summarize, bed bugs are nocturnal, parasitic insects that feed on human and animal blood.

While they can be found in both tidy and cluttered environments, their presence is not an indicator of cleanliness.

These pests are adept at hiding in small spaces, such as mattress seams, furniture crevices, and curtain folds.

Key signs of an infestation include dark fecal spots, blood stains on bedding, and a musty odor.

Prevention methods include regular inspections, maintaining cleanliness, and being vigilant during travel.

Misconceptions, like associating bed bugs solely with dirty environments or believing they only reside in beds, can hinder effective control.

Awareness and proactive measures are essential for a pest-free home.

Footnotes

  1. CDC – Bed Bugs – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)  2 3
  2. Bed Bugs: Get Them Out and Keep Them Out | US EPA  2 3
  3. How to Find Bed Bugs | US EPA  2 3
  4. https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/bed-bugs-appearance-and-life-cycle 
  5. https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/introduction-bed-bugs 
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs.html 
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs.html 
  8. https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/bed-bugs-appearance-and-life-cycle 
  9. https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/bed-bugs-appearance-and-life-cycle 
  10. https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/introduction-bed-bugs 
  11. https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/bed-bugs-appearance-and-life-cycle 
  12. https://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/how-find-bed-bugs 
  13. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs.html 

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about bed bugs. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Swallow Bug we presume

Subject: Bed Bug or Swallow Bug?
Location: North Central Alberta, Canada
March 10, 2015 5:35 pm
I have recently stumpled upon a bit of a rapid infestation at my camp out at work in northern Alberta, we have had swallows every summer make nests underneath the overhang of our roof outside.

I came on shift and ended up seeing a huge influx of these little buggers, the majority of which were occupying the corners and cracks around appliances in our kitchen, the kitchen window is directly below where the swallows had made their nests outside.

I’ve heard that during the winter months the swallow bug can hibernate and awaken during the start of spring. They have a few that have made their way into the bedrooms but i can see no evidence of any burrowing or making homes in bedding, the majority have all been found in our kitchen.

It would be a great help if anyone had any insight into what exactly im dealing with here, i’ve already cleaned out my belongings and will not be staying inside of the trailer until the bugs are gone but determining what they are would be a big hel p before creating a plan of action, this is in a very remote work camp so its a fair trek for a pest control to just poke their head in without knowing what they are up against. Thanks in advance!

Signature: Taylor

Probably Swallow Bug
Probably Swallow Bug

Dear Taylor,
We haven’t the necessary expertise to distinguish between a Bed Bug and a Swallow Bug, but circumstantial evidence indicates this is most likely a Swallow Bug.
 

We also suspect that if they are Swallow Bug and there are no swallows to feed upon, they may be opportunistic and feed on human blood.

Letter 2 – Unknown Blurry Bug NOT a Bed Bug

What is this brown bug?
Location: Toledo, OH
June 19, 2011 2:13 am
A few months ago, a girl in my building bought a used couch and became infested with begbugs. A month after she moved out, I woke up with bites (my landlord didn’t bother to tell me she had them)

Our building has since been sprayed 3 times since March and I believe they’re gone. But tonight I found a brown bug crawling across my livingroom floor.

I googled pictures of bedbugs and I don’t think this is a begbug, but it’s similar. It’s brown, more oval shaped then round, (before I smooshed it) and has those ”lines” across its back but it seems to have more legs than the bedbugs pictured on the internet.

Also, this bug doesn’t seem to have a ”neck” like bedbugs I’ve seen online. It has a white underbelly and a lot of legs in both front and back like a roly poly bug. In shape, it is very similar to the roly poly bugs, but it’s brown instead of gray.

I just need a little reassurance that it’s not anot her bedbug. I’m about to have a panic attack over her. 🙁 I’m sorry the pictures are not very clear. It was taken with my cell phone camera.
Signature: TK

What’s That Bug???

Dear TK,
If it has more than six legs, it is not a Bed Bug.  Alas, your photos are too blurry for us to be able to provide any identification and no amount of post production image manipulation will do any good. 

It also did not help that you smashed the critter before taking the photos.  We hope that your letter will act to alert our readers that Bed Bugs can be transported on used furniture. 

We also heard a recent radio commercial alerting travelers to unpack suitcases in the garage and immediately wash all clothing before returning it to the closets, which we also find to be a helpful tip for keeping Bed Bugs from infesting a home.

Unknown Creature

Thank you so much for replying to my question! I feel much more relieved.. and yes, they definitely do come in on furniture. I used to be an avid garage sale browser and also thrift stores, but after this, not anymore.

They say that is why it’s become an epidemic, because of people picking up curbside furniture or furniture found on craigslist.

I live on the floor below the girl, so it is odd that they traveled down a flight of stairs to get to my apartment after she moved out, but she also left her mattress and baby crib upside the building for several weeks before and after she moved out and they were only feet away from my bedroom window.

This happened in March, very cold weather, and they say that the bugs can’t survive the cold, but I think it’s possible that they came in through the cracks of my bedroom window.

Unless of course they traveled down 2 flights of stairs, which just seems unlikely to me.  Anyhow, thanks again for your help!

Do not discount the possibility that Bed Bugs can enter apartments from cracks in the walls.

True, but surprisingly, I was the only other person in the building to have been bitten. We live in a quad-plex, I live on the lowest floor, the girl who originally brought them in lived upstairs and across the hall from my apartment, not directly above.

The woman who lives directly above and also the guy who lives across the hall from me, neither of them complained of being bitten but I read somewhere that some people don’t react to the bites at all, so they don’t realize they’ve been bitten.

Luckily, I caught it early enough. My case was really not that bad, I had most bites around my right elbow, then I had just a couple on my legs, stomach, and back, but very few.

The most were clustered around my elbow from that first night I noticed them. My landlord had the exterminators out that same week, they sprayed 3 times and also gave each of us mattress covers

Letter 3 – Possibly Bat Bug

Subject: Another bed bug question…
Location: Northern Virginia
March 12, 2014 11:10 pm
Earlier today, around noon, I was in the bathroom and felt something on my leg and killed this bug. At first it looked to me like a bed bug. This startled me a little so I decided to do some research which only added to my suspicions.

While it does look a lot like a bed bug, there are some things that also look slightly different. The first thing is that it seems a little darker than the images I am finding online.

The next thing is the body shape is slightly different. The third feature is that the area behind the eyes or head(I guess it’s called a pronotum?) seems to be a different shape than bed bugs.

I have never seen any evidence of bedbugs in the house or on my body before. Is this a bed bug or is it something else?

The second picture was taken after I accidentally removed the legs and antennae when I dropped it. The bug is also about 2mm long.
Signature: I. M.

Possibly Bat Bug
Possibly Bat Bug

Dear I.M.,
While this might not be a Human Bed Bug, it does resemble a member of the family Cimidae.  It might be a Bat Bug,
Cimex adjunctus, which can be viewed on BugGuide.

Thank you for the help. I still plan to bring it to a local expert just to be safe.
Thanks again!
Ian McCluskey

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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