What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of
warm-blooded animals. Bed bugs and their relatives have evolved as nest
parasites. Certain kinds inhabit
bird nests and bat roosts and await the return of their hosts; others have
adapted well to living in the ‘nests’ (homes) of people.
Hatchling bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed, and adults are about 1/4
of an inch in length. From above they are oval in shape, but are flattened from
top to bottom.
Their color ranges from nearly white (just after molting) or a light tan to a
deep brown or burnt orange. The host’s blood may appear as a dark red or black
mass within the bug’s body. Because they never develop wings, bed bugs cannot
fly. When disturbed, bed bugs
actively seek shelter in dark cracks and crevices.
Cast skins of bed bugs are sometimes discovered.
Although such a finding confirms that bed bugs had been present
previously, it does not confirm that any continue to infest the residence.
Thus, inspect carefully for live crawling bed bugs.
Because many other kinds of small brown bugs may be discovered, it is
critical to ensure that the bugs are correctly identified (more about this
Do bed bugs cause
harm or spread pathogens (disease-causing germs)?
Bed bugs seek out people and animals, generally at night while these hosts are
asleep, and painlessly sip a few drops of blood.
While feeding, they inject a tiny amount of their saliva into the skin.
Repeated exposures to bed bug bites during a period of several weeks or
more causes people to become sensitized to the saliva of these bugs; additional
bites may then result in mild to intense allergic responses.
The skin lesion produced by the bite of a bed bug resembles those caused
by many other kinds of blood feeding insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas.
The offending insect, therefore, can rarely be identified by the
appearance of the bites. A physician
should be consulted to rule out other causes for the lesions and to offer
treatment, as needed. The affected
person should resist the urge to scratch the bites, as this may intensify the
irritation and itching, and may lead to secondary infection.
Physicians often treat patients with antihistamines and corticosteroids
to reduce allergic reactions and inflammation.
Despite what you may have heard or read elsewhere, bed bugs are not known
to transmit any infectious agents.
Where do bed bugs occur?
Bed bugs and their relatives occur nearly worldwide.
Bed bugs became relatively scarce during the latter part of the 20th
century, but their populations have resurged in recent years, particularly
throughout parts of North America, Europe, and Australia.
They are most abundant in rooms where people sleep, and they generally
hide nearest the bed or other furniture used for sleeping. Bed bugs are most
active in the middle of the night, but when hungry, they will venture out during
the day to seek a host. Their
flattened bodies allow them to conceal themselves in cracks and crevices around
the room and within furniture.
Favored hiding sites include the bed frame, mattress and box spring.
Clutter around the room offers additional sites for these bugs to hide,
and increases the difficulty in eliminating bed bugs once they have become
How do bed bugs invade a home?
Because bed bugs readily hide in small crevices, they may accompany (as
stowaways) luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes, and other such objects
when these are moved between apartments, homes and hotels. Used furniture,
particularly bed frames and mattresses, are of greatest risk of harboring bed
bugs and their eggs. Thus, one
should carefully scrutinize and consider the history of any used furniture,
particularly ‘street’ items so plentiful at the beginning and end of each
academic year. Because they readily
survive for many months without feeding, bed bugs may already be present in
apparently ‘vacant’ and ‘clean’ apartments.
Bed bugs can wander between adjoining apartments through voids in walls
and holes though which wires and pipes pass.
In a few cases, bats and/or birds may introduce and maintain bed bugs and
their close relatives (bat bugs and bird bugs).
Pest control personnel should be mindful
of the presence of blood feeding insects and mites that may be left behind after
removing nests or roosts of birds and bats in and on the home.
How can you tell if
the residence is infested?
Bed bugs infest only a small proportion of residences, but they should be
suspected if residents complain of bites that occurred while sleeping. The
bedroom and other sleeping areas should be carefully examined for bed bugs and
signs of bed bug activity. Folds and
creases in the bed linens, and seams and tufts of mattresses and box springs, in
particular, may harbor bed bugs or their eggs.
They may also be found within pleats of curtains, beneath loose areas of
wallpaper near the bed, in corners of desks and dressers, within spaces of
wicker furniture, behind cove molding, and in laundry or other items on the
floor or around the room. Sometimes, characteristic dark brown or reddish fecal
spots of bed bugs are apparent on the bed linens, mattress or walls near the
bed. A peculiar coriander-like odor
may be detected in some heavily infested residences.
Adhesive-based traps used for sampling insects or rodents are not
particularly effective for trapping bed bugs.
What should you do if you find bed bugs?
Because several different kinds of insects resemble bed bugs, specimens should
be carefully compared with good reference images (such as those in this
document) to confirm their identity. If any questions remain regarding the
identity of your samples, then submit them to a competent entomologist for
evaluation (see information below).
Once their identity is confirmed, a careful plan should be devised to eliminate
the bed bugs in a manner that promotes success while limiting unnecessary costs
and exposure to insecticides.
Don’t discard furniture and don’t treat until and unless you have a
What can you do to manage bed bugs?
Refer to the publication at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PDF/PESTNOTES/pnbedbugs.pdf
Search for signs of bed bugs.
Carefully inspect the bed frame, mattress, and other furniture for signs of bed
bugs and their eggs. Although dead bed bugs, cast bug skins and blood spots may
indicate an infestation occurred previously; they do not confirm that an
infestation is still active. Search
for live (crawling) bugs and ensure they are bed bugs before considering
Reduce clutter to limit hiding places for
Thoroughly clean the infested rooms as
well as others in the residence.
Scrub infested surfaces with a stiff brush to dislodge eggs, and use a powerful
vacuum to remove bed bugs from cracks and crevices.
Dismantling bed frames will expose additional bug hiding sites.
Remove drawers from desks and dressers and turn furniture over, if
possible, to inspect and clean all hiding spots.
Mattresses and box springs can be permanently encased within special mattress
bags. Once they are installed,
inspect the bags to ensure they are undamaged; if any holes or tears are found,
seal these completely with permanent tape.
Any bugs trapped within these sealed bags will eventually die.
To prevent bed bugs from crawling onto a bed, pull the bed frame away from the
wall, tuck sheets and blankets so they won’t contact the floor, and place the
frame legs into dishes or cups of mineral oil.
Caulk and seal all holes where pipes and wires penetrate walls and floor, and
fill cracks around baseboards and cove moldings to further reduce harborages.
If you own your residence, we suggest you contact a licensed pest control
operator who is knowledgeable and experienced in managing bed bug infestations.
Ask the pest control company for references, and ask at least a few of their
customers about their experiences before you agree to any contract.
If you are a tenant, contact your property manager or landlord to discuss your
respective obligations, and to agree on a plan to manage the infestation.
Generally, landlords are legally required to contract with a licensed
pest control operator.
Request a written integrated pest management (IPM) plan from the pest control
operator. This plan should detail the methods and insecticides to be used by the
pest control operator, and describe the efforts expected by the building manager
as well as by the tenants.
Because bed bugs and other pests may spread through cracks and holes in the
walls, ceilings and floors, it is wise to inspect adjoining apartments on the
same floor as well as those directly above and below
More information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)