Although the bed bug is an ectoparasite of people, it will feed on other mammals and birds. They were introduced into North America when European colonists settled into what is now the United States. As outstanding hitchhikers, bed bugs can be found anywhere in the habitable regions of the world. They’ve been documented by humans for over 3,300 years.
Adults are brown to reddish brown in color, wingless and oval shaped. The size of a bed bug depends on the amount of blood contained in their body, but unfed adults are between .25 and .4 inches (6-10 mm) in length. When engorged with blood, the body becomes greatly distended and swollen, with its color changing to more of a reddish color. A bed bug’s piercing-sucking mouthpart extends out into a beaklike structure, which is bent back beneath the body and held between the legs when not in use. Oddly, they have scent glands that emit a sweet odor. Nymphs look similar to adults, but are smaller and paler in color.
Bed bugs develop through simple metamorphosis (egg < nymph < adult). Under favorable conditions and regular feeding, female bed bugs lay 1 -5 eggs per day, for a lifetime average of about 200 eggs on average. The eggs are white in color, about 1-2 mm in length and resemble tiny grains of white rice. The eggs are secured with a transparent cement usually in cracks and/or on rough surfaces. The eggs hatch within 6 – 17 days.
Bed bugs go through 5 nymphal instars stages, with a blood meal required for each molt. Feeding usually takes between 3-10 minutes for each blood meal, during which an anticoagulant is injected into it’s host through saliva. When adults are well-fed, they can live for six to seven months.
Bed bugs feed strictly on blood, with humans being their preferred food source. While they usually reside within six feet of their host, bed bugs have been known to travel in excess of 100 feet for a bloodmeal. They feed mostly at night, while their human hosts are asleep, but will (if extremely hungry) feed during the day. Once fed, bed bugs crawl back to their hiding places, where they remain for several days to digest their meal and defecate black hemoglobin residue (often described as resembling black pepper spots).
The most common areas for bed bug infestations include:
- Boxsprings (35%)
- Mattresses (22%)
- Sofas/reclining chairs (23%)
- Bedframes/headboards (13%).
- Ceilings, baseboards, door/window trim, nightstands, dressers and behind picture frames (7%)
People react to bed bug bites differently. For some humans, the salivary fluid containing an anticoagulant causes skin to become irritated and inflamed. An itching welt can develop where the bite took place. To date, bed bugs have not been incriminated as natural vectors of any human pathogens, but laboratory studies indicate the possibility exists.
When dealing with apartment buildings and hotels, it’s recommended to inspect all adjoining rooms/units.
In general, liquids and dusts labeled for bed bugs work fine, but the proper use of steam has proven to be an effective means of control for areas such as mattresses, boxsprings, stuffed furniture, stuffed toys, etc. The depth of the steam’s penetration , however, can be a problem. You’ll want to wue the large nozzle, 1.5″ from the surface and move slowly.
Although I don’t personally recommend the use of mattresses and box springs encasement, some pest management professionals highly suggest their use in the control of bed bugs.
The use of washers and dryers can assist in bed bug control. For both washable clothing and sheets, and non-washable items such as shoes, it is recommended for the dryer to be used for a minimum of 10 minutes (half-loads only) at a temperature of 140ºF/60ºC). This will kill all stages of bed bugs.