Bed Bugs - The Ultimate Guide

What are bed bugs?

Who doesn't remember the most common phrase “Goodnight, sleep tight! Don't let the bed bugs bite”. But have you ever wondered about what bed bugs actually are? Bed Bugs can not only ruin your night’s sleep but also put you through a lot of discomfort from their itchy bites.

Bed Bugs are classified in the Cimicidae family of insects in the Hemiptera order of the insect families. Which basically means that they are one of the many insects who feed on warm blood may that be a human being or any other warm-blooded animal.

Picture courtesy of the British Pest Control Association

The common bed bug that infects our houses, offices and hotels feeding on human blood are scientifically known as Cimex Lecturalius. Their scientific name literally means “Bug Bed” Cimex is the Roman for Bug and Lexturalius means a bedding item. 

7 Things you should know about bed bugs

Appearance

Bed bugs are oval-shaped insects, about 4 to 5 mm in size. Usually reddish dark brown or dark brown in color. They are not any bigger than an apple seed yet contrary to seeds they don't produce life. They get their red and brown color from their thirst for human blood.

Bed bugs are oval-shaped insects, about 4 to 5 mm in size. Usually reddish dark brown or dark brown in color. They are not any bigger than an apple seed yet contrary to seeds they don't produce life. They get their red and brown color from their thirst for human blood.

Most people aren’t aware that their skin is actually translucent and gives the viewer a slight peek of their inner body. They are often mistaken as a common bug especially when they are younger and smaller in size. A young bug can easily be misjudged for a beetle or similar common insect. The adult bed bug, on the other hand, is easily recognized.

Lifespan and eating

Unlike mosquitos, another blood insect, bed bugs can live up to one year. Yes, that's how long they can keep you awake at nights, that is if you don't fall ill and decide to wage a war on them.

Typically, bed bugs need blood to stay alive and survive and, in this case,, mother nature is on the side of bed bugs as they can easily come crawling into your life. Bed bugs administer an anesthetic so that you do not wake up when they are having a meal on your blood.

The bed bug can drink blood three times its weight in a single time. The good news is, it only feeds once every 10 days. The not so good news is, it can live up to 12 months without having a meal waiting in hibernation to feed again.

How long does a bed bug live?

Bed bugs are born survivors and can cause a lot of distress to occupiers of the rooms where they are present.

Bed bugs need blood to survive and flourish, that is why if they do not get the blood / food required their lifespan can be as little as a few months depending on what life cycle stage they are at.

A bed bug can live up to a year and this life cycle doesn't require constant feeding on human blood. The meals are generally 10 days apart if available however the bug can be very easily live up to 400 days without any human interaction. The conditions, however, must be favorable for the habitat to live up to such long periods of time without any human interaction.

Bed bugs reach maturity only after feeding on a human. A newly hatched bug does not require a human blood meal to survive to the next level.

It takes a bed bug five stages or molts to get adulthood and the process is quite similar to a reptilian process of molting. A bed bug does need a human blood meal go through each stage of maturity. Young adults or baby bed bugs are generally yellowish-brown in color and turn reddish brown only when they near their maturity.

Reproduction

Bed bugs are among the most rapidly reproducing insect species. Yet, they are perhaps the most violent species in all biological classes.

Male bed bug pierces the female bug's body to release sperms. Once the sperm has transformed into an egg the process has already begun therefore killing the bug alone doesn't stop the cycle.

Bed bugs are among the most rapidly reproducing insect species. Yet, they are perhaps the most violent species in all biological classes.

Male bed bug pierces the female bug's body to release sperms. Once the sperm has transformed into an egg the process has already begun therefore killing the bug alone doesn't stop the cycle.

One of the earliest solutions for bed bugs was burning the infested item however, sophisticated solutions are now available in the modern world. A single female bug can reproduce to infect a medium sized building forcing a thorough pest operation if not detected in the early stages.

Adult bed bugs

There are many bugs that look like bed bugs. So, knowing how adult bed bugs look like is a critical first step to avoid spending too much money treating the wrong bug. In general, adult bed bugs are:

  • 5-7mm long --- about the size of an apple seed.
  • Genderless
    If not fed, they will have a flat, long, brown, oval-shaped body.
  • If fed recently, adult bed bugs will have a reddish-brown, more elongated, balloon-like body.
  • Genderless
    Bed bugs are classified as "true" bugs. This means that their anatomy is broken into three segments --- an antenna which has our parts, wings that don't have the capacity to fly, and short, golden-colored hairs.
  • Adult bed bugs are smelly. The glands on the lower side of their bodies produce a musty-sweetish odor.
  • Genderless
    Adult bed bugs have a flat profile which enables them to hide in between cracks --- making it harder to fully eradicate them.

It takes about 2-4 months for an egg to fully develop into an adult bed bug. Their lifespan is about 4-6 months although there are reports that some bed bugs can live up to a year in cold conditions without feeding.

Adult bed bugs cannot mate until they have fed and shed their exoskeletons 5 times. This can take up to 37 days depending on the availability of food. Adult male bed bugs become very interested in mating once fed.

Adult bed bugs mate using a process called traumatic insemination where the male stabs the female’s abdominal wall to deposit sperm. The sperm then moves to the female’s ovaries to fertilize the eggs. If she is recently fed, a female bed bug can lay up to 20 eggs over a span of 10 days. She can lay her eggs in clusters or singly. 

Traumatic insemination causes scarring and a female that has mated several times in a short period of time will be laying fewer eggs compared to a female bed bug that had enough time to recover. To protect themselves, pregnant bed bugs tend to travel to places where there’s plenty of food and a shortage of mates to avoid being mated again.

If food is readily available, female adult bed bugs can mate again and lay up to 200-250 bed bug eggs in her lifetime. Depending on the conditions, about 97% of these eggs hatch. The incubation period for bed bug eggs vary. For ideal conditions of 70oF/21oC, over 50 percent of the eggs will hatch on day 6. Up to 90% of the eggs hatch by day 9. Colder conditions can delay hatching by a couple of days.

Under favorable circumstances, the entire bed bug population in your home could double in just over 2 weeks. In fact, a single pregnant bed bug can cause an infestation of more than 5,000 bed bugs in just six months!

Bed bugs thrive because of the number of eggs one pregnant female can lay. And it will be impossible to eradicate them on your own. If you suspect that you have a bed bug infestation in your home, call a pest management professional immediately.

How large are bed bugs?

Through their life cycle, Bedbugs have various different sizes so the question ‘how large bed bugs’ are actually depends on what stage of the life cycle each bus is currently at.

From their oval shaped egg inception phase to an adult bed bug their size ranges as they progress. A beg bug starting at the average of 1 mm (egg size) can end up transforming into a 5mm parasite, about 400% increase in the size. Bed bugs do not have wings and therefore cannot fly.

Bed bug up close

To help you identify bed bugs more accurately – check out these close-up pictures.

Picture courtesy of the British Pest Control Association

Picture courtesy of the British Pest Control Association

Common locations where bed bugs are found

Bed Bugs are found all over the globe, not just in developing countries. There have been reports of bed bug infestation across Asia, North America, South America, and Europe. Another popular myth is that bed bugs can only be found in motels and dirty houses. Well, that’s not also true as there have been reports of bed bug infestations in popular hotel chains and resorts.

They can survive for over a year without feeding and can reproduce very fast. They are commonly found in dorm rooms, single- and multi-family homes, hotels, motels, apartment buildings, complexes, and even hospitals.

Bed bugs love hiding in areas where people sleep, usually around beds and couches. Aside from the places above, some bed bugs infestation is also reported in buses and trains! Yes, bed bugs love cozy beds and couches but they’re not just limited there. They can also thrive behind electric sockets, etc. In short, bed bugs can live anywhere in your home.

Bed bugs are nocturnal. They usually hide during the day and go about at night. But there are exceptions. When hungry, bed bugs also tend to travel in broad daylight to look for food. Bed bugs can move more than 100 feet every night when looking for food. And because of the flat profile, they can easily squeeze themselves in between cracks to avoid detection.

Bed bugs are very resilient. They can survive in extreme temperatures as long as they had enough time to adjust themselves. The ideal living conditions for bed bugs are moderate temperatures around 70oF. Also, contrary to popular belief, bed bugs can thrive in clean spaces. More so in messy environments where they can easily find a home.

Why do you think bed bugs are generally found around mattresses? It’s because they love to come out at night and feed on unwary humans. This is especially true for the early stages of infestation. However, as time progresses and their population grows, bed bugs tend to spread out and move onto other areas of the house as well.

Bed bugs love dark places such as: 

  • Inside drawers, box springs, cracked drywall, stereos, clocks, and even phones!
  • Genderless
    Under furniture, baseboards, wallpapers, carpets, and rugs
  • On sleeping clothes
  • Genderless
    In between cracks and curtain folds
  • Behind doors and windows casings, wall decors, posters, and paintings

How do bed bugs get in your house?

Imagine this:

It's 3 am and you are sound asleep. But while dreaming of Winter Wonder Land, a colony of bed bugs --- hundreds of them --- are crawling all over your mattress. The first group finally reached your feet while the others are making their way to your arms. Soon after, an entire colony of “Vampires” are sucking away your blood. That’s not the worst part though. What makes it horrifying is that for the entire process, you are not even aware that they’re draining your life out of you.

Nobody wants to invite bed bugs into their homes. That’s why it’s important to know where you are likely to get these uninvited guests. Bed bugs rarely feed on animal blood, unlike ticks. That's why they frequent areas where humans congregate.

1. Hotels, motels, and hostels

Bed bugs are the bane of hotels. And if you’ve checked in at night when they are most active, chances are, a bed or two may have already hitched a ride in your luggage by the time you put your bags down.

It’s a great idea to keep your luggage in the bathtub (or bathroom if there’s no bathtub available) --- no matter how ridiculous it sounds. Why? Because bed bugs tend to avoid these places. Humans don’t frequent bathrooms and tiles don’t offer much protection for them either.

Bed bugs are less likely to climb slippery surfaces because they’re bodies are not built for it. Yes, they have wings. But thank goodness they don’t know how to use it!

As a precaution, do a quick once-over after checking in. Check the mattress, especially the crevices, for any signs of bed bugs. Headboards are worth checking too! What to look for? Dark-colored excrement stains, eggs, shed skins, and of course live bugs!

Once you’re home, wash your suitcase and clothes immediately. If you don’t have the time to do it, put them inside a sealed garbage bag until you’re ready to wash them.

2. Used clothing

If you love thrift stores, you will not love them as much anymore after reading this. Not all clothes in thrift stores are clean nor disinfected when they were brought in. Some are even not washed! So, even if you don’t see any bed bugs crawling about, there could be eggs.

If you still insist on buying used clothing in thrift stores, make sure they are washed and dried immediately.

3. Trains, taxis, and buses

Public transportation can harbor bed bugs too. And they are very hard to spot! Seriously, who has the time to look for tiny bed bugs with too many people walking by you or while making sure you won’t miss your next stop.

4. Infested houses

Visiting a friend? If his or her house is infested with bed bugs, there’s a big chance that you’ll end up bringing a couple of unwanted visitors with you. Also, nobody wants to tell the public that they have a bed bug infestation, so there’s really no way for you to tell. The chances of contracting bed bugs from your friend's or neighbor's house are remote if the infestation isn't too severe.

5. Second-hand mattresses or sofas

New furniture is expensive. So, it's very tempting to acquire second-hand ones when you get the chance. However, you must be extra careful as these mattresses, sofas, or beds may shelter bed bugs. The risk goes up if you don’t know the people selling this stuff. 

It’s better to stay on the safe side by buying brand new furniture. The money you’ll save from buying old beds, mattresses, or sofas will not be that much anymore if you’ll end up hiring a professional pest management service to help you get rid of your bed bug infestation. In fact, you might end up paying more than what you bargained for!

If you really want to buy second-hand furniture, buy from someone you know. It’s not a guarantee that they’ll you that they had bed bug problems in the past but hey, your chances are way higher than buying from a total stranger.

It's also a good idea to vacuum second-hand beds or sofas. Use a vacuum that has plenty of suction and pays careful attention to corners and crevices.


Picture courtesy of the British Pest Control Association

Should I be concerned by ONE bed bug?

Not necessarily. If the bed bug is a male, then there's no way for it to reproduce. He'll still bite you though! If you brought home a pregnant female bed bug, then you should be concerned. With enough food, one female bed bug can lay hundreds of eggs! And that could be a start of a full-fledged infestation after about 6 months.

Wait, don't panic! The chances of you bringing home a bed bug are very slim unless you visit a very filthy place which most likely is suffering from a heavy bed bug infestation. But who wants to go to such places?

Bed bug prevention

As mentioned previously, they thrive even in extreme conditions, multiply fast, and can move from an infested place to a new area fairly quickly. Treating bed bug infestations can be expensive. So better avoid them if you can. Here are some best practices on how to prevent bed bugs from infesting your home.

1. Learn how to identify bed bugs

Know your enemy. How can you prevent a bed bug infestation if you don’t even know how bed bugs look like? Certainly, you don’t want to spend a lot of resources fighting the wrong bug.

2. Cover power outlets

For bed bugs, power outlets are perfect places to avoid extermination. They can also travel through your wall’s electrical wiring and infest other areas of your property.

3. Always vacuum your floor

Make it a habit to vacuum your floor regularly, paying close attention to corners, edges, and hard to reach places. Bed bugs love hiding in cracks and under your carpet. Make sure to use a high-powered vacuum with strong suction.

After vacuuming, remove the bag and put it inside a sealed trash bag. Dispose of it properly.

4. Clean and declutter your space

Bed bugs love clutter and dirty spaces. Always keep your place clean. Throw away, recycle, or donate unused items that you don’t need anymore. Bed bugs love clutter because they can hide under them.

5. Cover your mattress

Bed bugs love mattresses especially those folds and crevices. Make sure to put your mattress in encasements to protect it. Although this doesn’t rid your bedroom of an infestation, it’s a good proactive approach.

Choose encasements that have no folds around the zippers. Also, make sure it’s made from high-quality, fold-, and tear-resistant cloth.

6. Inspect your furniture often

Another proactive approach is to inspect your furniture regularly. Begin with furniture close to walls especially those with cracks or are already old. Detecting bed bugs early will give you time to treat them yourself. Always inspect used furniture that you buy from thrift stores or garage sales.

7. Stay away from moving blankets

Most moving companies offer moving blankets when you move. Use your own instead. Because these blankets may not thoroughly be cleaned and could harbor bed bugs from their last customer.

8. Seal your home

Even you don’t have bed bugs in your home, they may still invade your house from another property --- most likely your neighbor. This is especially true when living in apartments or complexes. Bed bugs can also hitch a ride on pets, birds, or rodents.

Any opening in your home must be thoroughly sealed. Bed bugs have a very low profile can easily slip into cracks as thin as a business card. Silicon caulks are best for sealing cracks and gaps in your wall. Make sure your screens are intact as well.

9. Be wary of bed bugs from laundromats

It’s so easy to get some bed bug hitchhikers from shared laundry facilities. To prevent this from happening, use sealed plastic bags instead of open clothes basket.

10. Pack clothes in sealable bags

Do you travel a lot? It's easy to catch some bed bugs inside hotels. These pests often hitchhike on your luggage or clothing. To prevent this from happening, store your clothes in vacuum sealed bags when traveling. This will make your clothes and other belongings less accessible to bed bugs, reducing their chances of catching a ride.

11. Learn early signs of bed bugs

Bed bug bites are very easy to identify. These are typically small itchy red marks that often appear in rows. If you or any of your family members have bed bug bite marks, it’s a telltale sign that an infestation is looming.

12. Keep a watchful eye on your pets

Bed bugs love feeding on human blood. They only feed on animals if they don’t have a choice. But this doesn’t make your cats and dogs free from bed bugs. These pests can still hide in your pet’s coat and bed. Check your pet, its bed, and any areas where your pet frequents for any signs of bed bugs.

13. Buy bed bug monitors

Yes, there's a way to monitor bed bugs! And no, these are not specialized glasses. Bed bug monitors like ClimbUp go under the feet of your bed frame to prevent bed bugs from reaching your mattress.

14. Buy bed bug monitors

I don’t blame you if love buying used goods. They’re a cheap way to get “new” stuff. Just make sure you check them thoroughly as they may be carrying bed bugs into your home. This is especially true for electronics such as stereo, remotes, game consoled, computers, and other items vulnerable to bed bugs.

15. Beware of dressing rooms

Yep, you can also find bed bugs in dressing rooms --- the carpet, curtain, and cushioned seat --- are perfect hiding places. To avoid hitchhikers, it’s better to hang your clothes on the wall hooks instead of laying them down the floor or seat.

16. Follow the D.R.E.A.M when traveling

Frequent travelers are most likely to catch bed bugs in various places, especially hotels and motels. Keep the D.R.E.A.M in mind to reduce your risks:

D – Determine if the room has signs of infestation (rust-colored sports on bed skirts, pillow, mattress, etc.)

R – Raise furniture. Look for bed bugs. They usually hide under fixtures, the bed frame, headboard, or mattress.

E – Examine your luggage. Inspect your luggage for any signs of bed bugs. Keep it away from the bed and wall.

A – Assess your luggage when you get home. Always inspect and clean your luggage thoroughly after you get home from your travels. Also, avoid storing it near your bedroom. If you don’t have the time to wash it, place it inside a sealed plastic bag.

M – Move all your clothing to the dryer immediately. As soon as you get home, put all your clothing in the dryer at the highest setting for at least 15 minutes.

If you are suffering from a bed bug infestation that’s too big for you to handle, call the professionals. Don’t fight bed bugs on your own.

Effective methods of control

Bed bugs are a pain to deal with! You think you have an infestation? Are you sure? Here’s a checklist:

1. You see bed bugs

It’s hard to spot bed bugs in broad daylight. They’re really good at hiding. If you think you have an infestation looming, wake up in the middle of the night, grab a flashlight and pull back your covers. See any bed bugs?

2. Signs of bed bugs

If you have bed bugs in your room, you should see telltale signs of their presence. Look for excrement stains (small rust colored spots) and shed skins.

3. Bed bug bites

The best way to tell if there’s a bed bug infestation is when you wake up with patches of itchy red bite marks. Bed bug bites are usually in a line or in clusters.

Treating bed bugs

So, you really have bed bugs in your bedroom. Your best method of control will be to call professional bed bug exterminators. They’re very effective but costly. If you think the infestation is still manageable on your own try these DIY treatment options:

  • Use bed bug sprays – There’s a lot of bed bug sprays on the market. Find one that’s readily available in your area. And make sure to do your homework to see if they really work or not. Check out my detailed guide on bed bug sprays here.
  • Genderless
    Heat treatment – Bed bugs hate the heat. They can only survive temperatures of up to 120 degrees. Although heat treatment is very effective, it’s only limited to small items like your clothing or beddings.
  • Vacuums – Vacuums are not bed bug killers. But they're good at sucking bed bugs out of their hiding places. Make sure you use high powered vacuums. Dispose of the bag properly in sealed trash bags.
  • Genderless
    Bed bug steamers – Steamers have the same effect as heat treatment to bed bugs. They’re very inexpensive and allows you to heat treat large surfaces like your sofa.
  • Diatomaceous Earth – Although not 100% effective, this natural product is worth the try. It’s very cheap too! Diatomaceous earth creates a non-toxic barrier that can prevent bed bugs from moving freely. And in some instances, kill them. Diatomaceous earth must be used alongside other treatment methods to be fully effective.

If the infestation is too much for you to handle, then you have no choice but to hire a professional exterminator. It’s very easy to find them online.

You can also ask your friends for any recommendations. Costs of professional bed bug extermination vary depending on location and severity of the infestation. Expect to shell out up to $2,000 or more.

Prevention is still better. By following the tips we’ve outlined in the previous section, you are well ahead on your way to keeping these unwanted pests away from your home.

How long do bed bugs live after treatment?

If you think you have bed bugs in your house you need to take pro-active steps to treat them. If you see a single bed bug, you should take proper steps to secure your house from these pest insects.

If the treatment has not been carried out effectively to get rid of them, they can very easily re-appear.

That is why it is important to carry out thorough treatment of bed bugs. If the treatment is carried out by professionals who know exactly how to treat the infestation, then it is more likely that your house will be free from this pest.

Bedbugs are extremely good at hiding, which is why sometimes it is difficult to get rid of them completely and we can never expect them to be gone in the first round of treatment.

Even if you cleared every corner of the house, there might be some surviving bed bugs in your house. If bed bugs are hiding after the treatment, then they can still live up to months without feeding.

The time span of bed bug’s life without feeding depends on the age of the bed bug. The adult bed bug is stronger and that is why it can even live up to a year without feeding. A juvenile bedbug can only live up to approximately three to four months without a proper feeding of blood.

The second factor that revolves around the survival of bed bug can be the room temperature. As excessive heat is also a way to get rid of bed bug that is why if the room temperature of bed bug is hot then it can cause the death of bedbug. An adult bed bug can live up to only 33 days if the heat of the room is around 98 degrees.

Bed bugs in the modern world

Beg Bugs were very common in Europe and the United States during the great plague, great depression, and World War II eras. These bugs travel with their host and quickly reproduce to create new colonies. This time of great human dilemmas became a party fest because we were facing problem way more important issues than beg bugs. Once the dust settled down large scale countrywide pesticide operations were conducted in United States, United Kingdom, and various other European countries. By 1950, the modern world was almost able to rid their lands of this pest, but the hibernating ability and remote unreachable colonies gave way to re-emergence of the common bed bugs.

Earliest encounters

Roman inscriptions dating back up to 2000 years speak of the bug that feeds on humans. That is perhaps their earliest recorded encounter with human civilizations. There are inscriptions of their existence in ancient Egyptian scripture as well.