The bed bug (Cimex lectularius) is a highly invasive insect which is doubling in numbers each year. Its resurgence has made it important for everyone to take proactive measures. Bed bugs are increasingly being encountered in homes, apartments, hotels, hospitals, dormitories, stores, movie theaters, and modes of public transportation. The recent rise of infestations is being attributed to increased travel, improved treatments of other insects, and the lack of public awareness. Due to its elusive behavior and ability to multiply quickly, prevention is key.
Familiarity of this blood feeding parasite’s behavior and appearance is crucial to identifying and preventing them. Bed bugs are nocturnal, being most active when we sleep. They inject a mild anesthetic into a person’s skin and suck a small amount of blood for approximately 3-5 minutes. The majority of people don’t even feel the bite. After bed bugs feed, they retreat to a dark hiding area to digest their meal and lay eggs. Although bed bugs tend to feed on their host every 5 to 10 days; they can survive over a year without feeding. So even if a residence is not occupied for a long period of time, bed bugs can remain alive. Bed bugs are most frequently found in bedrooms, yet infestations can be spread throughout living rooms, laundry rooms, and bathrooms. Inside the bedroom, they are commonly found in mattresses and bedding. They are also found in flooring, walls, furniture, drapery, electrical outlets, ceiling and wall fixtures, and even electronics. Although they are wingless, they are able to move swiftly on both horizontal and vertical surfaces. Bed bugs have, in fact, been known to travel up to 30 feet in one night. Remember, bed bugs do not actually live on humans. They can, however, travel wherever the human goes, “hitchhiking” in or on their clothing, luggage, backpack, and electronic devices; all of which they are capable of penetrating. This ability to travel on numerous different items and at a fairly rapid speed puts everyone at risk.
The appearance of bed bugs varies depending on their maturity level. The nits, which are 1mm sticky pearly white eggs, are nearly impossible to spot with the human eye. The next stage of the bug is the nymph (immature adult). It is more translucent than the adult. Yet if the nymph has recently fed, it can appear bright red in color. Adult bugs are the easiest to spot, having a reddish-brown, oval body. They’re flat and approximately 4-5mm long and 1.5mm wide.
When doing a bed bug inspection there are other signs, aside from the actual bug, you need to look for on the sheets, pillowcases, mattresses, and other nearby areas. The first sign is the nymph’s skin (eggshell), which is molted five times before maturity. These will appear light-brown and oval. Also, keep your eye out for bright red stains, which can occur if the blood engorged bed bug is crushed after feeding. Dark-brown blood spots or smears may be found, as well. These are the result of the bug excreting while feeding on its host.