Discover everything you need to know about bed bugs in our guide below.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are tiny, flat, wingless insects (scientific name Cimex lectularius) that feed on blood and tend to live near humans. Adults have oval-shaped, flat, wingless bodies. They are about ⅕-¼ inch long and red or mahogany in color.
While bed bugs are not known to spread diseases to humans, some people are allergic to their bites. Bed bug infestations can be difficult to control because the insects breed and multiply rapidly. They can also enter the home from external locations, like hotels, hostels, or stores, which makes it difficult to avoid the pests.
The Behavior, Diet, and Habits of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs, like other sucking insects, survive on human blood. Females consume blood to support reproduction and egg-laying. Females lay 200-500 eggs during their lifetimes (usually about 2-5 eggs per day) on rough surfaces like wood, mattress fibers, and more.
The eggs hatch within about 10-15 days and develop into nymphs. As they mature, bed bugs go through five nymph stages, each requiring a blood meal.
Unlike ticks, bed bugs do not burrow under the skin to feed. Instead, they use their sharp, piercing, sucking mouthpieces to consume blood from a host. As they feed, they inject saliva into the host’s skin, causing skin irritation and possible allergic reactions.
The common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, is found mainly in the northern temperate climates throughout Europe, North America, and Central Asia. C. hemipterus, meanwhile, is the most dominant species in tropical regions.
Because bed bugs need to eat every few days, they tend to live near their hosts (generally within a 20 ft. radius). They are often found in bedrooms, behind baseboards, around mattresses, and in the cracks or crevices of walls and trim. Despite their desire to eat frequently, bed bugs can survive with food for periods as long as 20-400 days.
In addition to feeding on humans, bed bugs feed on other mammals and birds, including rats, mice, and rabbits. It’s possible to pick up bed bugs by sleeping on infested mattresses or bringing home used textiles or furniture.
What Damage Do Bed Bugs Cause?
Bed bugs usually feed on humans at night when they sleep. During a feeding (which takes about 3-10 minutes), bed bugs can consume up to six times their weight in blood.
While bed bug bites tend to be painless while they’re happening, and most people aren’t even aware they’ve been bitten, allergic dermal reactions are common. Symptoms include but are not limited to redness, itching, raised welts, and swelling in the bite area. In some cases, the irritation may become infected.
Bed bugs have not been shown to transmit diseases to humans.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
Getting rid of bed bugs can take weeks or months, depending on the severity of the infestation.
To eliminate bed bugs, start by removing infested items. Place infested items into a sealed plastic bag and either dry them on high heat or freeze them at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 2-3 days. Launder all washable items in hot water and dry them on “high.”
Next, vacuum your bedroom, mattress, carpets, and bed frame with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter, and discard furniture and other belongings that can’t be safely cleaned. Purchase bed bug-proof mattress covers to seal your mattresses and box springs.
To eliminate bed bugs and their eggs in cracks, fabrics, or carpets, use a steam cleaner with a steam temperature of at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
If needed, hire a pest management professional or use pesticides approved for killing bed bugs.
For a complete guide on how to get rid of bed bugs, click here.
Bed bug infestations usually do not go away on their own. Bed bugs breed rapidly and can hide in tiny cracks and crevices, which allows them to avoid surface treatments like vacuuming.
Steam is a great way to kill bed bugs instantly. Bed bugs and their eggs die in temperatures of 122 degrees Fahrenheit.