Bed bugs 101

Even though they say that bed bugs do not pose a health risk when sharing your home with you, the thought of bugs living on your bed and feeding on you when you are sleeping, does not bode well with most people. Regardless of their size and ability to hide in tight, dark spots, it is easily possible to exterminate them safely. Let’s take an in-depth look at this pest.

Introduction and History of Bed Bugs

The intention of this book, is to state the facts about bed bugs and their habits. Nowadays, there is so much misinformation about bed bugs, how people got them and how to successfully exterminate them. I am a firm believer that the best way to deal with any pest, is to understand the pest, know what it requires, then take that away so that the pest has to come to you as opposed to chasing it all around the house. I have come across so many people who are deathly afraid of the prospect of bugs biting them when they are sleeping and will do almost anything to get rid of the problem. The high cost of exterminating bed bugs today, I believe, probably came from frantic mothers who woke up all through the night to prevent their babies from being eaten alive…”please, just get rid of the bed bugs…I don’t care how much it costs”. It seems that most Pest Control companies have adopted to charge high prices for bed bug extermination probably because of frantic people.

“Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite”. This saying has been around for many years and makes us realize that bed bugs have been terrorizing people who were sleeping all across the world. In fact, bed bugs have been around since the beginning of time. Fossils of dead bed bugs have been found in caves where it was thought that the bed bugs fed on bats. With the emergence of humans, they started to feed on them and gradually got transported to other areas of the world. All countries experiences bed bug infestations. It was thought that bed bugs were brought to North America in the 1700’s by early European travellers. In the 1950’s, DDT was used to try to exterminate bed bugs as well as cockroaches and other pests. This chemical did very well in exterminating the bugs and bed bug infestations were almost a thing of the past. In 1972, however, DDT was banned as an insecticide as it was thought that it caused cancer as well as being a threat to wildlife especially birds.

What do bed bugs look like?

Believe it or not, even though there is a huge problem with bed bugs around the world, many people don’t even know what a bed bug looks like. I have received calls where someone has said they have a bed bug problem and the bugs are huge…even to the size of 3″ long! Not to worry, bed bugs never grow that big.

The bed bug starts off as an egg. The egg is pear-shaped and white (about 1mm long) and can be seen with the naked eye if affixed to a dark background. If laid on a white material, they may be overlooked. There are five stages of nymph until they become an adult. These nymphs range in size as they morph into the next stage. Normally, they will be white to yellowish until they have a blood meal where they will turn to a darker brown. The first stage may be too small to see if crossing a sheet and being white. The rest of the stages will gradually become bigger as they shed their skin into the next stage. Each morph cycle can take up to a week. While a nymph won’t advance to the next stage without a blood meal, this doesn’t mean it will die. Nymphs can last for months without feeding.

The adult female bed bug is about the size of an apple seed but can be three times that size if they have fully fed. The difference between the female and male bed bug is that the female will have a rounded bottom while the male will have a pointed bottom. Following a feeding, the adults will take on a reddish brown colour.

Bed bug Habits

This section is important since many people don’t know the habits of a bed bug or they are misled either unintentionally or given untrue information.

In nature, no one can say that anything will only behave one way. Certain variables can change the habits depending on the circumstances.

All stages of bed bugs as well as females and males need to get a blood meal. The five stages prior to becoming an adult need to feed in order to shed their skin to change to the next stage. The adult female needs to obtain a blood meal ( just like a mosquito) in order to lay eggs. The very young stages must eat in order to survive whereas the adults still need to feed but they have been known to go without a feeding for up to a year. Normally, bed bugs come back to you to feed 5-10 days after their last feeding. The fact that adults can still stay alive for up to a year, is not their doing. Usually they are in a place where there is no one to feed on such as a vacant or abandoned home or suite. I have personally seen where an elderly man was admitted to a Care Home and his house was left the way that it was when he was moved out. Upon entering the home, now over a little over a year…there were a few bed bugs found in the seams of his couch…alive.
Bed bugs do not take a holiday. If they are hungry, they will feed. What activates their desire to feed is the detection of heat coming from a body and the carbon dioxide that a person exhales. If they do not sense these, they will simply wait. Understand the scenario of tenants moving out of an infested home and leaving some bed bugs hiding in the walls, behind baseboards or wherever. They will wait, even though they are hungry, until someone moves in, sets up their beds and sleeps. Usually they are so famished that the new tenants are bitten the first night.

Bed bugs normally do not want to travel distances to feed on someone but if they have to, they will. They can sense CO2 from 8 feet away but beyond that, they will search in random patterns.

Bed bugs when brought into a home, will eventually make there way to where someone sleeps and wait until they are sleeping. They will climb onto the bed and feed on that person, usually after they have been sleeping for hours. They don’t fly or jump…just crawl. Bed bugs can still move pretty fast when they want. When they have finished feeding, they will hide on or near the bed in a dark area or crevice where they will not be disturbed and can digest their meal. If they are a young bed bug, they will then shed their skin. If they are an adult female, they will prepare to lay eggs. Bed bugs will find a way on to the bed, couch or wherever someone sleeps. If the bed has legs, that is how it can get on the bed. The walls also creates an access onto the bed if the bed is against the wall. If the bed is just a mattress on the floor, they can get on anywhere they want. As was mentioned, they prefer to hide where they will not be disturbed in a dark area. With a bed that has a mattress, box spring and a frame, the favourite hiding place usually is in the box spring. As the infestation gets bigger, hiding on the mattress, frame or head board, will become apparent.

Bed bugs will hide on wood, cardboard or fabric material and normally will stay away from metal, leather or plastic. Smooth surfaces (glass, plastic) are hard for the bed bug to walk on. If the bed is just a mattress on a floor, it may not be suitable for bed bugs to hide under the mattress due to being disturbed by the occupant rolling around during the night and therefore they may take up hiding behind the baseboards in the room, objects around the bed like clothing, night tables, behind pictures, inside plug outlets etc. When there is a major infestation of bed bugs, all bets are off and bed bugs will hide in any crevice, along the crease where the wall meets the ceiling…even in the open when it is in direct light. Once there are too many bed bugs looking for hiding places, they are forced to go beyond the norm.

Bed bugs are slender and can fit in tight crevices, between materials and may even be found hiding inside the heads of screws.

Bed bugs have the ability of withstanding a broad range of temperatures. At temperatures below 16C, the adult will enter into a semi-hibernation state that allows them to survive longer in colder temperatures. They are able to survive for about 5 days at a temperature as low as -10C however, they will die in 15 minutes after exposure of -26C.

Bed bugs have a high tolerance to low humidity and a temperature range of 35C – 40C. Young stages in the bed bug cycle may not survive and they will dry out. No bed bug can withstand temperatures of 120F for a long period of time and they will die. They cannot survive in an atmosphere of high concentrations of carbon dioxide but can survive in an atmosphere of nearly pure nitrogen.


The mating practice for bed bugs is not performed in the natural way. The male bed bug pierces the female’s abdomen and ejaculates into the female’s body. A male may also attempt to mate with another male based on it’s size although a pheromone released when a bed bug is disturbed or attacked usually repels other males intending to mate. When a female is punctured, it has the capability to heal and survive whereas a male puncturing a male, the male will die resulting from the wound.

The female bed bug will lay her eggs singly or in groups anywhere she desires up to 500 in her lifetime. The eggs will hatch anywhere from one to two weeks depending on the time of year. The frequency of laying eggs is usually about 1-12 eggs a day due to her somewhat short lifespan. All it takes is one female bed bug to get an infestation going. If you were to bring home one single female who as already mated, it will start to populate your home with new bed bugs. A single female who as already mated can lay about 100 eggs over the course of the first month. Since her laying is spread out, by the end of the month, there will be roughly 50 or 60 nymphs and 30-40 eggs waiting to be hatched. By the end of the second month, the adult population will have grown to around 10 breeding adults with about 200 developing bed bugs in various stages and numerous eggs. During the third month of infestation the bed bug population will get out of hand. The colony has grown to over 100 breeding adults, 1000’s of developing nymphs, and 400-500 eggs. Also many adults will start to migrate to other rooms in the home. Within six months, you could be facing infestations in every room of the house. Populations will be soared to well over 8000 breeding adults, 100,000’s of developing nymphs and 50,000 – 60,000 eggs waiting to hatch. Now you can see why early detection is advisable before it even gets to this point. Adult bed bugs will only live about 10 or 11 months.

Feeding habits

It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of an infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. Bed bugs have a predictable feeding pattern. Once it has found a host it will usually feed for 5-10 minutes until repletion. The bite mark they leave behind often in clusters or in a row on exposed skin on the chest, arms or legs.

The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety and skin issues that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.

Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site and on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.

Bed bugs often bite in a line, in 3’s (almost like a breakfast-lunch-dinner) as they complete their feeding pattern. But this is not the way to detect whether you have actual bed bug bites. They may only bite once or in many clusters depending on how many bed bugs are feeding on you at one time. I honestly do not believe that any doctor can diagnose that what you have that appears to be a bed bug bite is indeed a bed bug bite.

In the summer, one could easily have contracted poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac or it could be an allergy, injury, eczema, psoriasis or something else not even associated with a bite of any kind. Remember that there are other insects in the summer which can inflict bites such as wood ticks, mosquitoes, black flies, fleas etc. Like I said, there are many people who are totally paranoid about the idea that they could have bed bugs or do have bed bugs that they get extremely stressed and think that any bug or any mark could be coming from a bed bug.

Bed bugs have not been shown to cause or spread diseases. Some people will react to bed bug bites and excessive scratching can lead to secondary infections.

How did I get bed bugs?

Many people ask how they could have got bed bugs in their home when they live in a good area of town and they are fairly clean. Even though hundreds of years ago the bed bug epidemic would have escalated with poor people that lived in filthy conditions, bed bugs do not choose who they will feed on. If you exhale carbon dioxide (CO2) and heat is emanating from your body, you can be a prime target for bed bugs. It may be true that if someone is always drunk, taking medications or drugs inotherwords, not being able to sense that bed bugs are living and feeding on them, it is easy to see why some people that live in rich neighborhoods don’t think they have to worry about bed bug issues. This is not true.

In reality, bed bugs are one of the biggest hitch-hikers in nature. You wouldn’t see them crawling around on the ground outside. They have adopted to live near people or animals where they can obtain a blood meal whenever they need. Any place where people sleep, sit or stay in an area for extended amounts of time are prime areas where bed bugs can be found. If a home has a large infestation of bed bugs, even though bed bugs would not like to remain on a body after feeding, there may be so many bed bugs in this case where bed bugs may be in transit and may be on the clothing, in a purse or on other objects from people leaving the infested home. Now, normally bed bugs do not want to be on a moving person but in this case they may have not got a chance to climb off. They may climb off if the person gets into a taxi, bus or other vehicle and hide. When someone else gets into the vehicle, the bed bug, if hungry, senses the heat from a body and the CO2 and may climb onto that person to be taken somewhere else. The same situation occurs with waiting rooms and common areas where people sit for extended periods of time. Bed bugs can also be hiding in items that are moved from one place to another like books, backpacks and even top boxes that cable companies give you to operate your TV. Then of course there is…bringing bed bugs home after staying in a hotel. Here are some typical scenarios of how it is possible to have bed bugs enter your home:

  • An elderly woman who absolutely does not have any bed bug problems or even leaves her building very often, goes down to the common area…sits on a couch where other tenants or visitors have also sat recently…and brings one bed bug up to her suite. Even in a month, she still may not know she has a breeding colony in her bed.
  • Someone visits the library, takes out some books that were returned from a person who lives with a bed bug infestation and now the problem is transferred to that person’s home.
  • Someone is waiting for a friend in an emergency waiting room for a period of five hours. Later, when they were getting undressed for bed, they discovered a bed bug on them that climbed on them from the chair they were sitting on.
  • A person staying in a hotel on vacation does not feel bed bugs biting them in their bed and so they don’t realize that possibly bed bugs on their clothing that they now pack to go home and what could hitch-hike in their luggage could now be transported to their bed at home.
  • Someone visits the local thrift store and purchases items that someone has donated to the store. Say it’s a chair or piece of clothing. The item is brought into the home and if a bed bug/s were hiding on it, they now have a new home.

I would say the biggest threat of having bed bugs brought into a home is when someone else comes over and sleeps in a bed when they may have a bed bug issue in their own home even though they may not know about it. The situation can also be kids sleeping over at someone else’s place.

All of this information is not for you to say “Oh my God…I am not going to be able to go anywhere because I could bring bed bugs home”. This information is intended to make you aware of the possibilities of transporting bed bugs into your home. How you can guard against this will be dealt with in the section of “Preventative measures”.

Bed bugs in the Home

Bed bugs do not care about what your race is. If you have heat and carbon dioxide coming from your body, you are fair game. How you keep your home clean or whether you keep yourself clean has no bearing whether bed bugs will bite you or not.

No one is programmed to notice or look for a bed bug issue in their home. Usually, someone eventually notices a moving bed bug on their bed, notices black spotting (their excrement) on their mattress or box spring, blood stains on their sheets or pillows and skin afflictions that they think could be bites.

If a bed bug is brought into the home whether it is on your clothing, an item or on your luggage, it will be hiding because it doesn’t want to be disturbed. Eventually, when the bed bug is hungry and you are now sleeping, it will eventually make it’s way to your bed. That is just what they do. Bed bugs after feeding on someone, will hide in a dark crevice on or near the bed of the sleeping person. If a bed bug was on an article of clothing that was placed inside a dresser, eventually it will sense the sleeping person when it is hungry and make it’s way to the bed. After feeding it will not go back to hide in the dresser…it will hide on the bed. Bed bugs have been known to hide near where someone spends a lot of time. This can be at a computer, a recliner, couch or even a wheelchair.

Do not believe someone who says that if a bed bug is found in your home then your whole house is infested. Once a proper inspection is done, it will determine the extent of any infestation. As was mentioned, bed bugs would rather hide near where someone who is sleeping…not in the kitchen cupboards or in closets. They can however, be transported to other parts of your home. Here are some examples:

  • Someone wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom not knowing a bed bug was on them. The bed bug does not get a chance to climb off and you throw on your housecoat. After hanging the housecoat on the back of the bathroom door, the bed bug climbs off and now it is hiding in the bathroom.
  • You grab a blanket off an infested bed and bring it to the couch while bed bugs could be on the blanket.
  • You find that your bed is infested and decide to throw it out. With bed bugs hiding anywhere on the mattress etc… what do you think will happen when the bed is carried throughout the house to be discarded outside? Better to envelope the mattress in a bed bug cover before moving it.
  • A dog or cat is getting bitten when it sleeps in some room. It gets up with the bed bug still on it and jumps on your bed. The bed bug will climb off and then hide on your bed and you will then be the next meal.

Bed bugs that are on or in objects and are then moved around the home, can spread the infestation to other parts of the home. Bed bugs can detect carbon dioxide from a person from about 8 feet away. If a bed bug is transported to a couch but no one ever sleeps on it, the bed bug is at a definite disadvantage. When they want to feed, they will usually feed on someone who has been sleeping for a few hours. If no one sleeps on the couch, it is very possible that the bed bug on the couch will be seen, even in the daytime, coming out to look where that CO2 is coming from if you are sitting there for a period of time, say watching a movie. If someone does sleep on the couch, possibly because bed bugs were discovered on their bed, then the couch acts as a bed. Remember, the female bed bug has to have a blood meal before she can lay eggs.

Some people living in an apartment, fear that if the next suite to them were to have a bed bug infestation, the bed bugs would go to their suite. Let’s break this down. If that other suite had bed bugs hiding on their bed, the bed bugs would have what they want… someone to feed on anytime they want. So why would they decide to go to the next suite?

I suppose if the infestation was so huge and a lot of bed bugs were hiding in the shared wall, they may discover carbon dioxide coming from the next suite but there is even a better reason why one would worry. If that other infested suite had lots of bed bugs hiding in the shared wall and the suite was scheduled to have a chemical treatment, the bed bugs could be forced to flee the chemicals to the adjoining suite.

Many people who think they have been bitten by bed bugs call a pest control company and now schedule a bed bug treatment/s even when it has not been determined that they have even been bitten by a bed bug. What should be done when you think you may have been bitten, is have someone inspect your bed and home for bed bugs or do it yourself What you would be looking for:

  • Live or dead bed bugs on the underside of the mattress, box spring and frame of your bed. Also bugs that may be hiding in the seams or on your bedding.
  • Exoskeletons (skin that has been shed) from bed bugs that have moulted.
  • Rusty-coloured blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal matter on the mattress bedding.
  • A sweet musty odour

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