Q: What are Bed Bugs?
A: Bed bugs are small parasitic bugs known scientifically as Cimex lectularius (Cimicidae), that get their blood meals from humans at rest. If no human is available, they’ll feed on any warm blooded animal. They prefer humans who lack the furry coat of a dog or cat, but they’ll take what they can get.
They feed by means of a proboscis that pierces the skin and allows them to suck the blood.
Bed bugs have been around for millions of years. They have adapted over the years to become nesting parasites. They inhabit the nests of birds and the roosts of bats. Others of the species have found human homes to be more to their liking.
They are referred to as bed bugs because they make their homes in places where humans rest, such as beds, sofas, and chairs.
The bed bug problem has been growing in recent years. At one point we’d all but eradicated them, but they’re back and growing in number. They can be found in homes, hotels, dorms, military barracks, shelters, cruise ships, and pretty much anywhere humans go to rest.
Q: How Do I Know They’re Bed Bugs?
Bed bug adults are small, flat, oval shaped bugs that give off a distinctive “true bug” odor. They grow to about a quarter of an inch in size. Their young start off in tiny white eggs called nymphs. When they hatch they are almost colorless. They go through several molting stages, growing larger and darker with each stage. When they reach full sized they are a burnt orange color. When they’ve recently fed, you can see a dark red/black blob in their body.
Q: How Can I Tell if I Have a Bed Bug Infestation?
Bed bugs are very hard to find because they’ve adapted into very clever insects, well suited for human home habitation. These bugs are sized to allow them to fit into most any space, able to crawl through loose linked zippers, into tiny cracks in electronic equipment, and into small spaces under walls. They can find their way into wall outlets, too.
Their favorite places to live and hide are bed mattresses, couches, chairs, and any kind of clutter close to one of these things. They run when someone comes near and hide too well to be found. To find them, something more than a quick visual inspection is needed. It can take a professional service several hours to visually inspect a home for bed bugs.
If an infestation is well established, you can look for evidence of the bugs along the seems of mattresses, in creases, along the headboard, and other places on or near the bed. As they shed their skins they’ll leave behind the old. While hard to see, they can sometimes be found with a flashlight and magnifying glass.
They’ll leave behind fecal matter, which will look like tiny dark spots. They can drop blood, as well, which shows as tiny red/brown spots on the mattress or other furniture.
Bed bug detection dogs are gaining in popularity. Their success rate varies because there are so many factors that can affect it. They are trained at facilities that specialize in scenting dog training and purchased by local pest control companies. The dog is only as good as his training and his handler, but they are generally accurate and as long as the company handling the dog has a good reputation, they can help you find if your home is infested.
There are items that can be purchased professionally that can help you find out if you have bed bugs. Cups that are placed under the legs of the furniture are popular and work very well.
Some attract bugs with lures, but others are passive and simply allow the bugs to take their natural path to their nightly meal. When the bug walks up the cup’s side, it falls in and can’t get out. The cup is either coated with a glue that traps the bugs, or is too tall and slippery on the inside for them to get purchase to climb out.
If, when you wake, you find bed bugs in these traps, it’s time to call an exterminator.
Q: What Preventative Measures Can I Take?
You can be careful when travelling by making sure you take precautions at hotels and motels. Be careful not to set your luggage down on any soft surfaces, live out of your suitcase so your clothing doesn’t get infected if the room has bed bugs. Put worn clothing in tightly sealed bags to be dumped directly into the washing machine when you get home. The washer may kill any bed bugs on the clothes, and at least fifteen minutes in the dryer on standard heat will certainly kill them.
Don’t take any used furniture into your home, especially anything upholstered. Bed bugs love upholstery because there are so many places to hide.
Q: Are Bed Bugs Harmful to Humans? Pets?
Bed bugs are not known to carry disease so a bite won’t harm a human or pet in that way. Rashes from bites are fairly common, and scratching them can bring on infection, just as any open wound might. But otherwise, they are not physically harmful to humans or animals. There is a psychological toll involved, however. No one likes to know that when they lay down to sleep they’ll become a feast for blood sucking insects. There is also a financial toll because getting rid of an infestation is not cheap. As it probably isn’t a good idea to entertain when your couch has bed bugs, it takes a social toll, as well.
Q: Why Are People Talking About Bed Bugs Again?
Bed bugs were nearly eradicated prior to WWII. After the war, the strong pesticides like DDT were banned. These pesticides left behind a residue, so when a bug wasn’t found by the spray, he would be killed walking through the residue.
Now that those strong pesticides are banned, most of the chemicals left in today’s arsenal are contact killers only; and as we’ve mentioned, bed bugs are pretty good at hiding. In fact, they are particularly good at sensing chemicals and will run far away when the spraying begins, only to return when it’s over.
Additionally, bed bugs are becoming resistant to the chemicals in use today, and infestations are harder and harder to eradicate. That means the bugs have many more opportunities to hitch a ride to someone else’s house and start a new colony. You do not want to be the cause of another family home becoming infested with bed bugs.
Q: Will a Clean, Well Kept Home Prevent an Infestation?
While it is better to reduce clutter in your home because clutter gives bed bugs more places to hide; a clean, uncluttered home is not going to keep you safe from bed bugs. Bed bugs are not just the curse of the poor and unkempt. They can be found in the nicest, most expensive homes and hotels, as well.
Q: What Will it Take to Get Rid of a Bed Bug Infestation?
De-clutter your home, vacuum thoroughly all surfaces, put bed bug proof encasements on your mattresses, box springs, and pillows, and call a pest control service for help. You can do-it-yourself, but you may never achieve full success. Pest control services have trained technicians that know all about the habits of bed bugs and what it takes to eradicate them.
If you choose to do-it-yourself, be sure to do plenty of research before you begin. You’ll want to be as thorough as possible.
Q: What Should I Look for in a Pest Control Service?
Look online for reviews of companies in your area. Make calls, ask if they have experience with bed bug control. Ask if they’ve have success and if they can give you the phone numbers of some of their clients who could tell you about their work and success, or lack thereof.
Make sure the companies you choose from are all licensed to apply pesticides by the regulatory agency in your state.
Look for companies that use integrated pest management services, or IPM. These companies use pesticides minimally, preferring more natural means to eradicate infestations. They tend to offer ongoing monitoring, as well. Bed bugs are rarely, if ever, totally eliminated on the first treatment.
Ask companies which pest control associations they belong to. Research well. These organizations set standards by which companies who join their ranks must abide.
Ask which treatments a company uses. They should not apply just one treatment, but rather a combination of treatments such as cleaning, steaming, encasements, heat or Cryonite, and/or pesticide application.
Make sure they come out and inspect before giving you a quote, and get the quote in writing. They should discuss with you everything that will be involved, from the work they’ll do and they work they’ll want you to do. Make sure they explain what effect their treatments may have on you and your pets, as well.