All About Bed Bugs

A Nightmare On Any Street: Bed Bugs Return

Bedroom Guardian has been carefully designed and engineered, from all-natural ingredients, to kill bed bugs—and prevent recurring infestations. This is certainly what you want to do with any parasitic infestation of your home, particularly one that lives in your bedclothes (and other linens) and attacks you when you’re most vulnerable: while you’re sleeping. Bed bugs feed on you, your pets, and your family members, draining blood during the night like some kind of tiny and disgusting little vampire—an insectoid Nosferatu.

This article has been written to help provide you and your loved ones with some history and background on bed bugs, which are very poorly understood by many people—making them more difficult to combat effectively, thanks to a wide variety of commonly held myths (we’ll get to those later—or, click the link to scroll down now; it makes for some interesting reading, that much we can promise). By maintaining a thorough and accurate knowledge of bed bugs, you will be better equipped to note the signs of a bed bug infestation, and you will be forewarned as to not only how to kill a bed bug infestation, but also as to how you might go about preventing an infestation from returning.

Recent studies prove that, after years of slowly deescalating activity, bed bug populations—and their resulting infestations—are now on the rise again all across the United States. In cities where bed bugs have already caused thousands of infestations per year, reports from 2010 and onward suggest that the number of infestations have risen by as much as 60-70% on average. More importantly still is the fact that bed bugs are now spreading to new locations which previously fostered little to no evidence of widespread infestation. This is due in part to the increasingly hot and humid climate in the US, which is proving to be a boon for exoskeletal insect populations of every sort (here is a video explaining the recently observed phenomenon of cockroaches flying in New York; this is something that these common pests are only known to do in tropical and subtropical climates).

Bugs, including bed bugs, find that hot, damp climates are ideal for moving around, getting oxygen out of the air, finding food, and reproduction. They also foster insect populations in other ways, such as providing more widespread opportunities for finding a place to live. Odors travel faster and further, cluing bugs in on their favorite food sources—whether those might be garbage, plants, or human or animal blood—from a greater distance. Here is a video demonstration of one brave soul showing how bed bugs are drawn to a human’s body heat.

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Characteristics of Bed Bugs:

There are many different species of bed bugs. For the purposes of this article, we are primarily concerned with the cimex lectularius, which is otherwise known as the “common bed bug.” This is the most common species of bed bug in North America with an exclusive preference for human blood; other varieties of bed bug may be less exclusive, or else they may actually prefer other types of animals (there are types of bed bugs that prefer to feed on bats, for example). The c. lectularius hunts down human prey by means of detecting body heat and CO2 emissions, which they have evolved to pinpoint to the right degree with amazing accuracy.

There are many identifying traits and features which can help you to pick out the common bed bug from among other types of insects, which may be similar in appearance—but are unlikely to contribute to the same level of discomfort and serious health concerns that a common bed bug infestation can often lead to.

    • Bed bugs are wingless. Bed bugs do not have wings, and are completely flightless. Bed bugs do not fly at any stage of their existence, and there are no “queen bed bugs” which can fly to a new location—thereby spreading a bed bug infestation even further. We can all be thankful for this small mercy!
    • Adult bed bugs are half a centimeter long. A fully-grown bed bug which has not fed recently is about 4-5 millimeters in length, or roughly half a centimeter. This is tiny, about one fifth of an inch, and less than half that in width. After gorging itself on human blood, the common bed bug increases slightly in size: it may appear almost a millimeter longer, and it will have substantially more girth.
    • The common bed bug has a flat, oval-shaped body. The bed bug consumes a fair amount of blood during a given feeding: an adult bed bug can survive for up to five months without a meal. Their bodies are designed to expand while feeding, so as to accommodate a greater portion of food than they could otherwise stomach.
  • Bed bugs have six legs. Like other insects, bed bugs have six legs. Their body has several distinct sections including a head, thorax, and abdomen. Having six legs distinguishes the bed bug from certain other common parasites, which are technically not insects—and will have a varying number of legs. Arachnids, for instance, typically boast eight legs.
  • Bed bugs range in color from a light brown to a bright rusty red. Normally, adult bed bugs are either a light brown or a light rusty brown in color. Immediately after feeding, however, a bed bug will have eaten so much blood that it will actually appear to be a much brighter, reddish-brown color.
  • Bed bugs have a squat head. The head of a bed bug is wide, squat, and flattish. It is sometimes described as “wedge-shaped.” WebMD maintains this slide show of bed bug images, including some up-close images taken with a scanning electron microscope.
  • Bed bugs have large antennae. The various parts of a bed bug’s head are a little disproportionate to the rest of its size, including its large antennae relative to its body size. The antennae maintain an appearance much like feelers, and may be nearly as long as the body of the bug itself.
  • Bed bugs have large, powerful mandibles. “Powerful” may seem like an overstatement, but—relative to other insects of a bed bug’s size—these bloodsucking parasites have large, powerful jaws. They are adapted to bite through the skin of large mammals. Imagine what human jaws might look like if we could only feed by biting through the hide of an elephant, a rhinoceros, or a whale, and you’ve got some idea of how specially adapted the bed bug’s mouthparts are.
  • Bed bugs have a complicated, multi-stage life cycle. If you think you have a bed bug infestation, you need to check the appropriate environs (bed linens, bath towels, etc.) for more than just the bugs themselves. You should be able to find eggs, hatched and unhatched, as well as nymphs—small, yellowish white versions of the adults.
  • Bed bugs can survive for months without feeding. A large bed bug colony, or infestation, will live within niches and cracks in the immediate vicinity of their feeding ground. The common name “bed bug” refers to where the bugs eat, not where they live: they may live under your floorboards, or in your walls. Such a colony will feed in shifts, with only a portion of the bed bugs actually eating on any given night, and the rest staying safely hidden away.
  • Bed bugs are susceptible to temperature extremes. As we’ve already established, bed bugs like warm, moist environments, a trait that is true of many insects. This means that cold weather can be potentially lethal to the bugs. This doesn’t save you during the winter, however: it simply means that, with the onset of cooler temperatures, local bed bug populations will be seeking out warm places to shelter during the winter months. When was the last time you set your thermostat to less than sixty-four degrees? If your house is warm, it’s prime winter real estate for bed bugs.

A History of Bed Bugs:

The common bed bug, which has been well-established in North America for centuries, is actually believed to have evolved from a progenitor species that lived in the Middle East. From thousands of years ago in ancient times, right on up to the modern day, the Middle East boasts a large number of cave-dwelling people. The overall region is actually distinguished in the annals of human history for featuring caves with elaborately carved entrances, such as Petra—in what is now Jordan—which is notable for its frontal façade having been used as the location for the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Sadly, Petra is also known for its bats, which helped to foster the species that would become the common bed bug. Here’s video footage of a bed bug’s bite, taken from up close by the BBC.

 

Unfortunately, at least with regard to species-jumping parasites, the caves in this part of the world are also home to millions of bats. So, while insects that feed off of blood have been around virtually since fish first grew legs and crawled out of the water, it took the close proximity of men and bats to give rise to a creature—the “modern” bed bug—which preferentially favors human blood. Fossilized c. lectularius have been found which are nearly 4,000 years old.

From the Middle East, bed bugs spread westward, following the development and spread of human civilization. Like a traditional plague, they favor permanently established settlements such as villages and cities. Bed bugs are mentioned in surviving writings from the ancient Greeks which date to as early as 400 BC; among others, Aristotle and Pliny the Elder both mention an insect which corresponds exactly to the dimensions of the common bed bug of today. Like just about everything else that they saw, the ancient Greeks crushed bed bugs into powder for use in medicinal cocktails. To be fair, however, this belief persisted until at least the 1700s, when they were widely recommended for use in treating hysteria. This was particularly true for female patients; the bugs would have been ground up, and administered as part of a potion.

Bed bugs spread westward across the southern reaches of Europe and Asia. They were in Italy, and well-established, by 100 AD: the name cimex lectularius corresponds to the Latin for “couch bug,” with their preferred feeding ground leading to the widespread belief that they lived full-time in bedclothes and other linens. Bed bugs reached eastern China by 600 AD, but it took the rising temperatures of the late middle ages to coax them further north: they hit Germany, France, and other parts of central and northern Europe somewhere between the 13th and 15th centuries. Their first recorded mention in England dates to 1583.

By this time, it is possible (according to some of the available evidence) that Columbus had already brought bed bugs to the so-called “New World” which would eventually come to be known as North America. If that is true, it looks as though the ten hardest-hit cities for bed bug infestations in the United States may have yet another reason to reject the observation of Columbus Day. That aside, however, there is another leading theory which attributes bed bugs’ arrival in North America to their being unintended passengers aboard the Mayflower in 1620. All that is known for a certainty, here, is that bed bugs were not native to North America prior to a few centuries ago.

ProTip: Bed Bug Myths:

There are a number of myths about the common bed bug which deserve to be dispelled. Factual information makes bed bugs easier to identify, which in turn leads to faster eradication of their infestations. We’ve already addressed some of these myths elsewhere in this article, so we won’t be going over them again here; instead, we’re going to address the five most common myths to which we’ve yet to give significant airtime. However, if you’re looking for a refresher, you might want to click the following link for summary coverage of the top ten most common myths about bed bugs in the United States.

A bed bug conveniently hiding...

A bed bug conveniently hiding…

    • Myth: Bed bugs are insects, and like all insects they reproduce quickly. In fact, the reproductive rate of bed bugs is quite slow relative to that of other insects. The average mature female bed bug lays from 1-3 eggs per day. A bed bug egg takes ten days to hatch, and several weeks to grow to maturity (whereupon a female will start laying eggs). The total life span of an individual bed bug is eleven months on average. By comparison, some shorter-lived insect species—such as the common housefly—will lay hundreds of eggs over a series of 3-4 days. Every such cycle outstrips the female bed bug’s reproductive capacity for her entire expected lifespan.
  • Myth: Bed bugs are only ever active at night. It is true that bed bugs tend to be nocturnal, but after feeding exclusively on humans for centuries, the common bed bug appears to have picked up a few of our habits: when hunger strikes, they’ll set out in search of a meal. This is compounded by the fact that bed bugs don’t actually live in our beds: they can be found anywhere, on virtually any surface. Keeping a night light on won’t scare them off, and if you come back after a vacation to a house which was infested when you left? Expect them to come and find you.
  • Myth: Bed bugs prefer unsanitary conditions and urban environments. This is an unfortunate misconception, as it leads to false assumptions about the causes of bed bug infestations. In fact, bed bugs aren’t particularly discriminatory. They infest urban environments more often because there are more people there to feed upon, but they are just as likely to infest a rural home out in the gently rolling countryside… and they couldn’t care less about whether or not your living conditions are clean or dirty. So, they aren’t judgmental; they’ve got that going for them anyway!
  • Myth: Bed bugs like to be our little vacation buddies. Bed bugs like hot environments more than cold ones, but they can’t tolerate human body heat for long. Bed bugs don’t remain on a person for longer than is absolutely required for them to feed. They will travel with you, by hitching a ride in your car—or within your suitcase, or in a garment bag—but they don’t travel on a person. Because of this, a person who has been bitten by bedbugs is unlikely to carry them to a new location on their body.

How to Find Bed Bugs:

Bed bugs can be found in both urban and rural environments, throughout the United States and southern Canada, although localized infestations are now being reported in northern Canada and in Mexico. Thanks to modern long-distance travel and climate control, the common bed bug has begun to spread to locations where local temperature extremes once made bed bug encroachment a difficult proposition for these parasitic little vampire. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that today’s bed bugs are slowly developing into hardier variations which are more adept at withstanding exposure to high or low temperatures.

Bed bugs can hide in very tiny places: the average adult bed bug is only about as wide as a credit card, and they prefer the confines of cozy nooks and crannies for safety. As a result, bed bugs sometimes lurk in locations that your average person wouldn’t think to check, even when looking for something as small as an insect. We almost always expect them to be larger than they are!

Bed bugs can be anywhere.

Bed bugs can be anywhere.

  • Many people will check under or between the cushions on couches, chairs, and other furnishings, including mattresses and box springs. However, bed bugs are small enough to hide within the seams of such furnishings, and will do so where possible.
  • Particularly with regard to beds and adjacent nightstands, bed bugs may be found hiding within furniture joints. They particularly favor drawer joints, which provide an additional sense of security when closed. Make sure that your furniture joints are all securely tightened, and seal any gaps as appropriate for the item in question.
  • Bed bugs like to hide within electrical outlets and light switches, and are small enough to fit within the gaps in such items without coming into direct contact with the current. When you plug an appliance into an outlet which has bed bugs in it, you may in fact be providing them with a direct avenue to another source of places to hide in: the appliance itself.
  • If you have loose wall hangings, bed bugs may hide behind them. This is slightly less likely than some of the locations already discussed, as the gapes behind a painting or other wall hanging tend to be larger, and allow in greater amounts of light. On the other hand, if you have loose wallpaper leading to an “air pocket” underneath, some individuals from an infestation will almost certainly find a home there.
  • Junctions where walls come together, and intersect with either the ceiling or the floor. Disturbances at floor level (vacuuming, cleaning, etc.) make the uppermost locations better value real estate for bed bugs. If you have moldings, and they aren’t completely sealed or caulked, this is a marvelous location for bed bugs to hide in.
  • While not specifically a prime location, you need to understand that even the threads of a nut that’s inside of a drawer in your garage will provide enough space for a bed bug or twelve to hide out in.

ProTip: What Causes Bed Bug Infestation?

There are many ways by which bed bugs can enter your home, which they will do in search of something that gives off the body heat and CO2 emissions of a healthy human being. One of the most important things to remember is that—while it is important for other reasons—personal hygiene and clean living conditions are no deterrent whatsoever to bed bugs.  They are notoriously egalitarian in this regard. A bed bug infestation can arise in virtually any temperate, tropical, or subtropical climate, and variations of the common bed bug species are found all over the world.

Within the United States, bed bugs are most common in cities because of population density: like most wild animals, bed bug populations follow the herds of their prey—that being us, in this case. This factor makes bed bug infestations less likely in rural areas, but many factors are conspiring to erase this difference. This includes long regular commutes between different locations, common high-speed travel to destinations domestic and foreign, and a changing climate.

  • Inspect new furniture. You don’t know where your furniture was made—no, you really don’t. Its tag says “Made in the USA?” Where were the parts manufactured, before it was assembled in America? Where does the material from which those parts were fabricated come from? All it takes is for one infected mattress to end up in a warehouse with thousands of other mattresses. Suddenly, you’ve got thousands of infected mattresses.
  • Monitor your belongings after a vacation. Before you return home from a vacation destination in an unfamiliar location (with your Dalmatian) you will want to inspect your clothing, your luggage, and anything else you might be carrying which offers crevices small enough to conceal unexpected stowaways (including your Dalmatian). Jokes aside, it is important to remember that—while common bed bugs prefer to feed exclusively on humans—some varieties of bed bug can subsist on the blood of other animals, particularly mammals. Make sure your four-legged friends aren’t carrying a wagon load of prospectors! More information about avoiding bed bugs while on vacation.
  • Are you moving? Make sure it’s just you. Alright, your family can come too—but that’s it! You should have the opportunity to inspect your final destination before you move in; if it’s unfurnished, it’s less likely that a bed bug infestation will persist for long, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Inner-city apartments and furnished locations are far more likely to harbor some unwanted houseguests—and, if this is the case, they will be nice and hungry when you arrive. It’s almost certain that an infestation will have starving members after a few weeks of no food, which is a wonderful way to get active daytime bedbugs. While we’re on the subject, whose stuff was in that pod, rental truck, or moving van, before yours? Check your belongings as they’re unloaded—before bringing them inside, where possible!

Pictures of Bed Bugs:

The following pictures should help you with identifying these common, bloodsucking parasites. This is what a bed bug looks like up close and personal:

Here are a couple of images of bed bug eggs, gestating and unhatched. A female bed bug can lay one to three of these per day:

Bed bug infestation

Bed bug infestation

When you’re searching for signs of a bed bug infestation, check your bedding, furniture, and other linens for bed bug eggshells. These are sure sign of a well-established infestation, as opposed to a more recent infiltration:

Bed bug nymphs are smaller, yellowish white versions of adult bed bugs. Nymphs need to feed more often than they will as adults—every few weeks, as opposed to every few months—and they may be disproportionately represented among a “shift” of feeding bed bugs:

Finally, here are some images of adult bed bugs of the common cimex lectularius species. These are taken before the specimen has fed:

bed-bug-engorged

These were taken after the bedbug had successfully fed off of a human host. Because the bed bugs which came to the US centuries ago were of the variety that favors humans almost exclusively, these constitute most of our bed bug infestations today.

As you can see, bed bugs are a serious, real thing. Inspect your home today or you may fall victim to yet another attack of the modern day bed bug. By following our tips and advice, you may be able to stop the outbreak before it gets too serious.

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