What are Bed Bugs?

Adult bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, oval-shaped wingless insects, approximately 0.5 – 1.0 cm (¼– ½ inch) in length. Their colour can range from off-white after molting to burnt orange or dark brown after feeding.

Bed Bug Lifecycle

lifecycleBed bugs have a one-year life span during which time a female can lay 200- 400 eggs depending on food supply and temperature. In a home, where the environment is conducive to their reproduction (their ideal breeding temperature is between 21° to 28°C), bed bugs can breed year round.

  • Eggs: Bed bug eggs are white and about 1 mm long, and almost impossible to see on most surfaces. The female bed bug lays about 200 eggs in her lifetime, at a rate of about 3 or 4 per day. The eggs have a sticky coating and are deposited in cracks and crevices, behind woodwork and similar hidden locations. They hatch in 6 to 17 days depending on temperature.
  • Nymphs: Newly hatched nymphs are lighter in colour than adults (often whitish-yellow) and about the size of a poppy seed. A bed bug goes through five molts before it reaches full maturity. Each molt takes place after a blood feed. Once a bedbug hatches, it takes about one month to reach adulthood.
    • The freshly hatched nymph is beige-colored before feeding, and then turns a redish color after getting a blood meal. There are 5 nymphal stages for bed bugs to reach maturity, which usually takes about 32-48 days.
  • Adults: Adults usually live for around 10 months, but can live for a year or more. In a home, where the environment is conducive to their reproduction (their ideal breeding temperature is between 21° to 28°C), bed bugs can breed year round. Bed bugs are wingless and cannot fly or jump, but are able to enter into extremely small locations in the home because of their flattened bodies. Bed bugs can live for several weeks to several months without feeding, depending on the temperature. They can go without feeding for 80 to 140 days; older bed bugs can go without feeding longer than younger ones. Adults have been known to survive for as long as 550 days (over a year and a half!) without feeding.

What do bed bugs feed on?

Bed bugs live by feeding on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded animals. They are most active at night and will bite all over a human body, especially around the face, neck, upper torso, arms and hands.

Bed bugs are attracted by warmth and the carbon dioxide in our breath.

A bed bug will penetrate the skin of its host with two hollow injector tubes. With one tube it injects its saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anesthetics, while the other tube withdraws the blood from its host. Bed bugs can engorge themselves with human blood in less than 15 minutes causing their bodies to fill to as much as three times its usual size. After feeding, the bug returns to its hiding area.

The fluid can cause a person’s skin to itch and even become swollen. However, the bites won’t usually be felt until a few minutes or hours later. Scratching can cause sores that often become infected. Bed bugs are not known to transmit any human blood-borne pathogens.

Can bed bugs fly?

Bed bugs do not fly, but can move quickly over floors, walls, ceilings and other surfaces. Bed bugs can move from room to room by passing through wall cavities and conduits through which wires and plumbing pipes pass.

When are bed bugs most active?

Bed bugs are most active at night.

What does a bedbug bite look like?

Bed bug biteBed bug bites generally produce a red welt in the area surrounding the bite much like mosquito bites do, though in many cases these bites are distinguishable from mosquitoes because they feature a red dot in the middle of them similar to flea bites. Bed bug bites most commonly occur on exposed areas of the body, including face, neck, hands, arms, lower legs or all over the body.

When bed bugs bite people, they inject their saliva into the biting area, causing the skin to become irritated and inflamed. A bedbug bite can take as long as 14 days to appear, depending on the person.

Individual responses to bed bug bites will vary. Some people do not react at all to the bites, while others may have small skin reactions. In rare cases, some people may have severe allergic reactions. To avoid infection, try not to scratch the bites and keep the bite sites clean.

The skin lesion from bed bug bites may go unnoticed, or be mistaken for flea or mosquito bites or other skin conditions.

Around half of all people bitten by bed bugs never show any signs of the bites at all, though they may experience anxiety, insomnia, or in some cases even nausea as a result of being bitten.

Bed bugs have been known to cause significant psychological distress, disruption of sleep, nervousness and agitation.

Do bedbugs transmit diseases?

Bedbugs can carry pathogens, however they are very unlikely to cause any harm to humans.

A common concern with bed bugs is whether they transmit diseases. Although bed bugs can carry pathogens, there are no known cases of infectious diseases being transmitted by bed bug bites and transmission to humans is considered extremely unlikely. Though not known to carry diseases, bed bugs can severely reduce quality of life by causing discomfort, insomnia, anxiety, and embarrassment. There have been some reports of allergic reactions occurring after being bitten by bed bugs, and anaphylaxis is always a concern with any type of allergic reaction. Public health officials remain concerned about bed bugs because of the possibility of secondary infections. There is a risk that you could get an infection when you scratch the area of the bite.

How do I know if I have bed bugs?

Typically the first sign of bed bugs are itchy welts on skin, blood spots on sheets and/or black or brown spots on mattresses (bed bug droppings), bed frames or walls often an indication that there is a bed bug infestation.

If you notice that you have bite marks on your body, especially around your face, neck, upper body, arms and hands, you may have bed bugs. To know for sure that you have bed bugs you can look for the following signs:

  • Dark spotting and staining on your sheets, mattress, pillow, carpets, and clothing. The staining is from their excrement and blood from crushed insects when feeding.
  • Molted skins, excrement and eggshells where bed bugs hide. In severe cases, you may notice an offensive, sweet, musty odour from their scent glands.

Where do bed bugs typically live?

They will typically live in crevices including; mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards.

Bed bugs are most abundant close to where people sleep, dwelling in and near bed or furniture used for sleeping. Their flattened bodies allow bedbugs to hide in extremely small locations. Favourite spots for bed bugs include:

  • bed frames and box springs, especially in the corners
  • mattresses and mattress pads
  • behind picture frames
  • side tables, nightstands and headboards
  • electrical outlets
  • Under chairs, couches, beds, dust covers
  • Between the cushions of couches and chairs
  • Under area rugs and the edges of carpets
  • Between the folds of curtains
  • In drawers
  • Behind baseboards, and around window and door casings

As bed bugs can travel up to 30m and can be transported in clothing, luggage or other household items, you may have to treat nearby rooms to prevent the infestation from continuing.

How Did I Get Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are usually brought into the home on luggage, clothing, bed, furniture, or other items.

The likelihood of bed bugs increases if the affected individual has been traveling, or has acquired used beds or furnishings. Bed bugs can also be brought in on a person’s luggage, clothing or shoes. This is a particular problem for hotels, motels and apartments, where turnover of occupants is constant. Once bed bugs are introduced, they will often spread throughout a building. Bed bugs can travel from room to room and from floor to floor either by crawling (e.g. along pipes, electrical wiring and other openings) or hitchhiking on a person or a household pet. Bed bugs cannot easily climb metal or polished surfaces and cannot fly or jump.

The level of cleanliness has little to do with most bed bug infestations. However, lack of sanitation and clutter has significant impact on the ability to control and eradicate bed bugs.

How do I prevent bed bug infestations?

Although even the cleanest homes and hotels can have bed bugs, regular cleaning, including vacuuming your mattress, can help to prevent an infestation. Cleaning up clutter will help reduce the number of places bed bugs can hide.

Be careful when acquiring used furnishings, especially beds and couches. Avoid picking up curbside items. Examine secondhand articles carefully before bringing them into your home. It is a good idea to wash items in hot water and place in the dryer.

Bed BugWhen returning from travelling it is a good idea to place all clothing directly into the washer and/or dryer. Wrap your suitcases in plastic and leave them in an isolated area of your home, away from where you sleep.

Other tips

  1. When sleeping in a new bed, check for signs of bed bug feces (small, black or dark brown dots on sheets or the mattress).
  2. Regularly inspect places where pets sleep for signs of bedbugs.
  3. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to bedbugs when traveling, clean out everything you traveled with. Vacuum out your suitcase and wash all clothes in hot water if possible, whether they are dirty or not. When traveling, leave your suitcases on hard surfaces if possible (rather than carpet or upholstered furniture).
  4. Do not put infested furniture on the street or in common areas, as that may spread the problem to other homes. If you do move infested furniture out of your house, place in a locked dumpster and label it as bedbug-infested.
  5. Clear your clutter.