Your mom probably said “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” when you were getting ready for bed as a child. Other than that, you probably haven’t thought much about bed bugs. You may have not even realized that there really is such a thing as a bed bug. There definitely is , and they are ornery pests that are difficult to get rid of.
The bed bug (Cimex lectalarius) is a member of the family Cimididae. Insects from the family Cimididae are blood suckers that feed on birds and/or mammals. The bed bug is the only member of this insect family that has adapted to living exclusively with humans.
Following World War II, the bed bug was predominantly eradicated from the U.S., existing in only small pockets across the the country. However, in the last decade it has made an amazing resurgence. This is largely because are so so easily spread. Bed bugs can be accidentally carried on luggage, furniture, and other items, so problems with bed bugs tend to be most severe in motels, apartments, and other locations with high volumes of human traffic.
Bed bugs typically feed in the middle of the night while people are sleeping and the bites are painless. They normally feed for less than ten minutes before the insect is satisfied and returns to hiding to digest the meal. It is common for a line of bites to appear where a number of bed bugs have fed along the edge of a bed sheet or a piece of clothing lying next to the skin.
Even though the bite is not felt right away, it is common for people to react to the proteins of the bed bug saliva introduced during biting. Usually, a reddish welt can develop, causing swelling and itching. There may be little response directly following the bite with maximum irritation noticed after a week, then gradually decreasing. Recurring exposure to bed bug bites can produce more intense reactions and itching. However, these reactions vary greatly between people; some react strongly while others show little response. Despite any symptoms that develop, there is nothing unusual about bed bug bites that can be used for positive identification. The recognized presence of bed bugs is necessary to determine if a “reddish” bite might be from bed bugs.
Luckily, thorough testing has established that bed bugs are not capable of transmitting human pathogens like mosquitoes are.
Female bed bugs cement their small, oval eggs in groupings of two to five eggs. Usual spots for egg laying include the folds of a mattress, in the joints of a bed frame, and behind molding. During an adult female’s several month life span, she may produce more than 200 eggs.
Eggs hatch after six to ten days, subject to the temperature, and the newly hatched nymphs will begin to seek out food immediately, if it is available. As with the adults, feeding occurs at night. The insects use heat and carbon dioxide to locate their host. For the bed bug nymph to develop, a blood meal is required prior to each molt. Blood meals are also necessary for a female to produce each batch of eggs.
Under ideal conditions, bed bugs can mature to full size in around one and a half months, with an average adult life span of about nine months. Cooler temperatures slow development and general bed bug activity begins to decrease with temperatures lower than 60°F. However, bed bugs are fairly resistant to starvation and adults have been known to survive up to a year without feeding. Nymphs can endure starvation for around three months. When food is available, bed bugs can continue to develop and reproduce year round, producing three or four generations annually.
Bed bug treatment in the home frequently involves a profound degree of prep work. This includes heat treating and bagging up of items in the infested area – items that can’t be treated with chemicals.
Bedding can be easily disinfested by laundering that includes a dryer cycle. The high temperatures involved in drying are essential to successfully kill bed bugs, with exposure to temperatures of 120°F or greater for a few minutes typically being sufficient to kill all life stages. Washing, cool drying and dry cleaning may not kill all life stages.
When stripping beds during a bed bug infestation, remove the bedding carefully so as not to dislodge eggs or drop eggs onto the floor where they are likely to be missed by other treatments. Bagging of bedding as it is moved to be laundered can prevent the accidental spread of bed bugs. Wash all bedding and affected materials promptly, do not store in laundry area.
Disposal may be necessary for infested mattresses, box springs, couches and other furniture. If this is done, proper disposal needs to be ensured. Leaving such items on the street for disposal may cause them to be scavenged, which will spread the infestation to new locations. It is also important to use great care when removing these items so the bed bugs will not be knocked loose, causing other areas of the home to become infested.
Eradication of bed bugs in a home involves the use of powerful insecticides applied to all places where bed bugs are present. These treatments have to directly contact the insects during application to be effective. Bed bugs that come in contact with a treated surface but were not directly contacted with the insecticide during application may not be killed. Also, currently available insecticides do not effectively kill bed bugs in egg stages.
Specialized equipment has been developed that can force high temperature, dry steam heat into areas where bed bugs are present. This method of killing bed bugs is especially useful for the treatment of bed frames, mattresses and box springs where insecticide uses are limited. This equipment is only available through professional pest control operations and requires experience for effective use. In other words, if this is the method you want used in your home, contact a professional.