Are you feeling itchy? Have you got little bugs crawling on your bed? You might have a bed bug problem! Or not? There are over 100 species of bed bugs, but only two are commonly known to feed on humans.
It's important to accurately identify these insects in order to figure out how to exterminate them. It's also important to know what exactly you are dealing with. If you want to identify these pesky little things, read on.
What are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are part of the family cimicidae, a family of parasitic bugs that mainly live on blood. The most infamous family members are the common bed bug (Cimex Lectularius) and its cousin, the tropical bed bug (Cimex Hemipterus).
These little critters are named bed bugs because they love, love, love to graze on mattresses. They are often found in areas where they can crawl up to the host at night to bite. So, they are often found in houses, apartments, condominiums, hotels, and dorms.
Bed bugs are often mistaken as fleas because of their similar looks. Both are oval-shaped and are annoying blood-suckers.
The insects are also flat, about as flat as a credit card. Thus, it makes them more mobile and prone to latch onto bags, luggage, and other objects where they can cling on and go on a joyride straight to where you sleep.
They thrive on blood and only drink from live warm-blooded mammal hosts (i.e., you or your pet). They're small and have six legs that allow them to hold on to anything. Hence, it can easily travel from place to place without being detected.
The only good thing about this insect is that it can't fly. Feeling creeped out yet? No? Good, keep reading.
Facts About Bed Bugs
- It is part of the family "Cimicidae." It is a family of insects characterized as small, oval, flat, and love blood. All of these parasitic creatures live on blood, but not all of them drink human blood.
- The two bed bugs that we humans need to worry about are the common household bed bug (Cimex Lectularius) and Tropical bed bug (Cimex Hemipterus).
- They are about 1mm to 7mm, which is about the size of an apple seed or lincoln's head on a penny.
- A female bed bug can lay up to 500 eggs during its entire life span.
- Bed bugs are resilient and can survive in almost any climate. They can withstand freezing temperatures and blazing heat. They can also survive months on end without a blood meal.
- They are resistant to most pesticides. This pest has evolved to be immune to most pesticides due to decades of trying to kill them. Yikes. This makes them harder to eliminate but not impossible. Other methods don't need the use of chemicals to wipe them out.
- Bed bugs are developed hunters. They have developed a mechanism that makes them crave blood only in the nighttime so that their hosts will never see them coming. They rely on their sharp instruments to hunt. They release a mild anesthetic through their saliva when they feed, and their hosts wouldn't feel a thing.
- Here is some good news, though, bed bugs are not known to carry disease. So, they are nothing more than a nuisance to your home. However, it's unpredictable what kind of reaction your skin will have from a bed bug bite.
Bed Bug Identification Guide
As mentioned there are several kinds of bed bugs, but in order to narrow down creepy critters, here is an identification guide to differentiate bed bugs from other insects:
Different Kinds of Bed Bugs
While all bed bugs are icky and disgusting, it's important to note the different kinds of bed bugs to know how to deal with them. Here are the different types of bed bugs:
Common household bed bug (Cimex Lectularius)
It is said that they were introduced to the United States thanks to a spike of migrants from Europe in the 1990s. Now, they are virtually everywhere.
Common bed bugs are about the size of Lincoln's head on the penny or an apple seed. They are flat and oval when unfed but once full with blood, they become bloated and elongated. They can also change from the standard mahogany color to maroon.
Because of their small frame and flat bodies, they can latch onto almost anything, making traveling much easier. They hide in the crevices of the mattress, the bed frame, or any floor paneling.
Tropical bed bug (Cimex Hemipterus)
Did you know that tropical bed bugs were made extinct in the US in the 1940s? Up until 2016, when they were reintroduced to the warmer climates of Florida and Georgia.
The tropical bed bug is virtually the same as the common bed bug, except that it thrives only in warmer climates–hence its name. This bed bug is commonly found in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Bed Bug Look-alikes
It's important to know that cimicidae is a big family of parasitic insects. While they are all called "bed bugs," not all "cimicids" inhabit beds or feed on humans. And while creepy crawlies are all equally creepy, not all of them pose a threat to you. So here is a list of the bugs that may look like bed bugs but aren't hungry for you.
Bat Bug (Leptocimex boueti)
This is also a bed bug distinctly similar to the first two types of bed bugs, except that this species is exclusively found in West Africa.
These bed bugs evolved from drinking human blood to exclusively feeding on just bats. They are often found in caves and latch on the bats' wings to travel from place to place or host to host.
Colorado bed bug (Hesperocimex Coloradensis)
The Colorado bed bug is called such but, ironically, isn't found on beds at all. This "bed bug" is endemic on the West Coast to the Midwest United States and feeds only on birds, bats, and other small animals.
A distinct characteristic of the colorado bed bug is that it follows its live hosts. Thus, they are often found inside trees or plants where bats and birds would land.
Mexican chicken bugs or Poultry Bugs (Haematosiphon Inodora)
Similar in size and stature to the common bed bug, you can often find the Mexican chicken bugs in chicken coops or farms. These bugs have evolved to feed only on chickens.
Swallow Bugs (Oeciacus Vicarius and Hirundinis)
Swallow bugs are not bed bugs, but they are closely related to the common bed bug. They look the same, albeit a little hairier. They got their name from their preferred food. They almost exclusively target swallow birds and their nestlings to suck their blood.
Chimney Swift Bugs
These, like the swallow bugs, are similar to your regular bed bug, but the Chimney Swift Bugs have longer legs, are active all day, and live on walls instead of mattresses. They also feed only on smaller mammals or birds and do not like human blood.
Bed Bug Prevention Tips
Compared to other pests, bed bugs are not difficult to prevent. But, they can be a nightmare to get rid of. So, they must be dealt with before they become a problem. The easiest way to prevent a bed bug infestation is to keep your house sanitized and clean.
Fair warning; however, studies have shown that bed bugs don't prefer dirtier environments. They aren't picky at all. So cleanliness isn't necessarily a fool-proof way of keeping the bed bugs away, but it's a start.
Bed bugs love to hide. Due to their flat bodies, they are difficult to spot. They stay in crevices until it's the perfect time to move on to your bed. Reduce the clutter in your home and eliminate possible hiding places for bed bugs.
Just remove every possibility of a bed bug infestation. Be sure to vacuum every inch of your home to ensure that none of these hitchhikers have found their way in.
Check your bags and clothes
Bed bugs love to travel by latching onto bags, your clothes, and anything they can get their claws on. So, be sure to check your luggage, bags, and clothes.
Use a protective cover over your mattresses
It's a given that bed bugs' preferred home is your mattress. So, be sure to invest in a mattress cover to eliminate the possibility of a bed bug army living in your bed.
With or without the mattress cover, it is important to change your sheets regularly. Aside from it being just good hygiene, it stops bed bugs from replicating faster or even just nesting in the first place.
Seal cracks and crevices
Their flat bodies can slip in between just about anything. So be sure to seal all the cracks and crevices in your house. Ensure that your home is only inhabitable by you and your family and not any creepy crawlies.
Installing door sweeps on the bottom of your doors would also be helpful. They would prevent the bed bugs from running from room to room.
Bed Bug Extermination Tips
Okay, if your efforts to prevent an infestation didn't work, here are some tips to get rid of the bed bugs running amok in your home.
Determine if it is a bed bug
As mentioned earlier, the family of cimicidae is a large group of bugs that all look alike. Only two species of cimicidae feed on humans. Thus, it is important to identify if these bugs will threaten you. Regardless, you must exterminate all cimicids from your house if you have pets.
Identify all infested areas
With the guide we provided earlier, it would be easy for you to determine what the bed bugs look like. The next step is to determine where the infestation is. If you have a bed bug problem, it is important to nip it in the bud as soon as possible.
You have to make sure that they do not reproduce. Remember, the female bed bug can lay up to 500 eggs during its lifespan. It's better to deal with the problem while it's still manageable.
You can search for the bed bugs on your own or hire professional exterminators to do the inspection. Some professionals even use specially trained dogs to search for bed bugs.
Bed bugs are flat, small, and can easily squeeze into tight spots. You can look for them in the seams of your mattresses, the cracks or crevices of your floorings, and even the folds of curtains.
You can also try looking in these places:
- Underneath the mattress or near the box spring.
- In the crevices of the bed frame and the cracks of the headboard.
- Between couch or sofa cushions.
- In between furniture joins.
- Inside electrical outlets
To make it easier, here are some signs of a bed bug infestation:
- You might notice bite marks on your face, arms, neck, hands, and other body parts. However, bite marks can take up to 2 weeks or 14 days to develop in some people.
- A telltale sign that you have bed bugs living in your home is that there would be bug exoskeletons after molting. You should find these in the folds of your mattresses and sheets.
- There should also be blood spots on your bed or nearby furniture. These are the droppings of bed bugs.
- Live bed bugs are about a quarter of an inch long.
- You would also find reddish stains on your sheets from when the bed bugs have been crushed while you moved in your sleep.
- Young bed bugs would also shed skins from when they start to molt and also small, pale, yellow eggs from when they first hatched.
Once you've determined that you have a bed bug infestation, you must contain them. The quickest and best way to trap and get rid of the bed bugs is through a reliable vacuum.
Run your vacuum through all the possible hiding places such as the bed, underneath the bed, under furniture, tight spaces, and carpets. When you're done vacuuming, keep the contents in a plastic bag and throw it away. Don't forget to clean out the vacuum.
Fight them with fire
Just kidding! But bed bugs are not the biggest fans of high heat.
Seal up all your sheets, curtains, clothes, and other linens and put them in the washing machine. Dry them at the highest possible temperature. Anything that cannot be placed in the washer or dryer should be placed in a plastic bag, and leave it alone for a few months if you cannot throw them away.
If the bed bugs find their way into your furniture, throw it away if it cannot be cleaned. But make sure you tear it up first and put a sign that says "bed bugs" to stop the infestation.
Bed bugs are no joke and can multiply by the thousands when left alone. Every single bug must be dead. Eliminate all possible places where the bed bugs can hide. Check underneath furniture, and pick up books, clothes, and other things under your bed or on your floor. Throw out all suspected infected items.
It is also very important that you not just pack up and move to a clean room from the infested one. You could spread the infestation further. Be sure to clean every inch of the infested room.
Also, seal any cracks or crevices where the bed bugs could hide. This should prevent the spread of the bed bugs by closing up their hiding spaces, or this could trap them there and eventually suffocate them.
Kill the bed bugs
You can try removing the bed bugs without the use of chemicals. They are fairly easy to kill through extremely high temperatures or low temperatures. They can be killed at 46.11°C (115°F) or 0°C (32°F ).
Here are some methods you can try to kill bed bugs:
- Use a steamer on the mattresses, couches, or other infected furniture.
- Wash your bed sheets, clothes, and other linens in hot water for at least 30 minutes, and put them in the dryer using the highest heat setting.
After killing all the visible bed bugs, make your home inhabitable for the bed bugs. Use bed covers on your mattresses and box springs. If these methods still leave you with some bed bugs left, it might be time to use chemicals to wipe them out completely.
Although bed bugs are small, they can still pose a threat when multiplied by the hundreds or thousands. Yes, they cannot carry disease, but their bites can cause allergic reactions and is a major nuisance! Their bites can be very painful and itchy.
The odor they emit can also threaten your family members who have allergies, asthma, and other respiratory complications.
Although cleanliness is not a fool-proof way of keeping the bed bugs away, it is still the best method to avoid an infestation. So, continue being thorough and checking your beds and furniture for any bed bugs.
The good news is that there are many ways to prevent bed bugs from infesting your home, especially the bedroom. Sanitation and thorough cleaning of the bedding and the surrounding living spaces are still the best preventive measures for these pesky insects.