Don't let the bed bugs bite!
A few years ago this used to be an almost meaningless phrase. Not so much today. Bed bugs have made a big come back. These 'nasty' little pests may be found in the best hotels, our homes, theatres, recreation centers and even on buses.
So why have they become so common? It is generally thought there are a number of factors which has contributed to the explosion of these insects. Among them:
- Increased restrictions by government agencies on the use of pesticides. In North America, actions by regulatory organizations such as the EPA (US) and Pest Management Regulatory Agency have resulted in the deregistration of a number of pesticides once used to combat bed bug infestations.
- Federal, provincial and municipal regulations have restricted the application methods of many pesticides formally used to keep this in control. Many bureaucracies are strictly controlling the frequency and method of application of many products - often with little regard to the impact of these restrictions on bed bug populations.
- Resistance to some pesticides developing in bed bug populations.
- Increased travel has aided the spread of this insect from other parts of the world.
- Increased crowding of human populations has increased the spread of infestations within structures.
- Increased societal interactions within societies has allowed further spread within communities. There are more individuals engaging in 'sleepovers' than in previous years.
- Reduced enforcement of sanitary standards (living conditions). In our society, the individual right to live as one wishes frequently has superseded the adverse impact one's behaviour has on your neighbour.
How Do You Know if You Have a Bed Bug Infestation?
Bed bugs are small blood-sucking insects that feed on people (and sometimes their pets). Like most organisms, bed bugs don't like to expend large amounts of energy to find their next meal. When not actively feeding, bed bugs like to hide in small cracks or crevices. As such, bed bugs are typically found hiding in a crack or crevice, close to their food source. As their name suggests, the are usually found on or near beds - where their host (next meal) sleeps. However, they may also be found by other resting areas. Other than searching for bite marks on the body, if you wish to look for evidence of bed bugs, you will have to look for signs of their activity around or on beds, bedroom furnishings, chairs and couches or any crack.
Typical signs of infestation include finding:
1) The insect: Bed bugs are oval, flattened insects (often described as resembling a flattened flax seed or brown, flattened lady bug). Their flattened shape allows them to hide in cracks and crevices or small depressions. Following a blood meal, they may appear to be slightly bloated and darker in appearance.
Size: When not full of host blood, adults are approximately 6mm in length (about 1/4 inch). Immature bed bugs look very similar to adults only smaller. After a recent blood meal, they can be slightly larger, as their body distends due to their food content. Depending on their life stage, immature bed bugs may vary between approximately 1-5 mm. Eggs are not easily found, as they are very small - less than 1 mm in size (approx. 1/30 inch). They are creamy white, and typically found in clusters.
Colour: Bed bugs are usually rusty-brown or may be yellow or orange-brown. Bed bugs molt as they grow. Newly molted insects may appear white for a short while after molting. After feeding on a blood meal, bed bugs take on a darker, redder-brown colour.
2) Blood/Fecal Spots: Small spots of dried blood are frequently observed when bed bugs are present. Since bed bugs feed on blood, their feces consist of digested blood and is reddish brown in colour. Blood spots may be seen on bedding. As bed bugs are gregarious, the blood spots are typically found in groups where bed bugs hide (mattress seams, bed frames, etc.). In the more severe infestations the fecal spots blend into a smear.
3) Shed Exoskeletons: Typical of all insects, bed bugs have a 'skeleton' on the outside of their body. As they grow this is shed (like a snake sheds its skin). Shed bed bug 'skins' are another symptom of bed bug infestation.
4) Musty Odors: With severe infestations, one can often detect a sweet sickly, musty odor.
5) Bite Marks: A symptom of bed bug activity is Bed bugs have piercing or sucking mouthparts, much like a mosquito. They feed by piercing the skin and drawing their blood meal from their hosts. In order to facilitate feeding, an anticoagulant is introduced into the host. Most people respond to the bite by producing a raised, frequently itchy, welt. There is often a hard, whitish, crusty patch in the centre of the bite. It must be noted that a small percentage of individuals do not react to bed bug bites and, with these individuals, there are no raised welts produced by feeding..
Biology of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are small bugs that feed on people and pets. There are a number of species of bed bugs, but the one normally encountered is the common bed bug (Cimex lectularis). Bed bugs are oval, flattened insects (often described as resembling a flattened flax seed or brown, flattened lady bug). Adults are usually rusty-brown in colour or may be yellow or orange-brown. Immature stages tend to be paler and more translucent that adults. After feeding on a blood meal, bed bugs take on a darker, redder-brown colour. Bed bugs molt as they grow. Newly molted insects may appear white for a short while after molting.
Adult bed bugs are approximately 6mm in length (about 1/4 inch). Immature bed bugs are very similar in appearance to adults only smaller. Depending on their life stage, immature bed bugs may vary between approximately 1-5 mm. Eggs are not easily found, as they are very small - less than 1 mm in size (approx. 1/30 inch). They are creamy white, and typically found in clusters.
Life Cycle: Bed bugs have three basic life stages - egg, immature nymph and adult. Depending on a variety of factors, females may lay 400 to 500 eggs in her lifetime. Eggs are laid in clumps and are cemented to the surface on which they are laid - which makes their removal by vacuuming more difficult. After emerging from their egg, bed bugs undergo five molts before reaching the adult stage. This process can take as little as 3-4 weeks, although 5-7 weeks is believed to be more typical. A blood meal is required for nymphs to molt to the next stage and for egg laying.
Bed bugs feeding on a regular basis have a life span of roughly 10-12 months. However, adults that have recently taken a blood meal can undergo extremely long periods of food deprivation. It is reported adults may live up to approximately one to one and one-half years without a blood meal. This resiliency has important implications in the control of this insect.
Behaviour: Bed bugs spend most of the daylight hours hidden in dark cracks and crevices. They normally feed every three to four days. Like many insects, bed bugs have phereomones that influence various aspects of their behaviour. One of their pheromones causes them to clump into groups (aggregate). They may be found hiding around bed frames, in the folds of mattresses, in sofas and upholstered chairs, in dressers, in night tables, around baseboards or edges of carpets, in the folds of curtains, behind picture frames in books, or any other place that provides a hiding place.
Bed bugs feed exclusively on blood and normally only feed at night - when their environment is dark and quiet. Usually a bed bug will feed every three or four days. Although their preferred blood meal is from humans, they will also feed on birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice and occasionally on cats and dogs. Bed bug feeding is performed through piercing mouthparts - similar to a mosquito. During feeding a 'saliva', containing an anticoagulant and anesthetic, is injected into the host. These components ensure feeding by preventing blood clotting and the detection of biting by the host.
Bed bugs can not jump or fly; they are only capable of crawling. They are alsoincapable of climbing smooth surfaces. As they have piercing mouth parts, hence are incapable of chewing. These limitations are important factors in the control of this species. Spread of infestations can only be achieved through either crawling or being physically carried on personal goods. Due to their lack of chewing mouthparts and poor climbing abilities plastic bags and similar items make excellent containers for holding infested or potentially infested goods.
Bed Bug Bites
Reactions to bed bug bites vary. People rarely notice that they are being bitten and some people do not react to their bites. Most people notice small, raised, itchy bumps at the sites of bites. Often there are several bites close together. Although laboratory studies have shown that bed bugs can carry a range of disease-causing organisms, they have not been shown to spread diseases to humans. In severe infestations, bed bug bites can cause skin infections, exhaustion due to sleep disruption, weight loss and anemia from the loss of blood.
Summary of Pertinent Facts About Bed Bug Biology
- Bedbugs develop from an egg stage through a number of immature (nymphs) stages to become an adult.
- Other than the egg, all life stages feed on blood meals and bedbugs require a blood meal before they can moult.
- Bedbug populations can increase fairly rapidly. A female is typically lays between 200 to 500 eggs during her lifetime.
- Freshly laid eggs are about the size of a period on a page and are sticky and adhere to the surfaces on which they are oviposited.
- Depending on environmental factors, eggs hatch in about 10 days.
- There are normally five nymphal (immature) stages; under room temperatures the time to reach adulthood may be as little as 35 to 45 days.
- Nymphs require a blood meal in order to progress from one life stage to another.
- Under normal room temperatures, bedbugs typically live for approximately six to twelve months.
- When conditions are not ideal (cool, lack of food, etc.), bedbugs can live many months longer than their anticipated lifespan. Many insects (including bed bugs) are capable of living in less than ideal conditions with their life cycle "on hold" or progressing at a slower than normal rate.
- Bedbugs are extremely resilient to starvation. Adults have been reported to live up to approximately a year and one-half without a blood meal. Nymphs, having less stored resources, can live a few months without a blood meal.
- Bedbugs usually hide in cracks and crevices during the day and feed during the night.
- Although bed bugs are usually found on or near sleeping or resting areas (such as beds and furniture) they may be found hiding in any crack or crevice. They typically hide in folds in mattresses, on bed frames, behind pictures frames, in drawers, in cupboards, behind baseboards and similar areas.
- In the early stages of infestation bed bugs are usually found on or near beds and other furnishing. As infestations grow larger they tend to spread away from the infestation focal site.
- Bedbugs feed (much like a mosquito) through sucking mouthparts. They typically take approximately five to ten minutes to feed and do so while their host is sleeping. - Feeding normal results in a raised, 'crusty" welt on the skin.
- The bed bug diet is exclusively comprised of blood from their hosts. When feeding, bedbugs inject anticoagulant, salivary secretions into their host. Even though bedbugs aren't currently considered to be a major health hazard or capable of spreading infectious agents, the injection of this 'saliva' causes itching may result in secondary infections and sores.
- Bed bugs usually feed every 3 or 4 days.
- When feeding is completed, bed bugs do not remain on their host but move into nearby hiding places.
- A number of pathogenic agents have been found in bed bugs. These include viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and parasitic worms. It is believed that none of the pathogens multiply within bed bugs and few survive for any length of time inside a bed bug. At the time this information is being written, there is no definitive evidence that bed bugs transmit (via bite or infected feces) any pathogen (including hepatitis B or HIV).
- The development of secondary infections at the feeding site is of medical concern - especially for individuals who may have immune system issues. Of course their mere presence and biting behaviour adversely impacts quality of life.
- Heat and cold will cause mortality in bed bugs, but eggs are more resistant to cold. It should be noted damage caused by cold can also be reversible, while heat damage is not generally reversible (mainly due to proteins and other biological materials being denatured). Heat and cold are limited in control procedures due to the bed bug's ability to move away from uncomfortable environments.
- They are not good climbers and have difficulty climbing smooth or metallic surfaces. Smooth or slippery surfaces impede their mobility and ability to climb out of containers with smooth surfaces.
- Being blood-sucking organisms, they do not have chewing mouthparts and are incapable of chewing through even the flimsiest materials. Bed bugs can be easily contained in plastic bags or similar containers.
- They are incapable of flight and cannot jump. Spreading bed bug populations is mainly achieved by their walking to uninfested areas or, more commonly, by their transportation in goods moved from infested to uninfested sites.
- Their nature of hiding in or near a resting or sleeping host makes the purchase or acquisition of used goods risky.
- They are not generally deterred by insect repellents.
- Although they prefer to be active at night, when wishing to feed bed bugs are not deterred by light. Simply lighting an area will not deter their feeding.
- There are concerns regarding the development of resistance to pesticides thereby reducing their efficacy in controlling populations.
What to Do When Bed Bugs Have Been Discovered
Proper Identification Is Important
It is important to obtain a specimen for confirmation of the pest prior to treatment. To the untrained individual many insects may be confused with bed bugs. PES Professional Ecological Services Ltd. will identify your specimens, free of charge, if you bring them into our office. Pill bottles and similar containers make excellent containers for holding specimens. We ask you to please:
- Ensure the specimens are not crushed or badly mangled.
- Limit the number of items you bring in.
- Identify the container with your name and phone number.
- Record as much information as possible regarding where found, behaviour, numbers, etc.
Specimens need not be alive. In fact, freezing or cooling the specimen may limit damage to them and increase ease of handling. If you are bringing in ant specimens, try to include non-winged workers to ease identification. If you would like us to come to your home or place of business, there will be a small charge for this service. If you wish further information, please contact us at 250-383-2445 at your convenience.
Do Not Move or Remove Items
One of the reasons for their current rise in infestation levels is the ease with which they are transported on personal items, furniture or other possessions. When there is evidence of bed bug infestation all items must be treated as if they are contaminated. Bedding, clothing, beds, other furnishings, suitcases or knapsacks and other personal property should only be moved when they are encased in an 'escape resistant' containment package. Hence before items are removed from an area suspected of having bed bugs, it is wise to totally encase and seal items either in plastic bags or plastic wrapping. There should be no gaps or tears in the packaging that will allow bed bugs to fall out or crawl through. Items must be treated with great care.
Do Not Use Pesticides Without Prior Consultation
Improper applications of pesticides can result in spreading infestations, use of chemicals unnecessary use of toxic materials, use of inappropriate products and potential health risks.
Always Assume Contamination
When one suspects an individual brought bed bugs into the home or business, it is wise to assume that clothing and personal possessions may be contaminated with this insect. It is especially important that potentially contaminated items are not moved within the home or indiscriminately thrown out. This may result in spreading the infestation.
The key to preventing infestation is in limiting their introduction. Eliminating clutter in our business or residence is also important to eliminate harbourage areas.
Bed bugs most often enter your home with your suitcases when you return from traveling or on used furniture you bring into your home.
When traveling, check hotel rooms for signs of bed bug activity. Look especially behind baseboards and in the seams of the mattress skirting. Ask for a new room if any signs of bedbugs are found.
Take large plastic bags into hotel rooms or when spending the night away from home. Place your possession in the plastic bags to limit bed bug access to your possessions - especially during the night hours when bed bugs are most active.
When returning home from a vacation, unpack your bags in the laundry room and, if you find any bed bugs, immediately launder everything.
Due to the increasing incidence of bedbugs, we do not recommend that individuals purchase used beds or other furniture. However, should you decide to purchase used furniture, inspect it carefully for signs of bed bugs and do not bring it into your home if you see any signs of an infestation.
Never pick up used furniture found along roadways.
Restrict individuals coming into your home on an over-night basis.
- Bedbug control is very difficult, labour-intensive work. Control includes:
- A careful inspection to determine the extent of the problem
- Very thorough vacuuming of all infested areas to physically remove as many bed bugs as possible
- Placing items in a dryer at high heat setting for at least 20 minutes. This includes items such as bedding, curtains and possibly clothing from the infested rooms.
- Application of residual insecticides to cracks and crevices where bed bugs hide
- Monitoring of the infestation every 2 weeks and repeated dryer treatment of high risk items, and insecticide applications as necessary, to ensure that all bed bugs have been eliminated.
- Encasing mattresses and box springs in bed bug resistant mattress and box spring covers. This will limit access to the host for any bed bugs that do not come in contact with pesticides used in treatment. If left on and intact for over one and one-half years, this should 'starve out' these insects. It also eliminates harbourage areas for any new infestations.
- Using bed bug specific traps for monitoring.