Biology and Management
Bed bugs are increasingly becoming a problem within residences of all kinds,
including homes, apartments, hotels, cruise ships, dormitories and shelters.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of
warm-blooded animals. Bed bugs and their relatives have evolved as nest
parasites. Certain kinds inhabit bird nests and bat roosts and await the return
of their hosts; others have adapted well to living in the ‘nests’ (homes) of
Hatchling bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed, and adults are about
1/4 of an inch in length. From above they are oval in shape, but are flattened
from top to bottom.
Their color ranges from nearly white (just after molting) or a light tan to a
deep brown or burnt orange. The host’s blood may appear as a dark red or black
mass within the bug’s body. Because they never develop wings, bed bugs cannot
fly. When disturbed, bed bugs actively seek shelter in dark cracks and crevices.
Cast skins of bed bugs are sometimes discovered. Although such a finding
confirms that bed bugs had been present previously, it does not confirm that any
continue to infest the residence. Thus, inspect carefully for live crawling
bed bugs. Because many other kinds of small brown bugs may be discovered, it is
critical to ensure that the bugs are correctly identified (more about this
Do bed bugs cause harm or spread
Bed bugs seek out people and animals, generally at night while these hosts are
asleep, and painlessly sip a few drops of blood. While feeding, they inject a
tiny amount of their saliva into the skin. Repeated exposures to bed bug bites
during a period of several weeks or more causes people to become sensitized to
the saliva of these bugs; additional bites may then result in mild to intense
allergic responses. The skin lesion produced by the bite of a bed bug resembles
those caused by many other kinds of blood feeding insects, such as mosquitoes
and fleas. The offending insect, therefore, can rarely be identified by the
appearance of the bites.
A physician should be consulted to rule out other
causes for the lesions and to offer treatment, as needed. The affected person
should resist the urge to scratch the bites, as this may intensify the
irritation and itching, and may lead to secondary infection. Physicians often
treat patients with antihistamines and corticosteroids to reduce allergic
reactions and inflammation. Despite what you may have heard or read elsewhere,
bed bugs are not known to transmit any infectious agents.
Where do bed bugs occur?
Bed bugs and their relatives occur nearly worldwide. Bed bugs became relatively
scarce during the latter part of the 20th century, but their
populations have resurged in recent years, particularly throughout parts of
North America, Europe, and Australia. They are most abundant in rooms where
people sleep, and they generally hide nearest the bed or other furniture used
for sleeping. Bed bugs are most active in the middle of the night, but when
hungry, they will venture out during the day to seek a host. Their flattened
bodies allow them to conceal themselves in cracks and crevices around the room
and within furniture.
Favored hiding sites include the bed frame, mattress and
box spring. Clutter around the room offers additional sites for these bugs to
hide, and increases the difficulty in eliminating bed bugs once they have become
How do bed bugs invade a home?
Because bed bugs readily hide in small crevices, they may accompany (as
stowaways) luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes, and other such objects
when these are moved between apartments, homes and hotels. People who travel
need to be extra careful.
particularly bed frames and mattresses, are of greatest risk of harboring bed
bugs and their eggs. Thus, one should carefully scrutinize and consider the
history of any used furniture, particularly ‘street’ items so plentiful at the
beginning and end of each academic year. Because they readily survive for many
months without feeding, bed bugs may already be present in apparently ‘vacant’
and ‘clean’ apartments.
Bed bugs can wander between adjoining apartments
and condo units through
voids in walls and holes though which wires and pipes pass. Pest control personnel should be mindful of the presence of
blood feeding insects and mites that may be left behind after removing nests or
roosts of birds and bats in and on the home.
How can you tell if the residence is
Bed bugs infest only a small proportion of residences, but they should be
suspected if residents complain of bites that occurred while sleeping. The
bedroom and other sleeping areas should be carefully examined for bed bugs and
signs of bed bug activity. Folds and creases in the bed linens, and seams and
tufts of mattresses and box springs, in particular, may harbor bed bugs or their
eggs. They may also be found within pleats of curtains, beneath loose areas of
wallpaper near the bed, in corners of desks and dressers, within spaces of
wicker furniture, behind cove molding, and in laundry or other items on the
floor or around the room. Sometimes, characteristic dark brown or reddish fecal
spots of bed bugs are apparent on the bed linens, mattress or walls near the
bed. A peculiar coriander-like odor may be detected in some heavily infested
residences. Adhesive-based traps used for sampling insects or rodents are not
particularly effective for trapping bed bugs.
What should you do if you find bed
Because several different kinds of insects resemble bed bugs, specimens should
be carefully compared with good reference images (such as those in this
document) to confirm their identity. If any questions remain regarding the
identity of your samples, then submit them to a competent entomologist for
evaluation (see information below).
Once their identity is confirmed, a careful plan should be devised to
eliminate the bed bugs in a manner that promotes success while limiting
unnecessary costs and exposure to insecticides. Don’t discard furniture
and don’t treat until and unless you have a plan.
What can you do to manage bed bugs?
Search for signs of bed bugs. Carefully inspect the bed
frame, mattress, and other furniture for signs of bed bugs and their eggs.
Although dead bed bugs, cast bug skins and blood spots may indicate an
infestation occurred previously; they do not confirm that an infestation is
still active. Search for live (crawling) bugs and ensure they are bed bugs
before considering treating. To confirm the identity of the specimens, refer to
our evaluation form
Reduce clutter to limit hiding places for bed bugs.
Thoroughly clean the infested rooms as well as others in the
residence. Scrub infested surfaces with a stiff brush to dislodge eggs, and use
a powerful vacuum to remove bed bugs from cracks and crevices. Dismantling bed
frames will expose additional bug hiding sites. Remove drawers from desks and
dressers and turn furniture over, if possible, to inspect and clean all hiding
Cover the mattress, box springs
and pillows with
mattress and pillow covers. These covers have been designed specifically for
bed bugs. Once they are installed, inspect the covers to ensure they are undamaged; if
any holes or tears are found, seal these completely with permanent tape. Sick as
it may sound , any
bugs trapped within these sealed bags will eventually die.
To prevent bed bugs from crawling onto a bed, pull the bed frame away from
the wall, tuck sheets and blankets so they won’t contact the floor, and place
the frame legs into dishes or cups of mineral oil.
Caulk and seal all holes where pipes and wires penetrate walls and floor, and
fill cracks around baseboards and cove moldings to further reduce harborages.
If you own your home, we suggest you contact a licensed pest control
company who is knowledgeable and experienced in managing bed bug infestations.
Ask the pest control company for references, and ask at least a few of their
customers about their experiences before you agree to any contract.
If you are a tenant, contact your property manager or landlord to discuss
your respective obligations, and to agree on a plan to manage the infestation.
Generally, landlords are legally required to contract with a licensed pest
Request a written integrated pest management (IPM) plan from the pest control
operator. This plan should detail the methods and insecticides to be used by the
pest control operator, and describe the efforts expected by the building manager
as well as by the tenants.
Because bed bugs and other pests may spread through cracks and holes in the
walls, ceilings and floors, it is wise to inspect adjoining apartments on the
same floor as well as those directly above and below.
What shouldn’t you do?
Don’t panic. Although bed bugs can be annoying, they can be battled safely.
Do not apply pesticides unless you fully understand what you are applying and
the risks involved. You are legally liable if you misapply a pesticide, or apply
it without a license to the property of another (including common spaces in
apartment buildings). Generally, landlords, owners and building managers
cannot legally apply pesticides. They should, instead, hire a licensed pest
control operator to confirm the infestation and to develop an integrated pest
Do not dispose of furniture that is useful. Infested furniture can be cleaned
and treated. Placing infested furniture (particularly mattresses) into common
areas or on the street may simply help spread bed bugs to the homes of other
people. Infested furniture intended for disposal should be defaced to make it
less attractive to other people. Officials in some municipalities affix to
potentially infested furniture a label to warn of bed bugs. To reduce
opportunities of infested furniture re-entering their building, building
managers should ensure that any disposed furniture is locked within a dumpster
or immediately carted away to a landfill or waste facility.
Carefully read the label before applying any
pesticide. Apply the product only if you fully understand the instructions, and
if you have the appropriate training/certification and equipment.
Do NOT apply any insecticide or pesticide to
mattresses or to surfaces that would be in direct contact with a person, unless
the label instructions specifically state that the product can be applied in
that manner. Some products can be harmful to people and pets. READ and
UNDERSTAND the label.