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Identification, Prevention and Extermination of Bed Bugs


Photo of Bed Bug

Bed Bug Photo Courtesy of David P James

David P James

Common Name:

Bed bug, or bedbug

What Bed Bugs Look Like:

Bed bugs (or "bedbugs") are flat, slightly oval, somewhat teardrop-shaped insects that measure about ¼-inch in length when fully grown. Bed bugs are larger than many people expect, as they assume the insects are comparable to fleas in size. Bed bugs are basically dark brown, varying to red or rust colored.

Since bed bugs are almost entirely nocturnal, you don't often see bed bugs in the open during the daytime. They prefer to stay in the crevices of furniture, as well as mattresses, or wall voids when they're not feeding.

Bed Bug Bites:

Bed bugs come out at night to feed on the blood of warm-blooded creatures, preferably humans. (Since they dislike foraging through hair, bed bugs don't often target pets.) If you have been bitten by bed bugs you may have red, itchy spots on areas of your body without much hair.

Bed bug bites often appear in a line or cluster near each other, formed as the bugs feed from multiple sites.

Bed bug bites become inflamed and itchy due to an allergic reaction to the bed bug saliva.

How to Detect Bed Bugs in Furniture:

Other than the bed bug bites, the most common indication of a bed bug infestation are blood spots or fecal smears left on linens or the mattress. Look for this evidence near seams and fabric overlaps. The fecal smears are brownish and typically about ¼-inch to ½-inch long.

You may also find discarded insect exoskeletons in the crevices of furniture or carpeting.

In cases of heavy infestations of bed bugs, you may notice a musty, sweet aroma, sometimes compared to "rotten raspberries", almond extract, or unwashed sheets. If you crush a bed bug specimen, you will get a good sense of the scent.

How to Detect Bed Bugs - Traps:

Numerous bed bug detection glue traps are available for purchase online.

You can also apply double-sided tape to baseboards, bed legs, mattress surfaces, or bed frame components for your own sticky bed bug detection monitors.

Bed Bug Prevention Tips:

  • Don't accept used furniture.
  • When traveling, use bed bug exclusion bags in your luggage to prevent bringing insects home in your baggage.
  • Don't agree to stay in a room you expect will be infested with bed bugs. Insist on different accommodations or a refund.
  • Launder all clothing immediately upon returning from travel.
  • When buying a new bed, ask for morning delivery. If the truck delivers beds exclusively, your new mattress may spend the day with 20 other used mattresses, picked up as the day's deliveries are made. Your brand new mattress may arrive with bed bugs already inside.

How to Kill Bed Bugs:

Discarding any infested furniture or mattress is a preferable solution but not always practical. Plus, even if you discard items, without intensive investigation and/or treatment, you might be leaving bed bugs within other areas of the structure only to re-infest new furniture.

I strongly suggest contacting a qualified professional to help eliminate bed bugs. Seek out a company with bed bug expertise specifically, and don't be afraid to ask for references before committing to an appointment. Remember that bed bugs are a relatively new phenomenon, and working with an experienced company can decrease the number of treatments and therefore the overall cost.

Most professionals will need multiple visits to eradicate a bed bug infestation. The trick for an effective treatment is to place the insecticide where the bugs encounter the poison. Bombing or fogging treatments for bed bugs are almost totally ineffective. The chemicals do not penetrate into the deep recesses where bed bugs reside, nor do they leave a residue that bed bugs will encounter when they come out to feed.

The most effective technique for chemical control of bed bugs uses a bed bug-approved residual insecticide. Pest control specialists apply the insecticide to the infested surfaces and seams, such as the cracks and crevices near the baseboards, wall trim, switch plate and outlet plate, and the seams of furniture and mattresses.

Please note: do not treat any electrical junction box or outlet with a liquid insecticide that could conduct electricity. Use a dry formula such as a dust in those areas.

Some non-pesticide control methods show promise. Professionally administered heat treatments for bed bugs raise the temperatures of the room, the furniture, and the wall voids to a consistent 115-120º F temperature. This heat remediation treatment kills all stages of the bed bug life cycle. Other heat-based methods include laundering infested items in hot water, steam treatments, and bagging items in clear plastic and placing them in the sun on a hot day to reach the necessary 115-120º range.

CAUTION: Attempting heat remediation without the proper training or equipment could result in a failed treatment at best, but could also lead to ruining expensive electronics or personal items, or a catastrophic fire.

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