Fact Sheet on Bed Bugs by Susan C Jones, PH.D., Assistant Professor of Entomology Extension Specialist, Household and Structural Pests of The Ohio State University Extension
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Bedbugs are parasites that preferentially feed on humans. If
people arenʼt available, they instead will feed on other warmblooded animals, including birds, rodents, bats, and pets.
Bed bugs have been documented as pests since the 17th century.
They were introduced into our country by the early colonists.
Bedbugs were common in the United States prior to World War
II, after which time widespread use of synthetic insecticides
such as DDT greatly reduced their numbers. Improvements in
household and personal cleanliness as well as increased regulation of the used furniture market also likely contributed to their
reduced pest status.
In the past decade, bedbugs have begun making a comeback
across the United States, although they are not considered to be
a major pest. The widespread use of baits rather than insecticide
sprays for ant and cockroach control is a factor that has been
implicated in their return. Bed bugs are blood feeders that do not
feed on ant and cockroach baits. International travel and commerce
are thought to facilitate the spread of these insect hitchhikers,
because eggs, young, and adult bed bugs are readily transported
in luggage, clothing, bedding, and furniture. Bed bugs can infest
airplanes, ships, trains, and buses. Bed bugs are most frequently
found in dwellings with a high rate of occupant turnover, such
as hotels, motels, hostels, dormitories, shelters, apartment complexes, tenements, and prisons. Such infestations usually are not
a reflection of poor hygiene or bad housekeeping.
Bed bugs are fairly cosmopolitan. Cimex lectularius is most
frequently found in the northern temperate climates of North
America, Europe, and Central Asia, although it occurs sporadically in southern temperate regions. The tropical bed bug, C.
hemipterus, is adapted for semitropical to tropical climates and
is widespread in the warmer areas of Africa, Asia, and the tropics
of North America and South America. In the United States, C.
hemipterus occurs in Florida.
Adult bedbugs are brown to reddish-brown, oval-shaped, flattened, and about 3/16 to 1/5 inch long. Their flat shape enables
them to readily hide in cracks and crevices. The body becomes
more elongate, swollen, and dark red after a blood meal. Bed bugs
have a beaklike piercing-sucking mouthpart system. The adults
have small, stubby, nonfunctional wing pads. Newly hatched
nymphs are nearly colorless, becoming brownish as they mature.
Order: Family—Hemiptera: Cimicidae
Common name Scientific name
Bed Bug Cimex lectularius
Tropical Bed Bug Cimex hemipterus
Nymphs have the general appearance of adults. Eggs are white
and about 1/32 inch long.
Bed bugs superficially resemble a number of closely related
insects (family Cimicidae), such as bat bugs (Cimex adjunctus),
chimney swift bugs (Cimexopsis spp.), and swallow bugs (Oeciacus spp.). A microscope is needed to examine the insect for
distinguishing characteristics, which often requires the skills of
an entomologist. In Ohio, bat bugs are far more common than
Female bedbugs lay from one to twelve eggs per day, and the
eggs are deposited on rough surfaces or in crack and crevices.
The eggs are coated with a sticky substance so they adhere to
the substrate. Eggs hatch in 6 to 17 days, and nymphs can immediately begin to feed. They require a blood meal in order to
molt. Bed bugs reach maturity after five molts. Developmental
time (egg to adult) is affected by temperature and takes about
21 days at 86º F to 120 days at 65º F. The nymphal period is
greatly prolonged when food is scarce. Nymphs and adults can
live for several months without food. The adultʼs lifespan may
encompass 12-18 months. Three or more generations can occur
[Bed Bug] Habits
Bedbugs are fast moving insects that are nocturnal bloodfeeders. They feed mostly at night when their host is asleep. After
using their sharp beak to pierce the skin of a host, they inject a
salivary fluid containing an anticoagulant that helps them obtain
blood. Nymphs may become engorged with blood within three
minutes, whereas a full-grown bed bug usually feeds for ten to
fifteen minutes. They then crawl away to a hiding place to digest
the meal. When hungry, bed bugs again search for a host.
Bed bugs hide during the day in dark, protected sites. They
seem to prefer fabric, wood, and paper surfaces. They usually
occur in fairly close proximity to the host, although they can
travel far distances. Bed bugs initially can be found about tufts,
seams, and folds of mattresses, later spreading to crevices in the
bedstead. In heavier infestations, they also may occupy hiding
places farther from the bed. They may hide in window and door
frames, electrical boxes, floor cracks, baseboards, furniture, and
under the tack board of wall-to-wall carpeting. Bed bugs often
crawl upward to hide in pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats,
loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling moldings.
[Bed Bug] Injury
The bite is painless. The salivary fluid injected by bed bugs
typically causes the skin to become irritated and inflamed, although individuals can differ in their sensitivity. A small, hard,
swollen, white welt may develop at the site of each bite. This
is accompanied by severe itching that lasts for several hours to
days. Scratching may cause the welts to become infected. The
amount of blood loss due to bed bug feeding typically does not
adversely affect the host.
Rows of three or so welts on exposed skin are characteristic
signs of bed bugs. Welts do not have a red spot in the center such
as is characteristic of flea bites.
Some individuals respond to bed bug infestations with anxiety, stress, and insomnia. Bed bugs are not known to transmit
disease. (So can a Bed bug kill you? Probably not)
A bed bug infestation can be recognized by blood stains from
crushed bugs or by rusty (sometimes dark) spots of excrement
on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls. Fecal spots,
eggshells, and shed skins may be found in the vicinity of their
hiding places. An offensive, sweet, musty odor from their scent
glands may be detected when bed bug infestations are severe.
A critical first step is to correctly identify the blood-feeding
pest, as this determines which management tactics to adopt that
take into account specific bug biology and habits. For example,
if the blood-feeder is a bat bug rather than a bed bug, a different
management approach is needed.
Control of bed bugs is best achieved by following an integrated
pest management (IPM) approach that involves multiple tactics,
such as preventive measures, sanitation, and chemicals applied
to targeted sites. Severe infestations usually are best handled by
a licensed pest management professional.
Do not bring infested items into oneʼs home. It is important
to carefully inspect clothing and baggage of travelers, being on
the lookout for bed bugs and their tell-tale fecal spots. Also,
inspect secondhand beds, bedding, and furniture. Caulk cracks
and crevices in the building exterior and also repair or screen
openings to exclude birds, bats, and rodents that can serve as
alternate hosts for bed bugs.
A thorough inspection of the premises to locate bed bugs and
their harborage sites is necessary so that cleaning efforts and
insecticide treatments can be focused. Inspection efforts should
concentrate on the mattress, box springs, and bed frame, as well
as crack and crevices that the bed bugs may hide in during the
day or when digesting a blood meal. The latter sites include
window and door frames, floor cracks, carpet tack boards,
baseboards, electrical boxes, furniture, pictures, wall hangings,
drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling
moldings. Determine whether birds or rodents are nesting on or
near the house.
In hotels, apartments, and other multiple-type dwellings, it
is advisable to also inspect adjoining units since bed bugs can
travel long distances.
[Bed Bug] Sanitation
Sanitation measures include frequently vacuuming the mattress
and premises, laundering bedding and clothing in hot water, and
cleaning and sanitizing dwellings. After vacuuming, immediately
place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag, seal tightly, and
discard in a container outdoors—this prevents captured bed bugs
from escaping into the home. A stiff brush can be used to scrub
the mattress seams to dislodge bed bugs and eggs. Discarding the
mattress is another option, although a new mattress can quickly
become infested if bed bugs are still on the premises. Steam
cleaning of mattresses generally is not recommended because
it is difficult to get rid of excess moisture, which can lead to
problems with mold, mildew, house dust mites, etc.
Repair cracks in plaster and glue down loosened wallpaper
to eliminate bed bug harborage sites. Remove and destroy wild
animal roosts and nests when possible.
[Bed Bug] Trapping
After the mattress is vacuumed or scrubbed, it can be enclosed
in a zippered mattress cover such as that used for house dust
mites. Any bed bugs remaining on the mattress will be trapped
inside the cover. Leave the cover in place for a year or so since
bed bugs can live for a long time without a blood meal.
Sticky traps or glueboards may be used to capture bed bugs
that wander about. However, the effectiveness of these traps is
not well documented.
Residual insecticides (usually pyrethroids) are applied as spot
treatments to cracks and crevices where bed bugs are hiding.
Increased penetration of the insecticide into cracks and crevices
can be achieved if accumulated dirt and debris are first removed
using a vacuum cleaner. Avoid using highly repellent formulations, which cause bed bugs to scatter to many places. Dust
formulations may be used to treat wall voids and attics. Repeat
insecticide applications if bed bugs are present two weeks after
the initial treatment since it is difficult to find all hiding places
and hidden eggs may have hatched.
Do not use any insecticide on a mattress unless the product
label specifically mentions such use. Note that very few insecticides are labeled for use on mattresses. If using an appropriately
labeled insecticide on a mattress, take measures to minimize
pesticide exposure to occupants. Apply the insecticide as a light
mist to the entire mattress, opening seams, tufts, and folds to
allow the chemical to penetrate into these hiding areas. Allow
the treated surface to completely dry before use. Do not sleep
directly on a treated mattress; be sure bed linens are in place. Do
not treat mattresses of infants or ill people. Alternatives to using
an insecticide on a mattress are discussed in the ʻSanitationʼ and
No insecticides are labeled for use on bedding or linens. These
items should be dry cleaned or laundered in hot water and dried
using the “hot” setting.
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