Bed bugs, Cimex lectularius, have resurged to quickly become a very prominent pest as they invade numerous urban areas including hostels, hotels and residences. Our society has had a “30+ year vacation” from this pest. Bed bugs were nearly removed from North America as a result of mass treatments with older types of insecticides (DDT, Chlordane, Lindane). Recently, bed bugs have found ample opportunity to increase in number and spread through society primarily due to increased travel of people and the lack of public awareness about what bed bugs look like and how they spread.
Bed bugs can survive a wide range of temperatures and atmospheric compositions. Below 61° F, adults enter semi-hibernation and can survive longer. Bed bugs can survive for at least 5 days at 14° F but will die after 15 minutes of exposure to −26° F. They can survive low humidity and a loss of 1/3 of their body weight; earlier life stages are more susceptible to drying out than later ones. The thermal death point is high (113° F) and all stages of life are killed by 7 minutes of exposure to 115° F. Some bed bug populations have developed a resistance to pyrethroid insecticides and this resistance appears to be increasing dramatically. Bed bug populations sampled across the U.S. showed a tolerance for pyrethroids several thousands of times greater than laboratory bed bugs.
Bed Bug Life Cycle
Bed bugs are active at night and hide during the day. After mating, females lay white, oval eggs (1/16 inch long) into cracks and crevices. An individual bed bug can lay 200–250 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs hatch in about 6-10 days and the newly emerged bed bug nymphs seek a blood meal. Immature nymphs molt (shed) 5 times before reaching adulthood. They need to feed at least once before each molt, although they could feed as often as once a day. There may be 3 or more generations per year. All ages are found in a reproducing population. Immature bed bugs may live for several months without feeding while adults may survive as long as 1 year without a meal. Under normal circumstances, adult bed bugs will live for about 10 to 11 months.
What Causes an Infestation?
Dwellings can become infested with bed bugs in a variety of ways:
- Bugs and eggs can hitchhike in on clothing and luggage from an infested home or hotel
- Bugs and eggs can be on furniture or clothing that has been donated, borrowed, or purchased from other individuals
- Bugs can move between shared duct work, false ceilings, or common walls in multi-unit housing.
Bed Bug Detection
Bed bugs are elusive and usually nocturnal, which can make them hard to detect. They often lodge unnoticed in dark crevices and eggs can be nestled in fabric seams. Aside from bite symptoms, signs include fecal spots, blood smears on sheets, and molts.
Bed bugs can be found singly, but often congregate once established. They usually remain close to hosts, commonly in or near beds or couches. Nesting locations vary greatly and include luggage, vehicles, furniture, beds and bedding, and bedside clutter. The eggs of bed bugs are found in similar places where the bed bugs themselves are found, and are attached to surfaces by a sticky substance. Bed bugs can be detected by their characteristic smell of almonds or over-ripe raspberries.
How to Eliminate Bed Bugs
Eliminating bed bugs is a huge cost for landlords, often leading to landlord/resident disputes over who is at fault for the infestation. Landlords must hire a licensed pest management professional to inspect all adjoining apartments surrounding the infested apartment, and then treat all infested apartments. Residents often have to prepare their apartments for treatment which can include bagging, cleaning, removing and discarding belongings.
Timing is Critical
The adequacy and timeliness of maintenance can greatly affect pest problems. When pest problems are not reported early, or when pest problems go undetected, their populations increase dramatically making control more difficult. The performance of the pest management professional is adversely affected when pest populations have become high and when residents do not adequately prepare or comply with preparation and cleanliness instructions. It’s imperative to call immediately if you think you have a bed bug problem!