Pest Management Fact Sheet #5004
James F. Dill, Pest Management Specialist
Clay A. Kirby, Insect Diagnostician
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The Common Bed Bug (Cimex lectularius) is a blood-feeding parasite of primarily humans, but pets and other warm-blooded animals are capable of being fed upon as well which may help support their population in some situations. In spite of their feeding habits, however, bed bugs are not known to carry any diseases. This is fortunate, as bed bugs are once again making a comeback in the U.S. Some factors that have favored their renewed expansion include a rise in international travel as countries ease or cancel their COVID-19 restrictions, the ongoing popularity of thrift shops and yard sales, and the number of people buying used furniture. Further contributing to their spread is the practice of using specific household pest control tactics as well as crowded living conditions in certain apartment complexes and neighborhoods.
Bed bugs have a secretive lifestyle and can hide in any crack or crevice, going undetected for quite a while (with the potential of being spread to new locations in the meantime). In addition, bed bug eggs are tiny and hard to detect. In a heavy infestation, they can be practically anywhere. For these reasons, we suggest you contact a licensed pest management professional with extensive bed bug experience.
Description & Biology
Adult bed bugs are brown, flat and about a 1/4-inch long, with a soft, rounded look. After a blood meal they are dark red, rounded (distended), and about 3/8-inch long.
These pests usually come out at night or in darkened areas. The pest’s small white eggs hatch into almost transparent nymphs that start feeding at the first opportunity and molt five times before becoming adults. Usually, all stages of bed bugs are present in an infestation. A temperature of 70-80°F is ideal for bed bug development. Bed bugs can live from months to over a year without feeding. At least three generations per year are possible with proper temperature and food supply.
Although bed bugs will travel up to 20 feet (sometimes more) in order to find a host, once a host is located they will generally remain close by in a well-concealed hiding place. When hiding places and hosts are few, they may be found almost anywhere: in the seams of mattresses, in box springs, in cracks of floorboards, behind peeled wallpaper, in picture frames, in couches, stuffed chairs, clothing and even the seams of curtains; wherever a dark crack or crevice might be. Dark excrement spots of partially digested blood are often found where they rest. Cast skins will also be found, especially where infestations are heavy.
Bed bugs usually feed at night, but when very hungry they are less likely to wait for darkness. Bed bugs inject an anticoagulant and anesthetic fluid into their host to help them secure their blood meal. This fluid makes some people sensitive to their bites, causing irritation, itching and inflammation. Other people can live with bed bugs and not even be aware of their presence. There is no consistent way of confirming a bed bug bite without actually finding the bugs themselves.
Bed bugs are also common in poultry houses and occasionally infest areas where animals are kept. Bed bugs closely resemble bat and swallow bugs, which exhibit similar behavior and will resort to biting humans in the absence of their primary host. The key to bat and swallow bug management is targeting the resting area and bat/bird-proofing structures.
Preventing bed bug infestations is the first step in management. When traveling, always check your hotel room for bed bugs before you bring any suitcases, duffel bags, purses etc. into your room. The second step in proper management is to get a positive identification. This can be done by sending a specimen–preferably in rubbing alcohol–to our Pest Management Unit in Orono. There are several methods used to monitor for bed bug activity. You may need to contact a licensed professional to use appropriate monitoring methods, which may include the use of a dog, and/or heat/CO2/lure traps. Control of bed bugs can be difficult, especially in homes that have many cracks and crevices, loose wallpaper, etc. Examine used bedding and beds before use. As a minimum, the following four actions should be considered to help with bed bug management:
1) Vacuuming and de-cluttering. Vacuuming can eliminate some bed bugs when they are concentrated in a specific area. It also facilitates insecticide penetration of cracks and crevices. It is possible that the vacuum cleaner itself can become infested, however, so be sure to discard vacuum bag contents immediately after use into a sealed plastic bag and closely examine the vacuum and attachments for any bed bugs or bed bug eggs. De-cluttering of objects found on the floor or on furniture helps to eliminate potential hiding places (especially any items that might be stored under the bed).
2) Mattress and box spring encasements. These can be used to salvage beds (or protect new beds) that may be infested. High quality bed bug-proof encasements will seal in bed bugs (which eventually die from starvation), and they will keep any additional bed bugs out.
3) Laundering. Suspected infested clothing can be washed on the hot cycle and then put in the dryer on the high setting for 30 minutes. Other non-washable objects can be put in the dryer on high for 30 minutes.
4) Solarizing and freezing. Certain items can be placed in plastic bags and put in the sun or hot vehicle for a day to solarize them. The temperature inside should be above 120°F. Heat-sensitive objects may be placed in a freezer (temperature below 32°F) for several days.
Bed bug infestations are extremely difficult to manage. Again, we suggest you contact a licensed pest control professional to do the job.
The trained pest control professional may offer several options for bed bug management. One option is to use registered insecticides. Another method involves the use of steam wands to direct steam into cracks, crevices, and other hiding places. A third method is to use dry heat (this may be supplemented with insecticide). In the lab, temperatures of 113°F will kill all stages of bed bugs. However, in a building it can be quite difficult to get all areas of the unit to the required temperature and for the required length of time. This treatment is best left to the professionals. Heat may destroy electronics, pictures, and other personal items. Often, it will take a combination of multiple management strategies to manage an infestation. Remember, it can be quite expensive to control bed bugs correctly.
How to Look for and Avoid Bedbugs in Hotel or Motel Rooms
When Using Pesticides
ALWAYS FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS!
Pest Management Unit
Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory
17 Godfrey Drive, Orono, ME 04473
1.800.287.0279 (in Maine)
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
© 2016, 2018, 2020 | Revised/updated: 2023
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