Imagine an insect that doesn’t eat anything but blood, hides during the day, can survive waiting for a host to provide blood for over a year, can survive temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or cold temperatures to refrigeration temperatures, and can hitchhike from person to person through luggage or shared space. While this might sound like a plot to a very scary movie, this insect is real and very common today. Bed bugs, also spelled “bedbugs” in Europe, are elusive, nocturnal, and transient. They hide in places that we would not normally look. The bed bugs have flat bodies until they gorge on blood and the flat shape allows them to scurry into tight areas as small as the screw holes in bed frames, electrical outlets, alarm clocks, and even between pages of books.
Elusive & nocturnal insects
Bed bugs are insects and by definition, have six legs. Bed bugs are elusive during daylight hours and are nocturnal so it is not easy to observe bed bugs during the day. Bed bugs do not fly as they have no wings and move by crawling or “hitchhiking” on baggage or items carried by humans including clothing. Bed bugs hatch from eggs and then grow and develop as nymphs. For each stage, or to shed the shell into a new nymphal stage, the bed bug must feed on blood. They prefer human blood. There are several species of similar insects which can easily be misidentified as bed bugs. Generally, these insects have a particular host that they prefer but will feed on humans if there is opportunity and the preferred host is not available. Since they come out at night, there are not normally seen. Like cockroaches, bed bugs can hitch rides on luggage or personal items infested in airplanes, hotels, mass transit vehicles, stores, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, camps, workplaces, and any other place that humans occupy. Adult bed bugs are visible even though it is rare to see them; however, younger bed bugs and eggs are nearly impossible to see without magnification. Bed bug bites are the biggest threat of this blood sucker. There is no documentation that any human pathogens have been spread by this insect. The itchy welts, though, and the difficulty in controlling the spread of bed bugs make this a serious pest.
Bed Bugs Resurgence
Bed bugs have enjoyed a resurgence since about 2000. The resurgence continues and gains momentum even today. The scientific name is Cimex lectularius Linnaeus and the Spanish common name is chinche de coma. Adult bed bugs are about 3/16” or just under 5mm in length and are oval and flat. When fed, the bed bug can swell in thickness so that it appears to be three dimensional. Bed bugs can range in color from nearly opaque to red to mahogany to deep purple. Earlier stages of life, such as newly hatched nymphs are very small and difficult to see without a hand lens or microscope.
Bed bug extermination is no easy task. Once an area is infested, it is important to implement control measures as soon as possible. The homeowner or resident can help eliminate obvious signs by vacuuming up live insects and discarding the vacuum bags. Generally, you do not have to discard furniture as most furniture can be saved if the pests are properly controlled. There may be times, however, when it is just easier to discard heavily infested materials. While it would be ideal if there was a product that could be purchased to eliminate bed bugs in one easy step, this is just not possible. Products and bed bug control methods vary depending on the individual needs and the infestation level and site. Without a doubt, the first step is to inspect a site to confirm that there is an infestation and then to identify the areas infested. Then implement control methods usually by an exterminator or pest management professional. Successful extermination methods today include one or a combination of the following: steam, heat, freezing, application of products specifically designed for bed bug control, fumigation, and others. Bed bug control is more than removing visible bed bugs. Eggs must be denatured or removed as well or they will hatch a new generation of infestation. Also, early instar nymphs, or “baby” bed bugs, are nearly impossible to see. They can also crawl through the smallest cracks including some zippers on bed covers or encasements that are not designed to specifically keep bed bugs out. Extermination of bed bugs is not an easy one step process. By gathering information and understanding the level of infestation, best and most effective extermination methods may be used.