How to detect bed bugs before infestation

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By Content Providers(s): CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan; Richard Pollack. Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Like everyone else, I set some New Year’s resolutions for 2017. One of the first things on the list is upgrading my residence. However, almost as soon as I started looking, I was warned about the potential for bed bugs.

Epidemic

I’ve heard about bed bugs being a problem, but I guess I was surprised to hear that the local presence is being called an epidemic. It brings caution to the forefront when you’re thinking about finding a house to potentially rent or buy.

Photo by by Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
Photo by by Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

It’s always a good idea to keep an eye out before moving into an infestation. Getting rid of bed bugs is costly and difficult. They will ruin any furniture they infest, leaving behind feces, eggs shells, yellow skins and rust-colored stains.

Additionally, they feed on human blood and leave behind sores.

Although bed bugs make their presence known, they are hard to detect because of their size — eggs are about one millimeter and adults are about five to nine millimeters. However, there are ways to determine whether or not bed bugs are living in a space.

Hiding places

Close up of bed bug eggs on cardboard. Photo courtesy: Harold Harlan via United States Environmental Protection Agency
Close up of bed bug eggs on cardboard. Photo by Harold Harlan via United States Environmental Protection Agency.

A simple way to consider all the places bed bugs might set up shop is to think about where a credit card can fit. Bed bugs aren’t that wide and have the ability to squeeze into small hiding places. If you can slide your credit card into a crack, a bed bug can fit in it.

Bed Bugs hide in a variety of places, most frequently around beds on the seams of the mattress and box spring or in chairs and couches in between the cushions. However, there are many other places they might move to when a home is vacated as they can live in almost any crevice or protected location.

Here are some places to check:

Bed bugs along the side of a window frame. Photo courtesy: Jung Kim via United States Environmental protection Agency
Bed bugs along the side of a window frame. Photo by Jung Kim via United States Environmental protection Agency.
  • In drawer joints
  • In cupboards or cabinets
  • In electrical outlets and appliances
  • Under loose wall paper
  • Where the wall and ceiling meet
  • Around window frames
  • Cracks in wood floors or molding
  • Under the edges of carpet
  • Screw holes, knots and other recesses
  • Behind wall-mounted mirrors
  • Inside smoke detectors

Note: Bed bugs prefer wood and fabric to plastic or metal.

Warning signs

Bed bugs on a carpet Photo credit Michael F. Potter, University of Kentucky
Bed bugs on a carpet. Photo by Michael F. Potter, University of Kentucky.

Now that you have an idea of where to look, it’s important to know what to look for:

  • Small rust-colored stains around suspected living spaces.
  • Dark spots about the size of this tip of a pencil, which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on fabric.
  • Eggs, eggshells and the pale yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow to adulthood.
  • Live bed bugs.

Crash course

Understanding how bed bugs live, eat and reproduce will help you find an infestation even before it’s established.

Eating habits

  • Prefer to feed on humans, but will also feed on other mammals and birds.
  • Will travel five to 20 feet from their hiding place to feed.
  • Primarily active at night, but will seek food in daylight if hungry.
  • Feeding takes three to 12 minutes.
  • Rust- and tar-colored spots are left behind because 20 percent of adults and large nymphs will get rid of earlier blood meals while still feeding.
  • Nymphs may live for several months without feeding, while adults can survive as long as a year without a meal.

Reproduction

Life stages of a bed bug. The five nymphal stages each require a blood meal before molting to the next stage. The increments on the ruler are millimeters. Photo via University of California.
Life stages of a bed bug. The five nymphal stages each require a blood meal before molting to the next stage. The increments on the ruler are millimeters. Photo via University of California.
  • Bed bugs have six life stages and need at least one blood meal in between each to develop into the next. However, they can feed more than once before molting their skin.
  • In order to mate and produce eggs, adults must feed at least once every 14 days.
  • Each female may lay one to three eggs per day and around 200 to 500 eggs over her lifetime (about six to 12 months).
  • Eggs hatch in about six to 10 days.
  • It takes about four to five weeks for bed bugs to reach full maturity.

Living Conditions

  • Bed bugs are able to survive in temperatures between 46 F and 113 F. Room temperatures must be even hotter to kill bed bugs with sustained heat, ensuring it reaches them no matter where they are hiding.
  • Common bed bugs are found in almost any climate that their host can survive, while tropical bed bugs are limited to tropical and subtropical areas.

Resources

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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