Bed Bugs Galore!
By Amber Lynn Partridge, Butterfly Pavilion Zookeeper
As the incidence of bed bugs begins to rise not only here in Colorado, but around the country, it is important to separate fact from fiction. Knowing the facts can not only help you understand these parasites, but can even help you combat them more effectively if (gasp!) you find yourself infested.
I know firsthand how frustrating and exhausting the fight against bed bugs can be. A few years ago, I moved into a completely infested, bed bug filled house. At first I thought I was having an allergic reaction to laundry soap, but soon my whole body was covered in huge itchy welts. I was still in the early stages of my Entomology degree and did not know much about bed bugs. So, exhausted and itchy I approached my Entomology professor—who also happened to be one of the leading experts on bed bugs. Dr. Robert Hancock has traveled all over the globe studying these blood sucking creatures so I was sure he could help me. He asked me to collect a sample of the bed bugs at my house, so it was time to go bed bug hunting…
First, I lifted up a mattress seam to see what I could find. I found a black mass of bed bug waste and an inconceivable number of bed bugs. I took my ridiculously small pair of forceps and began collecting. Within minutes, I had about a hundred bed bugs of all sizes. I was on a roll and nothing was stopping me! I then decided to go to bed with my collecting materials and see how many I could get in the middle of the night. I turned off the light and within minutes of lying down, I was surrounded by hundreds of tiny, hungry, blood sucking beasts! Needless to say I was extremely excited—I had hit the bed bug jackpot. Five jars and zero sleep later, I had my pirate’s booty.
I went to school the next day and ran to Dr. Hancock’s office to show him my prize. He was shocked, to say the least, at the number of bugs I had collected in one night. From there we went on to feed (yep, feed; because I had built up an immunity to the bites by this point, I was able to feed the bed bug colonies without any sort of reaction) and learn more about these frustrating and interesting creatures. Unfortunately, I had to move to a new house because the infestation was so overwhelming. What I learned, though, has been priceless and I hope that my experience can help others prevent an infestation of that magnitude. I created this bed bug fact sheet to help people understand and possibly help control these troublesome insects.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that feed on the blood of mammals. The term bed bug usually refers to the species Cimex lectularius which feeds mostly on human blood, usually at night when
people are sleeping. Adult bed bugs are oval, wingless and rusty red colored, and have flat bodies, antennae and small eyes. They are visible to the naked eye, but often hide in crevices, mattress seams, baseboards and other small areas. When bed bugs feed, their bodies swell and become a brighter red.
How do I know if I have been bitten by a bed bug?
Typically, the bite is painless and rarely awakens a person who is sleeping. However, it can produce large, itchy welts on the skin. Bed bug bites are often misdiagnosed because each person can react differently to them. If you are having a skin reaction, it is important to first identify that you actually have bed bugs.
Are bed bugs dangerous?
While bed bugs are a nuisance, they do not carry diseases. The itchy welts and other reactions that people have from a bite are due to each individual’s allergic reaction to the bed bug saliva.
How does a person’s home become infested with bed bugs?
Usually, bed bugs are transported from an infested location to a non-infested location via luggage, furniture, bedding or clothing.
How do I know if I have bed bugs?
If you or your family have itchy welts, it is important to look for the actual bed bug to make the proper diagnosis. Bed bugs leave distinct dark markings on mattresses from their droppings. Bed bugs can hide anywhere, so it is important to look in small, tight spaces for them. They especially like to hide in the seams of your mattress, so when looking for bed bugs, always lift up the mattress seam and check for black dropping marks and even the bugs themselves. A good way to force bed bugs out of crevices is to carefully aim a hot blow dryer into the area where you suspect the bugs to be hiding. This will force them out into the open.
How can I get rid of bed bugs?
Bed bugs are extremely resilient insects, and management is a difficult task. They can survive for weeks or even months without feeding. Any control must be done on a long-term basis. Always be very cautious when using pesticides! Even though a product may be labeled for bed bug control, very few over-the-counter products are federally registered for bed bug control. These products may be dangerous to your family
and pets, and are typically not effective against bed bugs. A licensed professional may be called in, but please note that pesticide resistance in bed bugs is extremely common. There have been some successes in combining professional chemical control with increased sanitation and habitat modification. Some ways that you can modify your home to decrease bed bug populations include:
- Regularly wash all bedding and clothing in the hottest water possible and dry on the highest setting possible.
- Freeze delicate items for 72 hours, if they cannot be washed in hot water.
- Vacuum and steam clean all carpets regularly (after vacuuming, place contents of vacuum in an airtight bag and place outside immediately).
- If it is colder than 25 degrees outside, you can place furniture and mattresses outside overnight to help kill the bugs.
- Buy zippered waterproof mattress covers. Use a scrub brush to scrub the mattress seams and dislodge as many of the bugs and their eggs as possible. Then cover your mattress and box spring with the mattress covers for at least a year. This will help ensure that the adults and eggs are trapped, and will kill them.
- Keep sleeping areas free from any clutter to reduce hiding areas.
- Repair any cracks in wallpaper and seal any open areas in baseboards and other areas that bed bugs may hide.
- If you have a metal bed frame, fill plastic cups halfway with mineral oil and place your bed frame legs into these cups. This will ensure that bed bugs can not climb up the bed frame via the legs.
- Pull your bed away from the wall and make sure that none of your bed linens touch the floor. You want to isolate your bed from any bed bugs that may be living in other areas.
Can I prevent bed bugs from infesting my home?
Bed bugs are becoming a common problem and since they are so small, they are easily missed and can hitchhike in almost anything. There are a few things that you can do to help prevent a bed bug infestation in your home:
- Wash all bedding and clothing immediately after a trip
- Inspect all used furniture for signs of bed bugs before bringing it into your home
- Never bring discarded furniture or mattresses into your home
- Inspect all hotel rooms for signs of bed bugs before bringing your luggage into them
Last but definitely not least, do not let the fear of beg bugs run your life!
Other fantastic resources available online:
Colorado State University – Bed Bug Fact Sheet
University of California Davis – Integrated Pest Management http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7454.html
Blog and Podcast of Bed bug Pesticide Resistance