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Insects and More – Bed Bugs

Human bed bugs are found worldwide and are dispersed through human travel. During the last decade, there has been a significant increase in bed bug infestations in the U.S. The reason for this recent upsurge is unknown. Although bed bugs have never been shown to transmit diseases, people living in bed bug infested homes may experience psychological stress, anxiety and insomnia.

Currently, treatment is difficult, but as time passes, pest control professionals should gain expertise in treatments and there will be new effective products developed.

Description and Habits

Bed bugs are reddish-brown, wingless and very flat . Adults are about 3/8 to 1/4-inches long. Immature stages may be light brown or yellowish in color until after they have fed and then they are darker. After feeding, they are bright red from the blood they have ingested and have a distended body and may look like a different insect altogether.

Bats and birds may be hosts of blood-feeding bugs that look nearly identical to bed bugs. It is important to make sure you are dealing with bed bugs, because a bat bug infestation may require removal of bats. Consult your local extension educator to verify what you have.

Bed bugs usually attack humans, but may feed on other warm-blooded animals, including pets. During the day, bed bugs hide in cracks and crevices near the bed or places where people sleep at night. At night, bed bugs come out of their hiding places to feed. Bites are most often found on the upper body: neck, arm and shoulders, but may be found on legs or ankles. Some people are sensitive to the bites which may become inflamed.

Bed bugs may be able to live 6-12 months without food and can survive in infrequently-used hotel rooms or vacant apartment buildings until occupied by an unfortunate victim.

Where Do They Come From?

Bed bugs don’t just appear spontaneously in a home or apartment. They cannot fly, so most of the time, people move bed bugs from place to place. The most common ways bed bug infestations get started are:

  • Travelers bring bed bugs home from infested hotels or motels in their luggage.
  • They may be brought home with infested used furniture.
  • Bed bugs can hitch a ride to another location by hanging on clothing. (Be careful if you visit someone who has an infestation.)
  • Family members living away from home (for example, at college) may bring them home on holidays.
  • If you move into an infested home or apartment, you will have an instant infestation.

Once brought inside apartments or hotel rooms, bed bugs readily travel to other bedrooms as their numbers increase. If you live in an apartment, you can get them from your neighbors.

Where Do They Hide?

Bed bugs are very flat and live in cracks and crevices around the bed. They produce liquid feces which are dark spots left on bedding or in hiding places. Bed bugs produce a musty sweet smell that may be noticeable in heavy infestations.

Studies have shown most of the bed bugs will be found in the mattress and foundation/box springs or within 15-feet of the bed, but some bed bugs may be found in locations farther away from the bed. If people have been sleeping on sofas, these are likely to be infested.

Examine the bed and foundation/box springs. Remove all the bedding and examine it for fecal spots/smears and bugs. Carefully examine the mattress and foundation .One common hiding place is the wood framing of the foundation. Remove the dust cover on the bottom of the foundation. Carefully examine the wood framing for cracks formed where wood pieces come together. Peel back where fabric is stapled to the wood frame.

Near the bed, look behind picture frames, within books, in telephones or radios, bedside furniture, look along the edge of carpet, next to the wall and even in electrical receptacles. Don’t forget the closet. Bed bugs can be found in closets attached to clothing.

Thoroughly clean infested rooms. Launder bedding and dry thoroughly in a hot dryer to kill all stages of bed bugs. Dry clean wool blankets. Vacuum infested areas thoroughly, including mattress, foundation/box springs, furniture, beds, headboards, sofas. Don’t forget the void area underneath box springs. Vacuum the area where the carpet meets the wall, especially near the head of the bed. After you are finished, take the vacuum cleaner bag immediately to the trash. Steam cleaning carpets is good, but must be done before pesticide applications, so coordinate efforts with your pest control professional. If there is a serious bed bug infestation, removing wall-to-wall carpets may be helpful.

Some people recommend throwing mattresses away. If the mattress and foundation is in poor condition, this would be helpful. On the other hand, if the mattress is in good condition, you can encase the mattress with a zippered cover that is tightly woven to prevent the mattress from harboring bed bugs. These mattress covers are available for all sizes of beds. Keep the mattress cover on the mattress for at least a year to make sure all the bugs are dead. You will also need to encase the foundation.

 It is extremely important to eliminate clutter and reduce hiding places for bed bugs. Reduce clutter to the bare necessities to make treatments more effective.

Chemical Treatments. Non-chemical methods (vacuuming, steaming, laundering, mattress encasement) will be helpful in bed bug control, but, by themselves, are not likely to eradicate the bed bug population. This means insecticides must be used to treat bed bug harborage areas. Insecticide treatments in sleeping areas are a potential health risk so it is very important to use products which can be safely used in bedrooms. Do not treat mattresses or bed linens unless the insecticide label specifically says you can treat them. Read all product labels carefully!

All bed bug hiding places must be identified and treated. Use liquid treatments on surfaces and dusts in void areas. Because treating all the areas where bed bugs hide is difficult, we recommend hiring an experienced pest control professional. Pest control professionals also have more choices of insecticides, which may improve the effectiveness of control.


When checking into a hotel, it is a good idea to immediately inspect rooms for bed bugs. Bed bugs like to live in groups, in cracks and other dark, tight places. These “hot spots” can often be identified because bed bugs leave small brown/black spots and smears (liquid feces) in these hiding places. Fecal spots may also be found on bed linens, pillows and mattresses. Bed bugs live in cracks the width of a credit card and in void areas created by wood framing of the foundation.

Hotel and motel bed headboards are often fastened to the wall. You may need to lift the headboard off its hanger to inspect behind it. Even if no bed bugs are found, don’t place luggage on the floor near the head of the bed.