The small insects we call bed bugs have been around for at least 4,000 years. In the United States during the 1940s, use of insecticides led to the insects’ eradication, but the world being more and more easily connected, the number of bed bug infestations has increased in the USA and globally.
And because of increased travel, bed bugs are a particularly urban plight – hotels, motels, apartment complexes, and shelters are common locations where they can be found. But the reality is, they can be found just about anywhere and the types we need to worry about are the ones that can snack on human blood.
How many types of bed bugs are there? Reports vary but most confirm that there are over 90 species of bed bugs. But the good news is: only 4 of the 90 types of bedbugs are known to feed on humans. And of those 4 only 2 prefer humans. The other 2 species will chomp on humans only when their preferred host is nowhere to be found. Here is the breakdown:
Bedbugs that Prefer Humans
Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus are common in Europe and the United States
Bedbugs that Prefer Other Hosts
L. boueti is usually only found in hot, tropical climates like West Africa and South America. This species is far more interested in feeding on bats but will accept humans if they’ve been transferred inside a dwelling.
Haematosiphon inodorus (aka poultry bug or Mexican chicken bug ) prefer poultry. However, this species is becoming more and more common inside the home in the US due to the increased popularity of backyard chickens in cities.
At any rate, it is extremely hard to differentiate between the 4 types of bed bugs that enjoy blood and you don’t have to become an expert. Because the signs of bed bugs and the ways to get rid of them are the same, regardless of which species is causing the infestation.
If you are worried or curious about the pest and find yourself asking, “Do I have bed bugs?” the first step is to get up close an personal with the bug in question to rule out bugs that are often mistaken for bedbugs.
Common Myths About Bed Bugs
There are many myths about bed bugs that simply aren’t true. Among these are the ideas that bed bugs aren’t visible, they live in dirty places,, and pesticides alone will get rid of bed bugs. None of these statements are true!
- Bedbugs are visible: you just have to look closely.
- Bedbugs don’t “grow” out of filth, they are transferred and can end up in the cleanest of environments.
- Pesticides are just part of the equation when it comes to eradicating the pest from your home.
Bugs Commonly Mistaken for Common Bed Bugs
Two insects that are commonly mistaken for bed bugs are swallow bugs and bat bugs. Swallow bugs feed on birds and usually dwell in bird nests, but sometimes they enter homes if they need to eat and there are no swallows to be found.
Bat bugs, or L. boueti, (the 3rd species we discussed earlier) will only feeds on humans when bats are not present. For instance, a bat that enters the home could shed some bugs or eggs. The bat is subsequently removed from the home and the bug needs something to eat.
And if you live near chickens, the Mexican Chicken Bug is another insect commonly mistaken for bed bugs.
Signs of Bed Bugs
The following are signs of bed bugs to look for if you suspect the pest:
- Dark spots, like ones made by a felt tip marker, on mattresses, boxsprings, or other furniture
- Red or rusty colored stains on mattress, bed sheets, comforters, etc.
- Bed bug eggs or eggshells, about 1mm in size and white
- Live bed bugs
Where to Find Bed Bugs
Globally, bedbugs have no restrictions. They are well-traveled and can be found in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia. As mentioned earlier, the presence of bed bugs is not caused by a lack of cleanliness; even luxury hotels and resorts may be plagued by bed bugs.
Apartments, rooming houses, shelters, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms are common places bed bugs can be found. During the day the insects will hide in the seams of mattresses, box springs, headboards, bed frames, dressers, inside small cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other object near a bed.
Clutter creates the perfect hiding spots for the bugs. Some bed bugs will travel over 100 feet in a night in order to feed, but more often than not, they live within 8 feet or so of where people sleep.
It’s also worth mentioning that bedbugs are becoming increasingly reported in thrift stores and other second hand shops that accept couches, linens, bags, luggage and clothing. It’s a good idea to take extra precautions when buying these items second hand.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are exterminated using a variety of methods dependent on the individual situation. In some places, bed bugs are resistant to common pesticides. Heat and steam can be helpful alternatives as long as you remain diligent. For more in depth reading about things you can do before calling the pros, check out this article from BusyBee Cleaning: How to Search and Destroy Bedbugs
If you attempt to exterminate the pests yourself, be sure to read the label for any pesticide you use. Never spray pesticides on top of mattresses or couches unless the product is specifically designed for such use.
Bug bombs and foggers that leave behind a residual layer of killing power can aid in your fight against bed bugs, but they shouldn’t be your only approach and should only be considered a last resort in your home. They may be more ideal for vacant property such as in between tenants or vacant homes.
If you can’t get rid of them after a valiant effort, It might be best to hire a professional to deal with your infestation. Here’s some tips:
- Be sure that you have bed bugs and not a different type of infestation.
- Hire someone who is experienced in bed bug control.
- Be cautious of anyone who appears at your door and offers a free inspection.
- Ask friends and family for recommendations for pest control companies.
- Interview several companies.
- Before you sign a contact, be sure the schedule and number of visits for the project is clear.
- Ask the pest control company if they have liability insurance, in case anything in your home is damaged during treatment.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
The biggest step towards preventing a bed bug infestation is making sure they never enter the home! Here are some helpful tips to ensure you do not pick up the pest while traveling or moving:
- Always check secondhand couches, beds, and other furniture before purchasing them from a yard sale, thrift store, or from a private owner. Vacuum them thoroughly before bringing them inside.
- Keep your home tidy to avoid creating hiding places for the insects.
- Seal off and repair cracks in walls, remove wallpaper that is lose, and make sure light switches are screwed tightly to the wall.
- Consider sealing baseboards, shelves, and cabinets using caulk.
- When traveling, place your suitcases on luggage racks rather than the hotel floor.
- As soon as you enter your hotel room, check the mattress and headboard for signs of bed bugs
- Once home, empty any items you suspect of being infested by bed bugs directly into the dryer. Dry for at least 45 minutes at the highest setting.
- Check your luggage for signs of bed bugs.
- Vacuum the luggage after traveling.
Identifying the signs of a bed bug infestation is the first step towards eradicating the pest from your home as soon as possible. Now that you know a bit more about how to identify bed bugs, how to prevent them, how many types of bed bugs there are, and how to get rid of them, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about tackling the issue yourself or hiring a pest control profession. Good luck!
SOURCES and Further Reading