Image Credit: CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan; Richard Pollack. Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki (public domain)
Image Credit: the Center for Disease Control (public domain)
Image Credit: AndyBrookeStar (public domain)
The tiny, wingless Bed Bug invites its whole family to feast on people when they are least able to defend themselves.
Although it is best known for its ruthless biting and feeding on slumbering humans, the Bed Bug is a parasite of birds and bats as well. They do not transmit diseases to people, but they can create areas of great skin irritation and itching. Their bites open skin up to their saliva which causes a vexing reaction.
The Bed Bug's body is very flat and rusty red colored; sometimes it looks purple or even brown. It is more reddish in color just after a blood feeding. They are only 4mm to 6mm in length and can be difficult to spot on dark bedding or mattresses. Antennae are present and appear quite thin and segmented. Short stubby legs complement the short - almost unseen - stubby, useless wings.
Bed Bugs enjoy the warmth and constant food supply that a mammal host offers. During the day, they hide in crevices. At night they come out of hiding to feed. They suck the blood out from their host to mature into adulthood. The bites themselves are not painful so a human host usually remains sleeping through the night. A Bed Bug will bite its human host, drink some blood, then move a little and bite a new place. This repetitive behavior results in huge areas of afflicted skin. Bed Bugs can survive without food for 12 to 15 months. They will travel a great distance for a meal. To reproduce, males inject sperm directly inside the female's abdomen where eggs are fertilized. A female can lay up to 300 eggs in her lifetime. These eggs are very small and white, but are still visible on a mattress for those carefully looking for them. Many generations of Bed Bugs can be born in a year which means they can reproduce quite rapidly in an area and spread to surrounding areas, quickly inhabiting other mattresses.
To check for Bed Bugs, uncover the mattress by removing all the bedding, sheets, and any mattress cover. (If staying in a hotel or vacation rental, do this mattress check BEFORE unpacking. This limits exposure to your belongings should you find evidence of Bed Bugs and need to leave the room permanently.) Visually scan all edges and seams for the brown bugs, their tiny white eggs, small spots of blood (from previous victims), and brown spots of fecal matter left by the bugs. Check the box spring beneath the mattress as well. Unfortunately Bed Bugs do not just stay on mattresses in bedrooms. They can walk around and hide in furniture crevices or on clothing, but are more likely to be in a bed, closer to a food source. Because of their mobility, however, people may unwittingly transfer Bed Bugs to new locations. Immaculate housekeeping cannot stop guests from bringing in new bug populations.
If you have been bitten by Bed Bugs, seeking medical attention can help treat the symptoms (swelling, redness, intense itching) and make your recovery more comfortable. A professional exterminator should be contacted to remove room infestations and can advise on treating affected belongings.
Scientific Name: Cimex lectularius
Size (Adult; Length): 4mm to 6mm (0.16in to 0.23in)
Note: An insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above as they are driven by environmental factors (such as climate change), available food supplies and mating patterns. Grayed-out selections indicate that the subject in question has not been reported in that particular territory. U.S. states and Canadian provinces / territories are clickable to their respective bug listings.