As pesky as they are, bed bugs have been a part of human life for over 100 million years. Unfortunately, they continue to stick around, finding their way into bedrooms and causing itching.
If you're concerned about bed bugs, you might be wondering how to identify them, treat bed bug bites and what to do when you have bed bugs. It helps to know the tips and tricks for figuring out if you have bed bugs in your home. Read on to learn more about how to find and identify bed bugs and the steps to take to help rid your home of them.
How to find and identify bed bugs
Bed bugs are often clustered together near where their human host sleeps. Bed bugs from all stages of development (from young nymph to adults) comprise these aggregations. For this reason, these aggregations may include bed bugs of various shapes and sizes. Among these clusters, remains of exoskeletons (bed bug shells), feces and egg castings accumulate.
A variety of conditions may attract bed bugs and cause them to cluster. Those conditions may include specific smells, chemical stimuli, stimulation of antennae and microclimate factors such as temperature, humidity and light. Clusters can be found around wood framing like that around a closet door, inside chipped paint indentations, around baseboards, curtain rods, air conditioners and personal belongings.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to know if you have bed bugs, especially in the early stages of a bed bug infestation. And despite the ongoing bed bug epidemic, many people still don't know what a bed bug even looks like. There are some ways to successfully identify bed bugs in various stages of life by looking for key traits and understanding their life cycle:
- Bed bug nymphs that emerge from bed bug eggs can begin seeking out a blood meal immediately. Eggs can hatch in as little as 6 days.
- Nymphs shed their exoskeleton five times before reaching adulthood, and feed at least once before each molt.
- A single bed bug infestation may have three or more generations of bed bugs.
Additionally bed bug bites are often mistaken for mosquito bites or bites from other insects, and some people show no reaction at all to bed bug bites. This makes it easier to understand how an infestation can often go undetected for long periods of time.
However, if you know the right place to look, you may be able to spot bed bugs.
Can you see bed bugs?
Adult bed bugs can be seen with the naked eye during the day — no equipment is required. If you're trying to detect bed bugs, start in the bedroom. Bed bugs have many hiding places, but they tend to congregate near where their host (human) sleeps, which is often how the aggregations will start to form. To detect bed bugs, here are some areas to search in your bedroom:
- Bedside tables
- Ceiling/wall junctions
- Loose wallpaper or paneling
- Creases or crevices near where people sleep including baseboards, mattress seams and personal belongings
Keep in mind that bed bugs are nocturnal. Identifying bed bugs during the day requires a bit of luck (good or bad, depending on your view) and some persistence.
Checking a bed for bed bugs
As their name suggests, bed bugs prefer to make their homes in mattresses and box springs. That's because their source for food is humans and they congregate where people typically lie or sit idle for long periods of time.
To check for signs of bed bugs, take the sheets off your bed and look at the edges, crevices and piping of your mattress. By their appearance, bed bugs are flat, almond-shaped, reddish-brown and very tiny. Look in the box spring and check for various sizes and stages, from bed bug eggs to adults.
Mature bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed (approximately five millimeters). They are reddish-brown, wingless and flat, although they may swell up like balloons after a blood feeding. When that happens, they change to a bright red color, taking days to return to reddish-brown.
How to identify bed bugs in your room
Bed bugs are smart enough to hide, but not smart enough to clean up after themselves.
These clues are usually the best indicator your room is overrun with bed bugs since secondary signs of bed bug infestation are visible both night and day. To find bed bugs during the day, look for:
- Cast/shed bed bug skins, exoskeletons, bed bug shells
- Bed bug eggs
- Fecal spots on your mattress and bedding
- Bloodstains on your sheets and pajamas
But this begs yet another question- what might these look like? Read on to find out more about identifying these tell-tale signs.
Bed bug shells or molted skins
Another way to tell if you have bed bugs is to look out for empty shells that may exist where bed bugs cluster and feed. Bed bugs grow with each blood meal on the way to maturity. In doing so, they shed their exoskeletons or shells to grow larger. This process is called molting. Each bed bug will molt five times as they progress through each of the five immature stages. Where infestations grow large, there will be hundreds if not thousands of tiny molted skins left behind, regardless of the duration of the infestation. These shells look almost identical to the bed bug itself but are actually translucent upon closer inspection. They also appear in different sizes due to the different life stages.
Bed bug eggs
Immature bed bugs are categorized by whichever of the five stages they're currently in. They can also be seen by the naked eye, though the bed bugs in the youngest stage are very difficult to spot. Eggs are even smaller and much harder to see but can provide another sign of bed bug presence. Eggs are pearly white, found in clusters and are about one millimeter long, which is almost as thick as a dime.
Another sign of bed bugs is liquid waste, which they typically leave a trail of wherever they go. Bed bug fecal spots differ from blood stains. Since bed bugs generally feast on the blood of their hosts, the fecal stains from the insects may not be tinged with the color of blood. Fecal spotting tends to resemble smears or stains, which are dark brown or even black, because the blood has been digested and excreted.
Bed bugs are ectoparasites, meaning they live on the outside of their host and feed on its blood. They feed between five to seven days whenever a host is present, so if you see signs of bloodstains on your sheets or pajamas, it may be another sign of bed bugs.
How to detect a bed bug bite
Unfortunately, the most telltale sign of a bed bug problem isn't the bed bug's bite. However, bites on the skin can be a poor indicator of a bed bug infestation. Bed bug bites can look like bites from other insects (such as mosquitoes or chiggers), rashes (such as eczema or fungal infections) or even hives. Not to mention, some people do not react to bed bug bites at all.
However, it still helps to look for these signs or symptoms of a bed bug bite, and make a connection based on other findings as well:
- Raised, red welts
- Burning and itching
- Bed bug bite rash across a localized area
- Straight lines of multiple bites
How to treat bed bug bites
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends you see a dermatologist if you have multiple bites, blisters, oozing, pus or any other signs of a severe allergic reaction or infection. Otherwise, their recommended bed bug bite treatment is to wash the bites with soap and water. This will help prevent a skin infection and help reduce itchiness. If the bites itch, ask your doctor about applying a corticosteroid cream to the bites.
What to do if you have bed bugs
Once you confirm the infestation has begun and are wondering "what do I do if I have bed bugs?" remember that the main goal is to end it even quicker than you found it. Unfortunately, bed bugs are very difficult to get rid of. They typically require a strategic approach by a bed bug control professional using multiple methods to fully remove them from your home once they have established an infestation. That's why it's essential to contact a professional who's knowledgeable and trained in bed bug control to inspect your home and determine the best treatment methods. Terminix® has the experts you need. Reach out today for a quote to eliminate the bed bugs in your home.