Mature Bed Bug Cimex lectularius
New York City Bed bugs are parasites that preferentially feed on humans. If people aren't available, they instead will feed on other warm-blooded animals, including birds, rodents, bats, and pets.
Bed bugs have been documented as pests since the 17th century. They were introduced into our country by the early colonists. Bed bugs were common in the New York City prior to World War II, after which time widespread use of synthetic insecticides such as DDT greatly reduced their numbers. Improvements in household and personal cleanliness as well as increased regulation of the used furniture market also likely contributed to their reduced pest status. Now the bed bug, Cimex lectularius, has resurged to quickly become a very important pest of the 21st century, as they invade numerous urban areas including hostels, hotels and residences. Our society has had a “30+ year vacation” from this pest, when bed bugs were almost removed from North America as a result of mass treatments with older types of insecticides (DDT, Chlordane, Lindane). Recently though, bed bugs have found ample opportunity to increase in number and spread through society. Their success is a result of: increased travel of people; improved treatment methods that specifically target other insect pests; and the lack of public awareness.
In the past decade, bed bugs across the Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Nassau County, now are being considered to be a major pest. The widespread use of baits rather than insecticide sprays for ant and cockroach control is a factor that has been implicated in their return. Bed bugs are blood feeders that do not feed on ant and cockroach baits. International travel and commerce are thought to facilitate the spread of these insect hitchhikers, because eggs, young, and adult bed bugs are readily transported in luggage, clothing, bedding, and furniture. Bed bugs can infest airplanes, ships, trains, and buses. Bed bugs are most frequently found in dwellings with a high rate of occupant turnover, such as hotels, motels, hostels, dormitories, shelters, apartment complexes, tenements, and prisons. Such infestations usually are not a reflection of poor hygiene or bad housekeeping.
Bed bugs are fairly cosmopolitan. Cimex lectularius is most frequently found in the northern temperate climates of North America, Europe, and Central Asia, although it occurs sporadically in southern temperate regions. The tropical bed bug, C. hemipterus, is adapted for semitropical to tropical climates and is widespread in the warmer areas of Africa, Asia, and the tropics of North America and South America. In the United States, C. hemipterus occurs in Florida.
Adult bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown, oval-shaped, flattened, and about 3/16 to 1/5 inch long. Their flat shape enables them to readily hide in cracks and crevices. The body becomes more elongate, swollen, and dark red after a blood meal. Bed bugs have a beaklike piercing-sucking mouthpart system. The adults have small, stubby, nonfunctional wing pads. Newly hatched nymphs are nearly colorless, becoming brownish as they mature. Nymphs have the general appearance of adults. Eggs are white and about 1/32 inch long.
Bed bugs superficially resemble a number of closely related insects (family Cimicidae), such as bat bugs (Cimex adjunctus), chimney swift bugs (Cimexopsis spp.), and swallow bugs (Oeciacus spp.). A microscope is needed to examine the insect for distinguishing characteristics, which often requires the skills of an entomologist. In New York, bat bugs were far more common than bed bugs until recently.
Female bed bugs lay from one to twelve eggs per day, and the eggs are deposited on rough surfaces or in crack and crevices. The eggs are coated with a sticky substance so they adhere to the substrate. Eggs hatch in 6 to 17 days, and nymphs can immediately begin to feed. They require a blood meal in order to molt. Bed bugs reach maturity after five molts. Developmental time (egg to adult) is affected by temperature and takes about 21 days at 86° F to 120 days at 65° F. The nymphal period is greatly prolonged when food is scarce. Nymphs and adults can live for several months without food. The adult's lifespan may encompass 12-18 months. Three or more generations can occur each year.
Bed bugs are fast moving insects that are nocturnal blood-feeders. Bed bugs typically cluster together in favorable harborage areas. However, some bed bugs will live by themselves, away from the majority of the infestation. They feed mostly at night when their host is asleep. After using their sharp beak to pierce the skin of a host, they inject a salivary fluid containing an anticoagulant that helps them obtain blood. Nymphs may become engorged with blood within three minutes, whereas a full-grown bed bug usually feeds for ten to fifteen minutes. They then crawl away to a hiding place to digest the meal. When hungry, bed bugs again search for a host.
Bed bugs hide during the day in dark, protected sites. They seem to prefer fabric, wood, and paper surfaces. They usually occur in fairly close proximity to the host, although they can travel far distances. Bed bugs initially can be found about tufts, seams, and folds of mattresses, later spreading to crevices in the bedstead. In heavier infestations, they also may occupy hiding places farther from the bed. They may hide in window and door frames, electrical boxes, floor cracks, baseboards, furniture, and under the tack board of wall-to-wall carpeting. Bed bugs often crawl upward to hide in pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling moldings.
The bite is painless. The salivary fluid injected by bed bugs typically causes the skin to become irritated and inflamed, although individuals can differ in their sensitivity. A small, hard, swollen, white welt may develop at the site of each bite. This is accompanied by severe itching that lasts for several hours to days. Scratching may cause the welts to become infected. The amount of blood loss due to bed bug feeding typically does not adversely affect the host.
All people are not equally sensitive to bed bug bites, so while some victims break out in rashes from the bites, other people may not display symptoms. When a reaction does occur, the results of feeding can be mild (a simple red spot) to severe (rash or even hives). Rows of three or so welts on exposed skin are characteristic signs of bed bugs. Welts do not have a red spot in the center such as is characteristic of flea bites. The reaction caused by feeding might be mistaken for other problems. Fleas, mosquitoes and other biting insects, sensitization to detergents and soaps, and irritants (e.g., poison ivy) are some of the conditions victims of bed bugs thought they were dealing with. Bed bugs have been discovered to harbor 28 different human pathogens, but fortunately, the transmission of these diseases to people has not been demonstrated.
Some individuals respond to bed bug infestations with anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
A bed bug infestation can be recognized by blood stains from crushed bugs or by rusty (sometimes dark) spots of excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls. Fecal spots, eggshells, and shed skins may be found in the vicinity of their hiding places. An offensive, sweet, musty odor from their scent glands may be detected when bed bug infestations are severe.
We highly recommend that you seek assistance from a professional pest control company.
Controlling an infestation requires very detailed work and much moving (and disassembly) of furniture. Careful inspections must be completed in conjunction with non-chemical controls (such as vacuuming, and steam treatments) and insecticide treatments. The insecticides available are commercial products requiring special equipment and training, which is not readily available in “over-the-counter” products.
A critical first step is to correctly identify the blood-feeding pest, as this determines which management tactics to adopt that take into account specific bug biology and habits. For example, if the blood-feeder is a bat bug rather than a bed bug, a different management approach is needed.
Control of bed bugs is best achieved by following an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that involves multiple tactics, such as preventive measures, sanitation, and chemicals applied to targeted sites. Severe infestations usually are best handled by a licensed pest management professional.
The Green exterminating approach is not recommended for bed bug treatments, since a cocktail or mixture of various products are needed for complete control. The general accepted method includes an adulticide residual along with an IGR (insect growth regulator) and a quick knockdown product like Kicker® or Exciter®. It is now common to dust in the wall voids to help prevent spreading bed bugs to adjoining rooms. Several dusts have shown to give quick (within 24 hours) results and long lasting results (active for months).
The only Green methods available would be steaming, heat, or cryonite. Of these, heat at 110-120º F held for 4-6 hour appears to work. Temporary heat chambers may be built in the room that is infested. Steaming works as well, but it is time consuming. Steaming is best used on furniture that should not be treated with traditional pesticides. This includes treating cribs and other sensitive area. Cryonite works best if it directly contacts the bed bugs. None of these methods leave a residual; therefore bed bugs may re-infest within minutes after treatment.
It is highly recommended that a mattress cover and box spring cover be purchased and install on all mattresses within the premises, regardless if the room is being treated or not. The only mattress cover I recommend at this time is the Protect-A-Bed® brand. It is easy to install and is designed specifically to protect the mattress against bed bug infestations.
Sticky traps or glueboards may be used to capture bed bugs that wander about. However, the effectiveness of these traps is not well documented.
The greatest risk for encountering bed bugs appears to be while people are traveling. Regardless of the type of accommodations you stay at, it is a good precaution to check your room. Check around the headboard and adjacent area of the bed. Also inspect luggage stands or other areas where suitcases are typically set down. Be aware of any unexplained bites you may find in the morning; that could be the result of bed bugs. Also watch for fecal spots, which could occur on bed sheets or nearby areas. Inspect your luggage when you get home after a trip for any bed bugs that may have escaped your earlier attention. Other sources may be associated with the scavenging of used furniture. Residents and Tenants are strongly cautioned against “scavenging” beds and furniture that have seemingly been discarded and left by the curb for disposal, or behind places of business.
After the mattress is vacuumed or scrubbed, it can be enclosed in a zippered mattress cover such as that used for house dust mites. Any bed bugs remaining on the mattress will be trapped inside the cover. Leave the cover in place since bed bugs can live for a long time without a blood meal.
Bed bug infestations are not limited to beds and mattresses, and they can be found on tables, drawers, and even electronics if these items were located in a bedroom or other place that could support an infestation.
Caulk cracks and crevices in the building exterior and also repair or screen openings to exclude birds, bats, and rodents that can serve as alternate hosts for bed bugs.
A thorough inspection of the premises to locate bed bugs and their harborage sites is necessary so that cleaning efforts and insecticide treatments can be focused. The best way to determine if you have an infestation is to look for bed bugs where you sleep (or rest) and where you typically set down luggage (or bags) when you enter the residence. Your luggage and places where your luggage may be stored are also some of the first areas to look. In bedrooms, look particularly around box springs, mattresses, bed frames, tufts, folds, and buttons on mattresses, furniture, such as desks and chairs, behind wall paper, clocks and pictures, cracks in wood floors, and under the edge of carpet. While bed bugs are most commonly found in bedrooms, infestations can also occur in other rooms, including: bathrooms; living rooms; and laundry rooms. Dark blood spots on sheets and bedding may indicate bed bug feeding. Bed bugs will sometimes excrete while they are feeding. This results in darker (reddish or brownish) spots or smears placed on bed sheets, pillowcases and mattresses, or in nearby areas. The latter sites include window and door frames, floor cracks, carpet tack boards, baseboards, electrical boxes, furniture, pictures, wall hangings, drapery pleats, loosened wallpaper, cracks in plaster, and ceiling moldings. Determine whether birds or rodents are nesting on or near the house.
Be prepared to do some close inspection and when in doubt, consider having the inspection done by a pest control service. In severe infestations, bed bugs may be more noticeable. The accumulation of bugs, cast skins and fecal spots will be very apparent upon close inspection.
In light infestations, a bed bug dog may be used to detect the source.
In hotels, apartments, and other multiple-type dwellings, it is advisable to also inspect adjoining units since bed bugs can travel long distances.
If at any time a bed bug is found: discontinue inspection and initiate control activity! Do not continue with the inspection alone, as bed bugs will move from their hiding places once disturbed. Further inspections must be accompanied by control measures.
Sanitation measures include frequently vacuuming the mattress and premises, laundering bedding and clothing in hot water, and cleaning and sanitizing dwellings. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag, seal tightly, and discard in a container outdoors-this prevents captured bed bugs from escaping into the home. A stiff brush can be used to scrub the mattress seams to dislodge bed bugs and eggs. Discarding the mattress is another option, although a new mattress can quickly become infested if bed bugs are still on the premises. Steam cleaning of mattresses generally is not recommended because it is difficult to get rid of excess moisture, which can lead to problems with mold, mildew, house dust mites, etc.
Repair cracks in plaster and glue down loosened wallpaper to eliminate bed bug harborage sites. Remove and destroy wild animal roosts and nests when possible.
Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet
Susan C. Jones, Ph.D.,
Assistant Professor of Entomology
For more information on bed bugs, or to help identify pests and rodents that may be causing problems in your business or residence in New York City, visit Magic's Pest Identification Guide.