"Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite..." It may sound like a cute little nursery rhyme, but bed bugs are definitely not cute. So what are they, and what attracts bed bugs?
Meet the Bed Bug
Bed bugs are small, solitary, wingless insects, about a quarter-inch long. Bed bugs are reddish-brown, with a body shape reminiscent of certain beetles (though bed bugs are unrelated). After hatching from an egg, a bed bug goes through a series of pale-colored larva (or "nymph") stages until it reaches adult size in about 30 days.1
These immature bed bugs can—and do—bite. Despite their small size, bed bug bites leave behind an irritating spot that can result in a red, itchy welt (though being bit doesn't usually hurt). So, where do bed bugs come from? They're actually pretty good hitchhikers! You may not know it, but bed bugs often hop in luggage or other items when you travel.
Why Bed Bugs are a Problem
Bed bugs aren't just an annoyance in hotels. Bed bugs can cause issues for your pets, your home, and your yard. Let's take a quick look at how bed bugs can disrupt life at home.
How Bed Bugs Affect Your Pet
Believe it or not, bed bugs seem to actually prefer taking an occasional bite of human skin instead of other available targets like dogs or cats. This is the opposite preference of fleas, which naturally gravitate towards furry beings and don't survive well with only humans around. That said, bed bugs can bite or aggravate your pet, and you want to eradicate the troublemakers for your pet's sake as well as your own.
How Bed Bugs Affect Your Home
Remember, bed bugs aren't parasites in the same sense as fleas or ticks. Bed bugs don't live on people or animals—they just live in the same vicinity to take advantage of easy living. So, how do you know if you have bed bugs?
- Check for tiny bloodstains. You might see tiny bloodstains on bedding as a result of bites.2 This is often an early indicator that bed bugs are present in the home.
- Check for fecal stains. Bed bugs can leave behind fecal stains, which look like tiny dark spots, on bedding, furniture, clothing, or baseboards.
- Check box springs, carpeting, and picture frames. Bed bugs survive by spending a lot of time in hiding. You might find them in box springs, under carpeting, or even behind picture frames.3 After they bite, they return to their hiding spot for a few days.
In addition to the possible negative physical effects, the very idea of bed bugs isn't very pleasant, so it's good to discourage them for your peace of mind. It's an old cliché that bed bugs are more likely to be found in unhygienic locations, but this isn't the case. Tidy or not, the bed bugs don't really care—they're just happy to hang out with you either way! So if you discover bed bugs in your home, don't feel it's necessarily your fault.
How Bed Bugs Affect Your Yard
Bed bugs aren't much of an issue outdoors, as this isn't the type of environment they prefer. An insect has to work pretty hard to make a living in the "real world," and bed bugs are somewhat on the lazy side, preferring to live indoors, walk a short distance to bite, and then immediately retreat to their hiding spot.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
Happily, you have plenty of tricks and tips available for bed bug treatment:
- Clean the room. Use a vacuum with a hose to clean cracks and joints around the room's trim and furniture.
- Trap them. Seal mattresses and box springs in removable bed bug proof covers. Then, place gluey insect traps under all corners of the bed frame. If bed bugs try to come running at night, they'll get caught—yay!4
- Use heat. Bed bugs aren't too keen on high heat for long periods. Luckily, your washing machine and dryer can produce high temperatures to eliminate bed bugs in sheets, bedding, clothing, stuffed animals, pet bedding, and other washable items.5
- Be on the lookout. Take care when bringing second-hand items like clothing or furniture into your home. They might contain a hitchhiking bed bug.
- Try an indoor spray. What kills bed bugs instantly? A home spray product like Adams Flea & Tick Home Spray can be used to kill bed bugs immediately on contact—helpful if you spot bed bugs out in the open. The spray can also be helpful for treating items that aren't easily washed.
- Use the trash. You might need to toss an item (outside of your home!) if large numbers of bed bugs are present in or on it.
- Hire a pro. Finally, you might need to hire a professional pest controller to aid you in eradicating the pests. Pros use specialized equipment (and know-how!) to end your bed bug troubles for good.
It can take some time, but you can get rid of bed bugs in your home with care and attention to detail.
- Purdue University Medical Entomology. “Bed Bugs," 2008. https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publichealth/insects/bedbug.html
- Dill, James F. and Clay A. Kirby. University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Insect Pests, Ticks, and Plant Diseases. “Bed Bugs," 2020. https://extension.umaine.edu/ipm/ipddl/publications/5004e/
- Hahn, Jeffrey, and Stephen Kells. University of Minnesota Extension. “Bed bugs," 2021. https://extension.umn.edu/biting-insects/bed-bugs
- Cranshaw, W.S., M. Camper, and F.B. Peairs. Colorado State University Extension. “Bat Bugs, Bed Bugs and Relatives," December 2013. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/bat-bugs-bed-bugs-and-relatives-5-574
- American Veterinary Medical Association. “Bed Bugs and Pets FAQ," 4 December 2012. https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/bed-bugs-and-pets-faq