What are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are small, brown, wingless insects that feed on human blood.
The scientific name for a bed bug is Cimex lectularius. This is the name used by entomologists in published articles.
Bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed when fully grown and they prefer to stay hidden during the day as close to their food source (sleeping humans) as possible without being detected.
For this reason, bed bugs are mostly found in the seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames (especially joints at the corners) and any other other items that have crevices or fabric folds near the bed like clothing and blankets.
Think laundry baskets full of clothes, dog beds, carpeted cat houses, artwork on the walls or clutter of any kind. Hoarder situations with stacks of magazines, newspapers, garbage bags stuffed with clothing are all perfect hiding places for bed bugs. The conditions will insulate and protect their bed bug eggs from the heat.
Bed bugs also like to stay warm which is why they tend to migrate to electrical outlets, light switches and any electrical appliance that is plugged into the wall including TV's, radios, stereos and alarm clocks. Anything that has even a small amount of electricity running through it is warmer than something that does not. It does not need to be turned on for a bed bug to be able to sense the warmth that is emanating from within and go and hide there.
For this reason you will be unplugging all appliances but leaving them in the room before starting a bed bug heat treatment. Beg bug treatment heaters, at least the electric bed bug heaters, will not get so hot as to harm any electronics. The same cannot be said for propane heaters which get much hotter and can damage or destroy many electronics unless the operator is a real veteran pro at controlling the temperature manually. A propane bed bug heater in the wrong, untrained or distracted hands can have devastating consequences. Be sure to ask tough questions about how much experience your propane bed bug heat treatment operator has before letting them into your home.
The thermal death point for all life stages of bed bugs is around 120 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius. You will see a range of anywhere from 113F up to 122F depending on how long and what stage of life cycle of a bed bug is in.
You will not feel bed bugs when they are feeding because you are asleep, and bed bugs inject their hosts with an anesthetic before drinking their blood using an elongated beak. See photo below.
Bed bugs tend to cluster with one another until it becomes too crowded for them at which point they will migrate further and further away from their food source in search of another.
If the population becomes too crowded, they will migrate through holes in the wall created by electrical, plumbing and air vents into other parts of the building. Not unlike humans moving out to the suburbs when it gets too crowded in the center of town.
During the course of an average 10 minute feeding a bed bug will at first appear brown and fairly skinny. As it continues to feed it will literally inflate with blood, like a balloon, to the point when it will eventually appear to have almost tripled its initial diameter and be bright red or black and flat. See time-lapsed video from Michael F. Potter, Entomologist, University of Kentucky.
There are seven distinct stages in the life cycle of a bed bug, See Image Below
The first stage is a bed bug egg.
The next five stages of a bed bug's life are basically child development, also known as bed bug larvae, and then bed bug nymphs are similar to humans including infants, babies, toddlers, teens and young adults.
In between each of these pre-adult bed bug stages the bed bug larvae takes a blood meal (hopefully not from you) and then molts it's exoskeleton and grows a new one with a better fit. It is like outgrowing a suit every time you have a meal.
The average feeding time for bed bugs is between 3-10 minutes long.
People often ask me 'are bed bugs dangerous'? The answer is it depends on your point of view.
The risk of bed bugs actually spreading disease is apparently not an issue according to the majority of health professionals and entomologists . Unlike other insects, like mosquitos, that do in fact spread malaria throughout human populations, I have found only one study at the University of Pennsylvania that reports that Chagas disease is spread by bed bugs.
The real and palpable bed bug dangers come from the emotional and psychological trauma wrought by bed bugs on humans. See blog post describing this in detail.
Here are a couple of bed bugs eggs pictures so you know what to look for.