"Don't let the bed bugs bite." You likely heard that phrase when you were a kid, and you might have told your own children the same thing. It can seem like just a cute saying until you experience bed bugs yourself for real. An infestation is a miserable experience that leaves you sleep-deprived and often covered with itchy welts. That's why routinely looking for early signs of bed bugs and having a professional deal with them right away is so important.
Bed bugs used to be a problem only in developing countries, but in the past few years these annoying pests have traveled throughout both the United States and Canada as well as in Europe. They can hop from a hotel bed to your suitcase or other items, so you end up carrying them home or to another hotel without even realizing it.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are tiny parasitic insects with the Latin name Cimex lectularius. They can range from 1 millimeter long to as large as 7 mm, about the size of Lincoln's head on a penny. Wingless and reddish-brown, these insects drink the blood of animals such as humans and other mammals or birds while they sleep. A bed bug is shaped like a flat disk when it hasn't eaten. A few hours after it has gorged on blood, it swells in size and looks bright red. Then after a few days, it flattens out again.
Bed bugs typically hide in bedrooms or other places where people sleep. You can come across infestations on cruise ships and dorm rooms as well as on trains and buses. Bed bugs scurry from the light and tend to hide in mattresses and box springs. You can also find them lurking in crevices and cracks as well as behind wallpaper or any clutter around the bed. They'll even hide on headboards and dresser tables.
Although bed bugs can travel up to 100 feet in a single night, they usually hide within a few feet of the bed.
What Are Some Early Signs of Bed Bugs?
If you're worried that you may have an infestation, you can look for these early signs of bed bugs.
1. Bite Marks on Your Body
When bed bugs bite you, they inject both an anesthetic and an anticoagulant into your bloodstream. You never even realize you're being bitten, and the bite marks don't show up for hours or even days later. Sometimes you go to bed feeling fine and then wake the following morning with itchy marks on your body.
When it does appear, a bed bug bite will resemble a mosquito or other insect bite. It will be red and swollen, and it could also itch, just like a mosquito bite. The bites will either be in random spots or in a straight line on your body. Bed bugs typically bite your neck and face as well as your hands and any other part of your body that's exposed in the night.
Keep in mind that you may be one of those fortunate few who don't have a reaction to bed bug bites. To keep your bedbug problem from becoming a major infestation, regularly look for these other early signs of bed bugs.
2. Bed Bug Exoskeletons on Your Mattress
Another sign of bed bugs is tiny exoskeletons on your mattress or box springs. Like all insects, bed bugs have their skeleton on the outside of their skin and molt it periodically when growing.
When bed bugs become adults, they lay approximately five eggs a day. These eggs are about the size of the head of a pin and are pearly white in color. After five days, the eggs develop eyespots. They hatch within four to 12 days.
After a bed bug egg hatches, the nymph, whitish-yellow in color, takes a blood meal and turns red as it grows. As it gets bigger, it sheds its exoskeleton, molting into an older stage of a bed bug larva. Bed bugs go through five nymphal stages before they finally become adult bed bugs. In the process, they shed plenty of exoskeletons that you may find the remains of.
3. Bed Bugs Hiding on Your Mattress or Box Springs
Bed bugs hide from the light, so look for them near the edge of your mattress. You can usually find them sitting along the ribbing line, so inspect the top of the ribbing for early signs of bed bugs. They can also lurk in the corners and underneath the patches on your mattress.
While bed bugs can be on your mattress, their favorite place to hide is in the box springs. Stand your box springs up so that the underside is facing you. Take a flashlight and go about the perimeter of the box spring. Bed bugs will scurry from the light.
Examine where the mattress's dust cloth is stapled to the frame. That's a common area where bed bugs like to hide underneath. These insects will also get behind the plastic corner pieces of your box springs. Check all the way around the perimeter for bed bugs. You can also take the dust cloth off and inspect the wood frame underneath.
Keep in mind that mattresses and box springs are heavy, so get help if you're not strong enough to lift these yourself.
4. Black or Rusty-Colored Spots
More early signs of bed bugs to look for in addition to the insects themselves are their excretions. Because bed bugs live on a diet of blood, they have to excrete what's undigested. It comes out in a semi-liquid form that you can easily see.
Bed bugs feed every five or so days, so look for small spots that are black or rusty brown. They'll be about the size of a pinpoint and will have a smooth feel to them. You may find these spots everywhere you would find the bedbugs themselves.
Look for the excretion stains in these areas:
The fecal matter can also look like mold, so study it carefully.
5. A Musty, Sometimes Sweet Odor
Bed bugs send signals to each other by producing pheromones. These special chemicals have a sweet smell similar to raspberries or almonds that is often overpowered by other unpleasant bed bug smells such as fecal matter and other dead bed bugs. Add in their shed exoskeletons, and you get a musty smell that’s a lot like moldy laundry or dirty shoes.
Be aware that by the time you can smell the bed bugs, you have a serious infestation on your hands, and you’ll probably be able to see the bed bugs as well as smell them.
6. Insomnia or Anxiety
When you sleep in an area that's infested with bed bugs, you can suffer from stress and paranoia as well as lose sleep. Live with bed bugs long enough and you can develop insomnia. That’s why it’s crucial to regularly inspect for signs of bed bugs and take care of the problem right away.
What Should I Do if I See Early Signs of Bed Bugs?
Contact an exterminator as soon as you see early signs of bed bugs. The longer you wait, the greater the infestation will become and the more miserable you will be.
1. Remove and Wash the Bedding
Strip your bed and then wash your sheets and blankets in hot water. Then dry them individually in a hot dryer for a full cycle. The heat will kill both the bed bugs and their eggs.
2. Ask the Exterminator How To Prepare for Spraying
The exterminator may ask you to remove the bedding and lay both the mattress and box springs upright against the wall. They may also want you to take everything out of your closets and dresser drawers as well as remove items around or under the bed.
It's better to wait until the exterminator arrives and then move such items. Bed bugs scurry away from the light and will hide elsewhere. A bed bug infestation is a bit like a crime scene. You don't want to touch anything until the professionals arrive.
3. If You Empty Drawers, Wash Everything and Put Them in Plastic Bags
If the exterminator asks you to remove items from your drawers, be sure to wash everything in hot water and run those items through a hot dryer. Afterward, you can place your clothing in bags that seal. You won't be able to suffocate bed bugs, but you can protect your clean clothes from other bugs jumping on.
Once My Home Is Treated, How Can I Keep Bed Bugs From Coming Back?
You typically pick up bed bugs by visiting a hotel or other place where many people sleep at different times. It doesn't matter how nice the hotel is; you are always at risk of encountering bed bugs. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent bringing these travelers home with you.
1. Buy a Light-Colored, Hard-Shell Suitcase
It's difficult to spot tiny dark bed bugs on black luggage, so go for a lighter-colored or white suitcase so you can easily see these insects and their eggs. Get a hard-sided suitcase. It will have fewer folds and crevices where bed bugs can hide as opposed to a fabric bag.
2. Bring an LED Flashlight With You
When you first arrive at your hotel room, do an inspection for early signs of bed bugs. These pests scatter in the light, so turn off all of the lights and use your flashlight instead. Take off the bedcover and blankets as well as the sheets. Then, using your flashlight, inspect the corners of the mattress as well as the box springs. Also, check all outlets and furniture screws. Of course you can't take the dust cloth off of the hotel's box springs, but you can inspect it around the perimeter.
If you see anything scurrying away, it could be a bed bug infestation. Immediately contact the front desk and ask to switch rooms.
3. Travel With a Large Plastic Bag
When you travel on either an airplane or a bus, your luggage gets stowed away along with other bags. Bed bugs can easily hop from other people's bags onto yours, so protect your suitcase by enclosing it in either a garbage bag that you can tie up or a giant Ziploc storage bag. If you do seal your suitcase in a garbage bag, be sure to label it so no one mistakes it for garbage and throws it away.
4. Bring Smaller Plastic Bags as Well
Be sure to protect your smaller items as well as your clothing by sealing them in smaller sealable plastic bags. That way, bed bugs won't hop onto your personal items should you set them on the bed or a dresser.
5. Sleep in Long Pants and a Long-Sleeved Shirt
Bed bugs tend to only bite exposed flesh, so weather permitting, cover up your arms and legs by wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Protect your face from getting bitten by wearing a scarf on your head.
6. Pack Only Machine-Washable Clothing
Make sure you only pack clothing you can run through the hot cycle of a washing machine and through a hot dryer. As soon as you get home from a trip, unpack all of your clothing and wash them right away to kill any bed bugs that might have hopped on.
Who Should I Call if I See Early Signs of Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are a nuisance that can hinder your ability to have a good night’s sleep. It’s vital that you get those bugs treated as quickly as possible so they don’t spread. If you see early signs of bed bugs in your bedroom or another part of your home, act right away. Contact us, and we’ll take care of those nasty insects quickly and efficiently.
I really enjoy researching and writing about pests. The more we know about bugs, the easier it becomes to control them.