Once upon a time, bed bugs played little more than a bit part in a children’s nursery rhyme. But since they scuttled out of obscurity into the limelight more than a decade ago, the American public has found it hard to sleep tight. Bed bugs have inspired everything from disgust and dread to myths and misconceptions — not to mention making their fair share of headlines.
Bed bugs are peculiar. It’s not surprising these creepy creatures sparked panic among their human hosts, who found themselves fed upon in the dark of the night while seemingly safe in their beds. For a time, people felt like they could escape the pests by the light of day. That’s until bed bugs started showing up in offices. And in retail centers. And theaters. And libraries. Though it sounds like a Hitchcockian horror movie, it’s just a typical day’s work for CNY Bed Bug Extermination. We were early observers of the reemergence of bed bugs, and we’ve been on the frontlines of the battle against them ever since.
We have rounded up 100 facts about bed bugs.
Facts that illuminate how their biology, mating habits and resilience make them one of the most challenging pests any exterminator faces. Going beyond the surface—literally—to the science of how bed bugs survive and thrive is the foundation of diagnosing and treating bed bugs in homes and businesses. We know bed bugs can be tough to spot, expensive to remediate and relentless in reintroduction.
To understand the unassuming bedfellow behind the headlines, let’s go back to the basics and take a look at bed bug biology. Before they were front page news, they were just the common Cimex lectularius. Follow along for an Entomology 101 crash course on this curious insect’s biology.
1. The bed bug species most common in the United States is Cimex lectularius, which translates literally to “bug of the bed or couch.” If you’re fluent in Latin, you already knew that.
2. With a flat, broad, oval shape and dark brown coloring, adult bed bugs are small (4-5 mm long) but visible to the naked eye.
3. Bed bugs have six legs, three body segments and four-part antennae, making them “true bugs.” , and they are also true pests.
4. Bed bugs have wings, but they can’t fly. They have no hind wings, and their front vestigial wings are not large or strong enough to let them fly. They’re the penguins of the insect world. Except people like penguins.
5. They are surprisingly fast for their size and have been recorded traveling about a meter a minute. That may not sound like a lot, but given bed bugs are only 4-5 millimeters long, that’s like a person running the length of a football field—four and a half times—in 60 seconds. If you started an insect fantasy football team, bed bugs would make great running backs.
6. Bed bugs are considered prey by many other bugs, including cockroaches, ants, spiders and centipedes. But we don’t recommend enlisting an army of centipedes for your bed bug problem.
7. Biological pumps in the bed bug’s cuticle—its exterior covering that’s more armor than skin—siphon chemicals away from nerves. That means they’re built with a biological “bucket brigade” that can help flush some pest control treatments away before they do their work completely.
8. Bed bugs give off a distinctively sweet odor some say is comparable to rotting raspberries.
9. Nicknames for bed bugs include: red coats, mahogany flats, night riders, wall lice, coriander bugs, heavy dragoons, crimson ramblers, wallpaper flounders, chinche bugs, and the sinister sounding Nachtkrabbler.
10. The sequenced bed bug genome contains more than 38,000 genes—more than twice that of the common honey bee.
11. Bed bugs are the only known insect with a specialized immune organ, a reservoir of white blood cells that’s a collective first line of defense against infection.
The Draculas of the insect world, bed bugs have some decidedly vampiric tendencies. For one thing, they want to suck your blood. For another, they prefer their meals in the dead of night. Unfortunately, daybreak doesn’t turn them into a puff of smoke. On the plus side, a bed bug bite won’t turn you into a monster.
12. University of Cincinnati research shows that bed bugs can carry almost 50 pathogens and leave them behind in fecal matter. However, transmission of these pathogens to humans remains undocumented.
13. Bed bugs are hematophagous, which means blood is their only food source. Unlike many of their insect brethren, they aren’t interested in human food. Just humans as food.
14. As nocturnal pests, bed bugs prefer to feed at night but will seek a food source during the day if necessary. They are most active between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.
15. Like Santa Claus, they know when you’re sleeping (by the level of CO2 you emit) and when you’re awake (i.e., when they should stay out of sight).
16. Unlike mosquitoes, both the male and the female of the species feed on blood. So date night’s on you.
17. The rostrum, a beak-like mouth part, pierces the skin and injects saliva full of anticoagulants and desensitizers. Like a tiny anesthesiologist.
18. Rather than “suck blood,” bed bugs just bite through the skin and allow pressure from blood vessels to do the work for them. Nothing like sitting back, relaxing and letting the meal come to you.
19. A bed bug feeding takes about five minutes. Humans, it would seem, are pretty fast food.
20. Bed bugs feed on average every three to seven days.
21. Bed bugs can ingest more than seven times their body weight at one time. That’s the equivalent of a 150-pound adult drinking 125 gallons of water in one sitting.
22. Identifiable human DNA can be retrieved from a bed bug up to 90 days after feeding. In the case of bed bugs, they are who they eat.
23. Like humans, bed bugs are put off by hair in their food. Hair, fur and feathers impede the feeding process, so ideal food sources have little body hair.
24. Bed bugs will travel up to 100 feet in search of a meal. That’s a long way for a creature that is less than a quarter inch long—so stop complaining about how far the fridge is from the couch.
25. Under normal circumstances, bed bugs can only survive two to three months between feedings. However, lower temperatures can induce a hibernation state that allows them to survive longer—up to a year according to some research.
26. Auburn University is looking at how bed bugs’ metabolism is affected by starvation and feeding to determine how they are able to survive a year or longer without feeding. Findings thus far indicate that bed bugs are able to slow their metabolism when blood meals are scarce.
Let’s face it—these days, human dating rituals are pretty strange. But even Tinder can’t hold a candle to the courtship practices of Cimex lectularius. Read on to find out how—against all romantic odds—bed bugs mate, reproduce and flourish.
27. The violent reproductive practices among bed bugs are as horrifying as some of their other habits. Males penetrate females through the abdominal cavity in what is known as “traumatic insemination.”
28. The painful nature of the reproductive process may contribute to the dispersal of a bed bug population when females flee the mate-seeking males. Can you blame them?
29. Bed bug populations in which males outnumber females have been known to eliminate the females with overzealous mating attempts, essentially stabbing them to death.
30. Reproduction isn’t speedy compared with other insects. Adult females produce one to three eggs per day. Each egg hatches within about two weeks and takes another five to six weeks to reach adulthood.
31. A female bed bug lays about 100-150 eggs in her lifetime.
32. Bed bug eggs are roughly the size of two grains of salt, so you really have to know what you’re looking for if you hope to spot them.
33. A population can double about once every 16 days.
34. Bed bugs require a blood meal to advance to each of five life stages. These life stages are known as “instars.”
35. The average bed bug lives four to six months—a short, blood-thirsty existence
Despite the fact that bed bugs weren’t a big story in the U.S. until relatively recently, these nocturnal nuisances have been disrupting sleep for thousands of years. From ancient Greece to ancient Egypt, they’ve been the stuff of nightmares for some of history’s greatest civilizations.
36. Bed bugs originated with cave dwellers co-habitating with bats, the original host of these blood-sucking insects. At some point about 245,000 years ago, bed bugs expanded the menu from bats to humans.
37. Bed bugs have co-existed with mankind since ancient times and were documented in Greek writings dating back to the time of Aristotle. They are also mentioned in medieval European texts.
38. Fossilized bed bug specimens found in Egyptian tombs date back 3,550 years.
39. There is no Native American word for bed bugs, leading scientists to believe that colonists brought them to the U.S.
40. The Journal of the New York Entomological Society in 1946 cited a 1756 advertisement for “Oyl of Turpentine” promising that its application “effectually destroys” bed bugs and claiming that the product prevented them from hiding in bedroom furniture. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since turpentine.
41. By the 1920s, the plague of bed bugs—and the proliferation of remedies to get rid of them—prompted the U.S. Patent Office to establish a designation to track inventions related to the pest.
42. General Douglas MacArthur called bed bugs the “greatest nuisance insect problem” on U.S. military bases during World War II.
43. Widespread use of DDT during the 1940s and 1950s significantly diminished bed bug populations. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT. The disappearance of this wide-spectrum pesticide is believed to have contributed to the resurgence of bed bugs.
44. Prior to 2000, only 25 percent of pest control providers responding to a National Pest Management Association survey had treated for bed bugs. As of 2015, 99.6 percent of respondents reported treating for bed bugs in homes and businesses in the previous 12 months.
45. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a joint statement acknowledging the public health concerns presented by bed bugs, their economic impact and the need for research to better understand how to control and treat them.
46. Bed bugs have been detected in all 50 states. Sorry, Alaska, but you have them, too.
They’ve been called blood-suckers, nightmares and a plague, but at CNY Bed Bug Extermination, we think of them as scientific marvels. How bed bugs manage to elude effective treatment can be traced all the way down to the molecular level. For years, scientists have been working to map how biology, behavior and environment play into bed bug survival—and how short-circuiting the system can help us improve our treatment plans.
47. Researchers from the Universities of California and Kentucky are working on a “biomimetic” bed bug prevention solution that imitates the natural, tiny, hook-like hairs on kidney bean leaves that immobilize bed bugs. This could serve as a sustainable, cost-effective and non-toxic monitoring option.
48. SRI International, a Standford University-based research institute, is focused on identifying the volatile compounds present in bed bugs that create their signature “perfume.” This could be a “scent-sational” way to attract and monitor the pest.
49. At Pennsylvania State University in State College, researchers identified a fungus—Beauveria bassiana—with spores that can stick to an insect’s exoskeleton and clog organs as they bloom. It’s a perfectly natural murder weapon against bed bugs, but it will be some time before this fungus makes its way from the ground to shelves.
50. While do-it-yourself products for treating bed bugs are available, University of Minnesota researchers have found that the active ingredients in many of these products are not effective against bed bugs. In fact, using these ineffective products can cause bed bugs to disperse, making them more difficult to manage.
51. According to research from the University of Kentucky and Washington State University, bed bugs are like tiny laboratories that can break down—at the molecular level—certain chemicals used in bed bug treatments.
52. Bed bugs’ resistance to chemicals is widely documented, so University of Kentucky researchers are running chemical interference to selectively turn off the enzyme inside bed bugs that breaks down insecticides. It’s scientists’ version of hacking the bed bug’s surprisingly intricate computer system.
53. Researchers from New Mexico State University are evaluating repellents that people can apply to luggage to minimize their exposure to bed bugs when traveling.
54. Bed bugs can sustain their populations through inbreeding, according to researchers from North Carolina State University. Unlike other species, consistent inbreeding does not seem to hurt their offspring’s health. While they’re the stuff of horror movies, they’re not Deliverance.
55. A recent study conducted by the University of Florida and Union College in Lincoln, Neb., found that the colors red and black attract bed bugs while green and yellow are more repellent.
We know you don’t want to find a bed bug. But you do want to know what you’re looking for and where to look so you can catch an introduction early. Determining when bed bugs are present can be tricky, but a combination of technology, man’s best friend and your own senses can help you keep these stealthy creatures from taking hold at your home or business.
56. One in five Americans has either had a bed bug issue or knows someone who has. Are you one of them?
57. Bed bugs are three times more likely to be found in urban areas than rural areas. What can we say? They like the nightlife.
58. Because bed bugs are almost always introduced to an environment by humans, there’s no foolproof way—aside from cutting off all human interaction—to prevent them entering your home or business.
59. While living or dead adult bed bug specimens are a sure sign of their presence, it’s also important to watch out for the other life stages, and the cast skins and inky fecal stains they leave behind.
60. Bites may also indicate bed bug presence. However, as many as 30 percent of people do not react to bed bug bites. In some cases, other insect bites may be mistaken for bed bug bites.
61. Bed bug bites tend to occur in clusters or rows. They are not typically spread out across the victim’s entire body.
62. The name “bed bug” is a misnomer—bed bugs aren’t only found in beds. They do prefer staying close to their host, though, and typically shelter within a 6-foot radius of the bed in the mattress, box springs, headboard, soft furniture, outlets, wallpaper and carpet.
63. Another reason to hate the alarm clock—it’s a common close-to-the-bed hiding spot for bed bugs.
64. The real reason you should never remove a mattress tag is that it’s a great starting point for a bed bug inspection. OK, that’s not really true. But when inspecting a mattress, check the area along the seams and around tags for rust-colored or inky stains.
65. Bed bugs have difficulty climbing up smooth surfaces such as plastic, glass or ceramic. So, while people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, they are less likely to have bed bug problems.
66. DNA testing and protein testing in areas suspected to have bed bugs can not only detect active bed bugs, but also reveal whether bed bugs have been present in that area.
67. Routine staff inspections of areas where bed bugs are most likely to be found is crucial to early detection in commercial spaces.
68. With up to 300 million olfactory receptors, dogs can be trained to sniff out bed bugs with great accuracy. A top-performing dog can nose through up to 50 rooms in a single inspection.
69. While the cleanliness of a hotel, home or other building has no correlation to bed bug infestations, clutter does give them more places to hide and can complicate early detection.
This is the part you’ve all been waiting for—how do you get rid of these insidious pests? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for this little monster. Over the centuries, remedies have included arsenic, turpentine, cyanide and, when all else failed, fire. Research continues to help us better understand the bed bug and how it might be vanquished, but no one has found their Achilles heel—a weakness that would lead to a simple, inexpensive and effective solution. Until then, here are proven ways to put bed bugs to rest.
70. All bed bug life stages are killed by 7 minutes’ exposure to a temperature of 115° F.
71. Heat treatments typically involve propane heaters and a portable duct system that allow trained technicians to raise the ambient temperature in the area being treated to 130°- 160°F. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, they’ll be melting.
72. For soft items, such as clothing and sheets, washing and drying on the highest heat settings will kill bed bugs in all life stages, which is critical to eliminating the infestation.
73. Furniture that cannot be salvaged should be discarded responsibly (either destroyed or marked as bed bug-infested) so that it doesn’t become someone else’s secondhand problem.
74. Mattress covers and encasements cannot guarantee that a bed bug won’t be introduced. They can trap bed bugs in your mattress and stop new ones from getting in, but resourceful bed bugs will find other places to reside. Likewise, mattress disposal isn’t a surefire way to rid yourself of bed bugs since bed bugs will find other places to hide.
75. Vacuuming the affected area can help remove bed bugs, but by no means is it a total solution. Be sure to empty the vacuum canister or dispose of the bag before taking the vacuum to other areas. And keep in mind that bed bug eggs may be left behind due to the sticky coating strong enough to hold out against your Hoover.
76. Chemical treatments include alcohol-based liquids along the baseboards, carpet, mattress and box springs where humans might come in contact, along with special dust treatments on furniture and in wall voids.
77. Due to the complex nature—and unparalleled resilience—of bed bugs, expect a treatment plan to include a combination of methods to be truly effective.
While the hospitality industry was undoubtedly the first to have bed bugs suck away business, all types of businesses have now been touched by the spread of bed bugs. No industry is immune. Beyond the business disruption and reputation damage, bed bugs raise issues of HR, risk management and litigation. Their itchy bite turns into a nightmare fast. Before they make your business their business, have your bed bug business plan in place, from communication to remediation.
78. While bed bugs are not seasonal pests, pest professionals see requests for bed bug treatments increase in the summer. This spike could be due to increased summer travel and higher numbers of people moving.
79. The Bed Bug Registry is a website cataloging user-generated reports of bed bugs, primarily in hotels, in the U.S. and Canada. It has more than 20,000 entries.
80. While businesses with beds—hotels and apartment complexes— were the first to feel the bed bugs’ bite, bed-less businesses are not immune. Bed bugs have also been found in libraries, movie theaters, government buildings, public transportation, healthcare facilities, college campuses and offices.
81. In one of the first major appearances of bed bugs in a bed-free business environment, Hollister’s flagship location in New York City shuttered its doors for two days in July 2010 to treat a bed bug infestation. Its sister store, Abercrombie & Fitch, encountered a bed bug problem two days later.
82. Commercial bed bug remediation can be very costly, depending on the scope of the problem. An isolated introduction where bed bugs are present but have not started to reproduce is far more manageable than a long-term, undetected infestation in which all life stages are observed indicating active reproduction. That’s why early detection is so important.
83.The threat of litigation looms behind bed bugs—many multifamily properties now include a bed bug clause outlining the responsibility for remediation.
84. CNY Bed Bug Extermination hosted “What’s Your Bed Bug Business Plan?” to help professionals in the hospitality, multifamily and commercial real estate industries prepare for the litigation, risk management and HR implications of bed bugs in businesses.
S.L.E.E.P. TIGHT WHEN TRAVELING When you’re on the road, be sure not to pick up hitchhikers. Bed bugs seeking a food source may be drawn to the odors emitted by your clothing and stow away in your luggage hoping to catch a quick meal. The following tips will help keep you from needing the souvenir T-shirt that reads “I went on vacation and all I got were these bed bugs.”
85. SURVEY for signs of bed bugs—tiny rust-colored spots on bed sheets, mattress tags and seams, and bed skirts.
86. LIFT and look for bed bug hiding spots under the mattress, box springs, bed frame and near furniture.
87. ELEVATE your luggage instead of putting it on the floor. Use the luggage rack, and pull it away from the bed and wall. Or, for added protection, store it in the bathtub. Bed bugs aren’t able to scale slick ceramic or plastic walls of the tub to access your luggage.
88. EXAMINE your luggage carefully while repacking for your return trip. When you arrive home, store luggage outside of your bedroom to minimize access to a host.