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Some things go bump in the night. Other things nibble and chew their way into your dreams. But what do you do when you wake up to find those pesky dreams were real?
Waking up with unexplained bites is never pleasant. What’s worse is it could be a warning sign that you have a larger issue at hand.
As bed bugs outbreaks continue to increase around the world, it is even more important to understand how to identify them. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about bed bugs, including when you should call a professional pest control service.
Bed Bugs 101
Bed bugs are a type of blood-sucking insect. They come from the family Cimicidae and although there are over 90 species, only two of them affect humans. These two are known scientifically as Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus.
What Do Bed Bugs Eat?
Bed bugs survive on a strict diet of blood. The frequency of their feeding depends on their life cycle stage and the ambient temperature. Colder temperatures slow their metabolisms and development, while extreme heat kills them.
In ideal conditions, they feed once per week but multiple times during each session. Bed bugs undergo at least five stages before becoming an adult. To harness the energy required to make each transformation, they must feed at least once during every stage.
What Do They Look Like?
How a bed bug looks depends on the stage of its lifecycle. The eggs are small, but still visible to the naked eye. They are about half the size of a grain of rice and pearly-white in appearance.
Once they hatch, bed bugs are referred to as nymphs. These are only slightly larger than the eggs and grow approximately .5mm with each feeding cycle.
Nymphs are translucent, making them difficult to spot when unfed. After feeding, the blood appears as a dark brown dot in the center of their bodies, which swells up to two times its original size when full.
Adult bed bugs are the easiest to spot. They are around the length of an apple seed, with the females outsizing the males. Their bodies are oval-shaped and flat unless they have recently fed.
When an adult bed bug is engorged with blood it becomes round and its color takes on a reddish-brown hue. Adults produce the musty smell characteristic of bed bugs.
Where Do Bed Bugs Live?
Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs do not live strictly in beds. In fact, they prefer small dark crevices to the cushy comfort of your mattress. You’re more likely to find a pest infestation behind a wall socket or in the wood of your bed frame or box springs.
Other common habitats for bed bugs include:
- Nearby appliances
- Furniture (especially wood)
- Mattress creases
- Suitcase zippers
- Stuffed toys
Bed bugs are not restricted to the home. You can have a bed bug problem in your car, at work, in a movie theater, and even on a boat. If there are warm bodies to feed on and a place to lay their eggs, a bed bug will endure.
Female bed bugs lay between one and seven eggs per day. This might not seem like a lot, but all you need is one female and one male left unchecked and before you know it, you have a pest infestation on your hands. The best thing to do is call a pest control company to address the problem as soon as possible, or else they could spread to other rooms in your house.
Are Bed Bugs Dangerous?
Unlike other blood-sucking insects, such as mosquitoes, bed bugs do not transmit diseases. Being bitten won’t give you malaria or dengue, but it can have a severe impact on your sleep.
Have you ever heard of the expression, “Pinch me, I’m dreaming?” Well, that’s kind of what a bed bug bite feels like. Depending on the severity of the infestation, you could be waking up multiple times each night to the annoying pinch of a bed bug bite.
Erratic sleep isn’t the only problem. There is also paranoia.
When a bug bites us, we have a natural disposition to slap it away. It’s human nature. However, once a bed bug senses movement it is likely to skedaddle, leaving you tearing through the covers trying in its wake.
Once you’ve given up the hunt, you will often find yourself lying awake, waiting for the next onslaught of biting. In fact, one study showed that some people experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, even after the bugs were eradicated.
Warning Signs of Bed Bugs
Some people struggle with determining whether they have a bed bug problem or some other type of pest infestation. Fortunately, there are a few tell-tale signs that leave little room for doubt.
Bites and Trails
Unexplained bites are one of the first indicators that you have a bed bug issue.
These bites are often located on exposed skin. Bed bugs don’t like heat, so they tend to avoid going underneath clothing to get a meal. Instead, they prefer targeting cooler areas of the body.
But how do you know the bites aren’t from a different type of bug, like mosquitoes or fleas?
Mosquitoes vs Bed Bugs
When it comes to the actual bites, it can be quite difficult to tell the difference. Both are extremely itchy, often worsening at night or in the morning, and both occur on exposed skin. The difference is often found in the formation of the bites.
Bed bugs eat like they are sampling a buffet. They don’t stop and get all their blood from one spot. Instead, they bite, travel, bite, travel, and so on until they are full.
The result of this is a series of bites in a wobbly line. Mosquitoes rarely bite their victims in a line. You are more likely to have a small cluster of bites if the culprit is a mosquito.
The real clincher is if it’s bed bugs, the biting won’t stop. You’ll continue to receive new bites, often at night while you’re sleeping. If you’re still not sure, call a pest control service and have them search your home for other signs of bed bugs.
Fleas vs Bed Bugs
Unless you have an allergy, flea bites are often smaller in diameter and develop within thirty minutes of being bitten. Bed bug bites can take up to 14 days to appear. Flea bites also tend to be located around the legs and ankles while bed bugs prefer the neck and face.
Blood Spots on Sheets
Another indicator that you have a bed bug problem is tiny blood spots on your sheets. These appear for two reasons.
After a bug bites you, a bit of blood is excreted from the wound. If this touches a bedsheet or blanket before it dries, it will leave a small rust-colored dot. Blood spots are also caused by bugs getting accidentally squashed after feeding.
Adult bed bugs have a very distinct odor. Many people describe it as resembling the scent of a wet towel or being sickly sweet. The more bed bugs you have the stronger the smell.
A musty smell can also be indicative of other issues in your home, such as a leak or molding laundry. If the scent lingers after ruling out all other possibilities, you should consider calling a pest control service to investigate.
Bed bugs shed their exoskeletons at least five times during their life cycle. The skins are small, pale brown, and resemble a living bed bug. Finding skins in your home is bad for multiple reasons.
One, finding a cache of shells is a good indicator that you still have a bed bug issue. Two, the skins emit the same pheromones as live adults. Some researchers believe this smell serves as a beacon for other bed bugs in the area.
You See Them
Most often bed bug sightings happen when you wake up while one is in the process of feeding. You might also see them in the creases of your mattress or scattering over the sheets. Unfortunately, the second type of sighting is often indicative of a severe pest infestation.
Although bed bugs are often compared to vampires, they also possess certain zombie-like characteristics. If they get squashed after feeding the blood oozes out of them and most of the time they continue along on their merry little way.
If you find a bed bug, the best way to kill it is to grind it between the backs of two fingernails. Crushing it into oblivion is the only way to be certain it won’t come back from the dead and continue biting you in your sleep.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
Once you have bed bugs, getting rid of them is often a challenge. There are a few things you can try doing yourself, but you should also consider calling in a pest control service.
Find Out Where They Are Hiding
As mentioned earlier, bed bugs don’t restrict their nests to beds. If you want to get rid of them yourself, you’ll have to find out where they are nesting.
Sometimes this is obvious: you bought a used bed frame and all of a sudden, you’re getting bites in your sleep. Other times finding the nest takes a bit of work, like if you moved into an apartment or house with an existing pest infestation.
Rather than let the problem continue while you search, it might be best to call pest control to handle it for you.
Use a Mattress Encasement
This solution only works if the bed bug problem is restricted to the mattress. It involves putting a casing around the mattress and box springs to trap the bugs.
The downside is, bed bugs can live quite a long time without feeding. You’ll have to keep the casing on for several months to a year, to be certain all of them are gone.
There is also a chance the bed bugs have expanded their habitat beyond your bed, in which case the covering won’t be helpful.
Wash and Dry All Fabrics With High Heat
This suggestion is best if you think you might have brought bed bugs home with you from a hotel, hostel, or other location. Immediately, throw all your clothes into a high heat wash. Follow this up with a heated dry and your linens will be bed bug-free.
If you have an existing pest infestation, heated washing and dry might help mitigate the issue, but it won’t solve it. The bugs have likely established a home in a nearby piece of furniture. Try as hard as you like, but there is no way you’re going to fit your mattress in your washing machine.
Hire a Professional Pest Control Service
The longer a bed bug problem persists, the larger it gets. Some find it tempting to exhaust all DIY bed bug solutions, but this often proves futile in the long run.
Professional pest control services destroy bed bug infestations quickly and completely. These companies know how to recognize the signs of a pest infestation and have access to more potent means of extermination, such as the fumigation of bed bugs.
When to Call Pest Control
Dealing with blood-sucking insects is never fun. If you start getting bitten, take the time to look for bed bug warning signs. You might be lucky and find out the bites are from a mosquito or flea.
If you are unfortunate enough to have a bed bug infestation in your home, you’ll need to act fast. DIY solutions are helpful, but the best means of getting rid of bed bugs is to search, “pest control near me.” A professional pest control service will allow you to sleep in peace without fear of waking to the bed bug’s bite.
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