The bed bug is a parasite of humans but will also attack poultry and other mammals and birds. It was introduced into the United States with the early colonists. While virtually eliminated from the United States following World War II, bed bugs are once again found regularly in the Greater Kansas City area, as well as throughout the United States.
Why, we ask, has there been such a resurgence of a pest essentially forgotten in this country since World War II? Chief among reasons is the vastly increased mobility and traffic of people of all cultures and walks of life, from around the world. Secondarily, the pesticides once found effective upon these pests, have been eliminated from our “arsenal” because of environmental concerns. Currently available pesticides, while initially effective, have been found to create resistance through continued, broad-scale use. Thus, they must be carefully and judiciously used by well-trained personnel.
COMMON NAME: Bed Bug
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cimex lectularius Linnaeus
Adults are about 3/16” long; broadly oval and flat. Their color is brown to reddish brown (after feeding). The head has a beak which is held under its body when not feeding. The upper surface of the body is sparsely covered with short golden hairs and there are no wings. When crushed in numbers they will emit an “obnoxiously sweet” odor .
- The tropical bed bug (Cimex hemipterus) is also a parasite of humans but at this time is restricted to southern Florida. Of course, it could be transported to the Kansas City area in luggage, clothing or household furnishings.
- Bat bugs (C. adjunctus and C. pilosellus) are relatively common in the Kansas City area and will feed on humans when their natural host is eliminated from structures.
- Swallow bugs (Oeciacus vicarious)
- Poultry bugs (Haematosiphon inodorus) , commonly found in poultry houses, will feed upon humans if transported to human dwellings.
- Swift bugs (Cimexopsis nyctalis), once common in the chimneys of houses, are rarely seen now that most chimneys are protected with screened caps.
- Flat bugs (family Aradidae) dark brown to black, with narrow body and wings, somewhat longer, vaguely resemble bed bugs. They are not predaceous upon humans or pets, but may bite if crushed against our bodies.
Female bed bugs lay 1-5 eggs per day, with the 1/32”, white eggs being deposited individually in cracks or on rough surfaces and secured with a transparent cement for an average total of 200 eggs; maximum eggs per day is 12, with 541 for a lifetime. After hatching, the 5 nymphal stages require a blood meal for each molt. About 3-10 minutes are required for each blood meal, during which saliva containing an anticoagulant is injected. The development time, from egg to adult, takes 21 days at 86 degrees F. The threshold for egg hatching, nymphal development, and adult activity is 55-59 degrees F. Below 61 degrees adults enter semi-hibernation and the thermal death point is 111-113 degrees. Without a blood meal, once-fed nymphs can survive an average of 51 days at 81 degrees and 70-75% RH. Being poorly fed can greatly prolong the nymphal period (35-48 days to 158 days in one study). With normal feeding and reproductive cycles, individuals can live up to 316 days.
Humans are the preferred host of bed bugs but in their absence bed bugs will feed on poultry, canaries, English sparrows, mice, rats, guinea pigs, and bats.
Although the bite of bed bugs is painless, most people (80%) develop an allergic reaction to the saliva injected by the bug as it feeds. A swelling usually results from feeding but there is no red spot such as is characteristic with flea bites. Swelling may be severe and extend beyond the immediate bite area in highly sensitive individuals.
Bed bugs have been found to be infected with some 25 different disease organisms. Survival time within the bed bug was found to be especially long (147-285 days) for organisms such as plague, relapsing fever, tularermia, and Q fever. However, although bed bugs have been suspect in the transmission of many diseases or disease organisms in humans, in most cases conclusive evidence is lacking.
Bed bugs harbor in cracks and crevices during the day and come out to feed at night. Typically they can be found around mattress buttons and heading, in boxsprings or their coverings, and in any crevice of a wooden bed frame, such as where members join. Other places to check are wall hangings such as picture frames, night stands, stuffed furniture, baseboards, floorboard cracks, behind loose wallpaper, light switches, door and window frames, conduits, etc. In heavy infestations, bed bugs may be found in wall voids, attics, and other enclosed places. They will crawl considerable distances to obtain a blood meal.
They can be introduced into a structure via used furniture or in the belongings of someone who has been living in a bed bug infested situation. Adults can survive for up to 6-7 months if they are well fed and they can feed on other animals if humans are not present. When the temperature falls below 61 degrees, adults enter semi hibernation and can survive for months. Bed bug infestations have been found in transportation vehicles such as boats, trains, airplanes, and buses as well as in movie theaters where they typically harborage in seats and associated frames.
Besides the characteristic obnoxiously sweet odor, the other primary clues to an infestation will be the presence of bed bugs and/or small red to reddish brown fecal spots here and there on surfaces.
A thorough inspection is indispensable. Treat any bed bug found with an appropriately labeled pesticide. Great care should be taken when treating mattresses, box springs, and upholstery to keep pesticide exposure to the customer to a minimum; allow for thorough drying before reuse. Infant’s and infirmed person’s bedding and bed frames should not be treated. They should be replaced with uninfested items.
In homes, most bed bugs infestations can be controlled with a single application to mattresses, bed frames, wall crevices, and baseboards. In apartment buildings and hotels, it’s advisable to also inspect units to either side and above and below the infested unit, and treat as required.