An article all about bed bugs? How disgusting, you say. And you’re in good company – bed bugs have an amazing ability to get inside people’s heads.
Not literally; that would be horrifying. Now we’re all going to need some brain bleach to clear our minds of that terrifying image.
Maybe it’s the fact that they drink our blood. Maybe it’s the fact that they live in our beds, where we’re supposed to feel most secure. But for whatever reason, bed bugs inspire fear in a way that other pests such as ants or cockroaches or even spiders don’t.
To make things even more disturbing, bed bugs come in more varieties than Heinz ketchup. There are around 90 different species of bed bug in the world. Shudder.
However, there are only three types of bed bugs that are of major concern to humans. And even within those three, it’s mostly one species in particular, Cimex lectularius, that causes all the trouble.
When people talk about bed bugs, it’s this particular species that they’re talking about. These are the ones to be afraid of.
But where there’s fear, there’s misinformation. Especially online. A lot of so-called bed bug facts that you will find as you begin to research aren’t facts at all.
In short, there’s a lot of nonsense out there. Let’s separate fact from fiction, shall we?
13 Most Important Bed Bug Facts
Lucky for you, we’re here to set the record straight. Here are the real answers to the most frequently asked bed bug questions of all time to help you separate bed bug fact from myth.
Can you see bed bugs with the naked eye?
Definitely. Until relatively recently, bed bugs were almost wiped out, at least in developed countries.
As a result, there’s an entire generation that grew up occasionally hearing about bed bugs but never actually encountering them in real life. For this reason, bed bugs often get confused with other bugs that live in the home.
A common culprit is dust mites. Dust mites live in our beds and other furniture and feed on dead skin.
They are so tiny that they can’t be seen without a microscope. People often confuse dust mites with bed bugs, and think that bed bugs are microscopic. This is one of the biggest bed bug myths around because bed bugs are definitely visible.
Even bed bug eggs are visible to the naked eye – sometimes.
At 0.09 inches long, they can be seen, especially if they are on a dark background.
A fully grown adult bed bug, on the other hand, is around 0.18 inches long. This makes them around the same size as an apple seed, so most definitely visible to the naked eye.
Do bed bugs bite?
The short answer is: yes – thus the saying “sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.” But if you’ve ever had bed bugs, you know that “not letting the bed bugs bite” is easier said than done.
The long, more accurate answer is that bed bugs don’t technically “bite”- what they do is far more disturbing.
These parasites have two hollow tubes. When they’re ready to feast, it injects anesthesia-laden saliva into your skin through the first tube to numb the area and keep your blood from clotting. And then it sucks your blood through the other tube.
When it feasts, it really goes to town – they’ll feed like that for up to 10 minutes! When full and swollen with your blood, they return back to their hiding place.
Can I get a disease from a bed bug bite?
As annoying as bed bugs are – their one saving grace is that they’re not known to spread disease. Hey, at least we have that to be grateful for.
How do I treat a bed bug bite?
Since bed bugs don’t transit disease, you don’t have to seek medical treatment – if the bites are itchy, creams and antihistamines help.
The only time you actually need to seek help for bed bug bites is if you have an allergic reaction to bed bug bites.
Do bed bugs only bite at night?
Bed bugs are pretty wily and will usually wait until the time of night when you’re most likely to be deep, deep in sleep – like, 4 AM.
But that doesn’t mean they only bite at night – they also move around during the day and if they get hungry and a meal source (i.e. you) is nearby, they’ll bite during the day as well.
How long can bed bugs live without a host?
Unfortunately, a long time.
When food is scarce, bed bugs have an extraordinary ability to survive. Twelve months is a figure you will commonly see quoted as the length of time a bug can survive without eating.
There was a study done decades ago in which a single female bed bug lived for 18 months without a blood meal. This may have been an anomaly, but it shows just how well bed bugs deal with starvation.
Are bed bugs contagious?
Bed bugs aren’t contagious in the way that a disease is, but they do spread very easily.
While it’s possible for bed bugs to travel on people for short periods, that’s not commonly how they are spread. It’s more likely that they will spread through items such as luggage or furniture.
So if you visit a place that you suspect may have bed bugs, try not to bring anything out of that place. Used furniture is one of the primary vectors for bed bugs spreading from house to house.
Think also about luggage. Hotels can often have bed bug problems. If a single female gets into your luggage and comes home with you, the chances are high that you will have a bed bug problem at home before long.
Do bed bugs live outside?
The short answer is: No.
Bed bugs are exceptionally well adapted to live in human homes and feed on us. As a result, they are very poorly suited for life on the outside.
Bed bugs have basically no defenses against other insects besides hiding. They can’t fly, they can’t jump, and they don’t move particularly fast.
Their mouths are adapted for piercing human skin, not biting other insects. So predatory insects such as ants, spiders, wasps, and even cockroaches will make short work of bed bugs whenever they find them.
We may hate them, but bed bugs need us. They are essentially a six-legged, bloodsucking clingy ex.
Where do bed bugs hide during the day?
Anywhere they can.
A bed bug’s only defense from getting killed is to stay hidden. They are helped in this by the way that their bodies are shaped.
They’re flattened across the top, which allows them to squeeze into tiny cracks and crevices to hide during the day.
As a result, bed bugs can hide almost anywhere, but there are certain places they prefer.
Rough surfaces like wood and fabric are ideal. Not only do they allow the bed bugs to cling on with their claws, but they also provide a great place to lay their eggs.
Also, bed bugs tend to hang out together. Once they’ve found a good place to hide, they emit an aggregation pheromone which will attract more bugs to the location.
The seams around a mattress and the gaps where parts of a wooden bed frame meet are ideal bed bug hiding places. But those aren’t the only places they can be found.
Underneath baseboards, underneath furniture, behind light switches and power outlets, inside luggage, inside discarded clothes – all of these make suitable hiding places for bed bugs.
Again, a bed bug’s ability to hide is a big part of what makes them so hard to get rid of.
Why are they called bed bugs if they can live anywhere?
Bed bugs are attracted to us by our body heat and the carbon dioxide we exhale so any place we live, sleep, rest, work, and stay will be a good housing situation for them.
But beds make for a particularly enticing home. Mattresses, box springs, and even the bed frame can make cozy places for the bed bugs to hide and breed in while the vulnerable position we’re in when we’re sleeping makes it the perfect feeding grounds for bed bugs.
Lucky for us, bed bugs lurking in the bed are fairly easy to get rid of – find out how to get rid of bed bugs in a mattress!
Can bed bugs get in your skin?
There aren’t many good things you can say about bed bugs. But if you’re determined to look on the bright side, you may want to focus on the fact that they don’t actually live on the body.
Bed bugs are ectoparasites, which is scientist for ‘they live outside the body’. They may need to feed on human blood and bite humans to live, but bed bugs don’t live on human bodies.
In case you’ve forgotten this disturbing bed bug fact, their mouths are shaped like hypodermic needles.
This allows them to break human skin and reach the blood vessels underneath easily, but it does not let them chew or make a hole in human skin any bigger than the width of the needle mouthparts.
Bed bugs can’t get into your skin, and they wouldn’t want to if they could.
That’s not to say that they can’t get under your skin in the metaphorical sense.
Because they bite through the skin, bed bugs cause itchy welts wherever they feed. This causes a lot of distress for the people being bitten, and it can make them feel as though the skin is crawling.
Plus, the mere thought of bed bugs is enough to make most of us feel itchy.
Can bed bugs live in wood?
A bed bug’s mouth is not designed for chewing. They can’t make holes in word or any other object the way that, say, ants and wasps can. When a bed bug needs a place to hide, it has to find one that already exists, since they can’t make their own.
But wooden furniture, for example, provides an ideal place for a bed bug hide.
In fact, anywhere where two pieces of wood meet, or where fabric is attached to wood, presents an opportunity to a bed bug. Their flattened bodies squeeze easily into such places, allowing them to hide in wooden furniture.
Can bed bugs travel?
Bed bugs love to travel. If they ever master Instagram, we’ll most likely be inundated with endless bed bug travel blogs. Bed bugs go wherever humans go, and they travel easily from place to place.
One of the factors in the resurgence of bed bug populations worldwide over the last couple of decades may be the increasing availability of human travel.
It’s easier and cheaper now, in relative terms, to fly from one country to another than it has been at any point in human history.
While this is great for us, it’s also great for bed bugs.
Bed bugs can easily stowaway inside luggage, hunkering down in your packed clothes or in the seams of a suitcase, to reemerge once you reach your destination.
And don’t think that your luxury hotel is immune to bed bugs. Even the best hotels in the world have to face the fact that guests can bring bed bugs into them, and those bed bugs can then go home with the next people to stay in that room.
People who have dealt with bed bugs professionally are notorious for tearing hotel rooms apart wherever they go, making sure that no bed bugs are hiding in the room. And it’s not a bad idea.
No one wants to spend their vacation time on their hands and knees with a flashlight peering at a hotel bed frame, but it’s better than bringing bed bugs home. That’s one souvenir you don’t want to keep.