Bed bugs have been making a big comeback over the past thirty years. Common throughout the world until the 1940s, they were nearly eradicated in developed countries with the introduction of effective pesticides. But with worldwide travel becoming increasingly common, a dramatic resurgence of bugs has occurred in even the most developed countries.
Over the years, these bugs have adapted to survive in almost every climate on earth. The most common species, however, is Cimex lectularius and is usually found in the world’s more moderate temperatures where it has become well adapted to human environments.
Five Stages of Development
Throughout its life, this bug will undergo five stages of development. At the conclusion of each stage, it will shed its exoskeleton and replace it with a new one. A recently hatched nymph, or baby, is a translucent, light brown color while adult coloration varies from brown to reddish-brown.
Adults are oval-shaped and exhibit a banded appearance across their abdomen. They can grow to approximately one quarter inch in length, often resembling an apple seed, and are frequently mistaken for carpet beetles and large lice.
How They Feed
They feed on warm-blooded animals, such as pets and humans, although they typically only feed on humans when other prey is unavailable. Even though they can live for up to five months without feeding (or one year in colder climates where their metabolism slows down), they normally try to eat once every five to ten days.
These nocturnal feeders begin by injecting their victims with a mixture of saliva that is capable of both anesthetizing the site and thinning the blood at the same time. The bug then inserts another small tube into the victim which it uses to draw blood. It will typically feed for three to five minutes before retreating to its hiding place where it will remain between feedings.
Because they feed at night and use a mild local anesthetic to avoid disturbing their victim, the signs of an infestation frequently do not occur until it is too late and the victim has begun to exhibit visible symptoms.
While they are not known to transmit diseases, their bites can result in severe skin rashes, allergic reactions, and even cause anemia in children with prolonged exposure to an infestation.
Signs of Infestation
In addition to the visible symptoms on their victims, common indications of an infestation include blood smears and small fecal spots that the bugs have left behind on bedding.
Less noticeable signs include the remains of the small exoskeletons shed by the bugs and translucent, sticky eggs that are often laid between the seams of sheets and blankets. Another commonly reported indication of an infestation is a distinct smell that has often been compared to almonds, cilantro, or raspberries.
The Advantages of Using Live Traps
Due to the fact that these bugs are often mistaken for other insects, one of the first steps in treating an infestation is accurately identifying it. Capturing a bug can not only assist a doctor in diagnosing a reaction to the bites, but it may also prove useful when stating your case to a landlord, dormitory official, hotel representative, etc.
The use of bug traps is a quick and cost-effective technique that takes only minutes to set up and will hold the insect in place rather than allowing it to retreat back to its hiding place to die.
What Attracts These Pests
These bugs are attracted primarily to warmth and carbon dioxide, such as what our lungs emit when we exhale. This makes our beds, where we spend long hours breathing under warm blankets, the perfect hunting grounds for this bloodsucking parasite.
Once an ideal location is discovered, the bug emits pheromones to communicate to others that it has found a suitable feeding, nesting, and reproduction site. In other words, where there is one, there are usually many, many more.
With this in mind, there are two types of traps. The first is referred to as a passive trap. Because they prefer to live near their hosts but not on them, passive traps attempt to catch them as they commute from their hiding places to the host where they will feed.
Since they can neither fly nor must jump great distances, bugs crawl to their intended victim, sometimes by climbing up a bed leg or bed post. Thus, catching them can be as simple as covering your bed’s legs in petroleum jelly, double-sided tape, or any such substance to which they will stick as they travel toward their victim.
Store-bought passive traps can be purchased as well for about $25 per set of four. These traps resemble two tiny bowls, one inside the other, into which an individual places the four legs of the bed. The idea is that bugs traveling to the bed will become trapped in the sticky outer bowl, while bugs that have already fed and are attempting to leave the bed will become trapped in the inner bowl.
While passive traps attempt to catch the bugs during their natural commute to and from their host, active traps attempt to lure their prey by emitting their own tiny amounts of carbon dioxide and heat. The bugs, attracted to the trap, crawl up a shallow, inclined surface.
Once inside the trap, the bugs fall into a deep pit with smooth sides that they are incapable of climbing to get out.
Although considerably more expensive than passive traps, these traps (ranging anywhere from $40 to $400) are considered to be more effective because they lure the insects as opposed to simply waiting for one to cross its path.
The Disadvantages of Using Live Traps
One of the primary disadvantages of using traps is that they may only prove truly effective in the case of relatively mild infestations. Even then, it may still be a matter of days before a substantial number of these bloodsucking bugs have been collected and there is no guarantee that they have been completely eliminated from the home.
Additionally, with passive traps it is important to consider that these insects might not necessarily travel from the floor to the host. In fact, they may choose to live much closer to the victim, residing instead in the nooks and crannies of the bedframe, mattress, box spring, or headboard.
In such a situation, it may be days before a bug travels over a passive trap and even if several are caught, there is still no guarantee that others do not inhabit the bed itself.
Disposing of Trapped Bugs
What also makes catching live bugs so problematic, regardless of what method is used, is killing them after they have been trapped. Freezing them is one popular method, but its effectiveness varies.
According to the University of Indiana’s Office of Environmental, Health, and Safety Management, in order for the freezing method to be effective, the bug must be exposed very quickly to extremely cold temperatures for a period of up to a month.
If the temperature is not cold enough, or if the insect is not exposed to it quickly and for a long enough duration, it will simply adapt, surviving for up to a year on its internal food reserves.
Don’t Rely on Traps Alone
Traps prove only truly effective in cases of mild infestations, when time is not a concern, or if the goal is to simply catch one or two for identification purposes.
It is often recommended, therefore, that traps be used in combination with other techniques. This will help to ensure complete elimination of both the parasite and its offspring.
Health and Safety Precautions When Using Live Traps
As with every elimination method, when using traps it is important to keep in mind some key health and safety precautions.
Whether you are employing homemade traps or store-bought traps, be sure to keep a close eye on curious pets and children. Ingestion of the sticky substance used to trap the bugs may be harmful, and when placed on the ground it is easily within reach.
Because the bugs will be alive when they are caught, be careful to dispose of them properly, making sure not to let pets or children play with any live specimens.
Alternatives to Live Traps
Another simple and cheap method of catching live bugs is simply vacuuming them up. While this is an inexpensive and easy solution, it is not necessarily an effective means of eradicating them.
Because bugs typically only venture from their hiding places at night while the victim is sleeping, it is often difficult to catch one, let alone several, with a vacuum cleaner. Even if you are able to catch them, you now have to deal with a vacuum cleaner full of these bugs.
Furthermore, should the bugs escape the vacuum’s containment system, or if it is not properly disposed of, the infestation could easily occur again, possibly even spreading to different locations of the home.
Although setting traps and vacuuming up the bugs are relatively cost-effective, do-it-yourself methods of dealing with an infestation, complete eradication often requires the use of other methods as well.
One of the most common techniques employs the use of pesticides and insecticides. Unfortunately, however, it has been discovered that these bugs have actually begun developing a resistance to many of the ingredients used in pesticides and insecticides, sometimes rendering them ineffective.
Regardless, children should always be kept at a safe distance and a professional exterminator should be consulted prior to application.
Steam treatment is another popular method used to kill these offending bugs. Effective against even the eggs, steam can be used on almost any surface, including mattresses and other pieces of furniture. A simple steam cleaning machine usually produces enough warm steam to be effective.
However, this method only works if the steam actually comes into contact with the bug or its eggs. Therefore, it is recommended that when using this method, the steamer is moved slowly over the surface to which it is being applied to ensure contact with even the hard to reach bugs.
Preventing Future Infestations
Once they have been eliminated, it is important to take the steps necessary to prevent a future infestation. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, creating an environment that is not conducive to habitation is a good first step. Begin by eliminating clutter and reducing the number of places where they might hide.
Since these bugs prefer to nest near their food source, dismantle beds, inspecting any cracks, slots, and screw holes for remaining offenders. Seal all holes and cracks around outlets, pipes, and moldings and thoroughly clean the house using a strong vacuum and stiff brush remove any stragglers.
Additional Steps for Prevention
It isn’t necessary to dispose of your mattress or bedding, but ensure that they are well cleaned. Seal any holes in your mattress or box spring with duct tape to eliminate potential hiding places.
If you do choose to dispose of your mattress, wrap it in heavy plastic and seal it shut to ensure that any remaining bugs do not spread to passersby or anyone who may handle the mattress.
If you suspect that the bugs may have been introduced into your home by a pet, be sure to wash the animal thoroughly in an outdoor space, inspecting both yourself and your furry friend before reentering your home.
Likewise, if you believe that the bugs may have “hitchhiked” into your home on clothing or luggage, inspect and wash these items as well.
Check with the Neighbors
Also remember to notify your immediate neighbors of the infestation, especially if you live in a condo or apartment. Not only will this allow them to keep a lookout in their own home, but if that is where they originated in the first place it will help treat the root of the problem and prevent future infestation.
This will also help to ensure that any bugs that may have temporarily retreated to your neighbor or dealt with before they are able to return to your own home.
Finally, even if you believe that your infestation problem has been treated, consider placing some passive traps around the bed and inspect them regularly to see if any stubborn stragglers have remained and if further treatment is necessary.