Bedbugs are small, wingless insects that feed exclusively on the blood of warm-blooded animals. Humans are the preferred hosts for the two main species.
There are two species of bedbugs that are known to feed on human blood. They are known scientifically as Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus. They have been found in the tombs of ancient Egyptians from 3,500 years ago.
Over millions of years, bedbugs have evolved as nest parasites, inhabiting the nests of birds and the roosts of bats. Some of them have learned to adapt to the human environment.
Newborn bedbugs, called hatchlings or nymphs, are tiny but visible and about the size of a poppy seed. Adults grow to about 0.25 inches long with an oval and flattened shape when they are not feeding. After feeding, they can double in size. Nymphs, eggs, and adults are visible to the naked eye.
They are called bedbugs because of their preferred habitat in human homes: Sofas, bed mattresses, clothing, and other soft furnishings. They also prefer the dark.
Bedbugs are seen as a growing problem within all types of dwellings, including private homes, dormitories, cruise ships, army barracks, and shelters.
When seen close up, their color may range from a white, light tan to a deep brown or burnt orange color. When they have fed, a dark red or black blob may be observed within their body. They seek shelter in dark cracks and crevices when disturbed.
Fast facts on bedbugs
Bedbugs are small wingless insects that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals.
Most bedbugs feed on their hosts while they are asleep.
The peak time for feeding is between midnight and 5 am.
Bites can be seen quickly but may take up to 14 days to become visible.
Bed bugs need to feed regularly to reproduce, lay eggs and survive.
A bedbug may cause a coriander-like smell.
The most obvious sign of bedbugs in the home is that people complain of bites that occurred while they were asleep. If this happens, examine the bedrooms for bedbugs and signs of bedbug activity.
Look carefully in bed linen and the seams and tufts of mattresses and box springs for bugs or eggs. The eggs will look like tiny, pale poppy seeds.
Signs of bedbug activity may occur beneath loose areas of wallpaper near beds, in the corner of desks and dressers, in the laundry, and in drawers.
Keep an eye out for dark brown or rust-colored bedbug droppings that stain material and mattresses. Bedbug excrement is a liquid that looks either light brown or black, and it usually either beads up or is absorbed by the material around it.
A large population of bedbugs may produce a coriander-like odor.
Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and includes:
topical creams, such as cortisone, to relieve itching
an oral antibiotic, if infection occurs because of skin irritation around the bite
corticosteroids, if a person has a severe allergic reaction
antihistamines, to help relieve allergic reactions
Most bites heal within 1 and 2 weeks of occurrence.
Some of these treatments are available for purchase online, including cortisone and antihistamines.
Bed bug bites: What you need to know
Click here for more in-depth information on treating bedbug bites.
Since bedbugs can hide in a wide range of places in the home, they are not easy to remove. It is advisable to bring in a pest control professional.
Removing excess clutter from the house, giving the bedbugs fewer places to hide, makes inspection and removal less difficult.
Some pest control companies request that furniture is pulled away from walls and mattresses and box springs stood on edge before they enter the home. Other companies prefer everything to be left where it is so that they can perform a check before moving the furniture themselves.
Scientists at Ohio State University have determined that combining the chemical signals of bedbugs with a common insect-control agent can make it an effective treatment for killing the bugs.