What Bed Bugs Look Like
In order to conduct an effective bed bug inspection you must know a little bit about bed bugs. A bed bug, whose scientific name is cimex lectularius, is a small, oval shaped, wingless bug with six legs. The average adult bed bug is approximately five millimeters long and is about as wide as a credit card is thick; a newly hatched nymph however is much smaller and can be the size of a pinhead. The shape of an adult bed bug has been described as similar to that of an apple seed except that a bed bug is relatively flat. Bed bugs range in colors from nearly white at the nymph stage to brown as adults and rusty-brown if they are adults that have recently fed on blood.
A Simple, Visual Inspection of Sleeping Areas
The least complex, and first method you should use to inspect for bed bugs is a simple visual inspection. This can be done with no tools at all, but using a good flashlight and a magnifying glass can be very helpful. Note that bed bugs are a nocturnal pest, extremely tiny and thin and will hideout in the smallest of cracks and crevices during daylight hours. Therefore, adult bed bugs may be difficult to see during the day. During your inspection, you are really looking for evidence of bed bugs or bed bug eggs in cracks and crevices. Although bed bugs can be found in many areas, the first place that should be inspected is any soft furniture used as a sleeping area that has places for a bed bug to hide; pieces of furniture that fall into this category include both beds and sofas.
Adult bed bugs should be observable with the naked eye but will typically not be found during the day. If adult bed bugs are hiding, only nymphs and eggs may be present and a magnifying glass will be very beneficial in seeing them. In some cases you will not see actual bed bugs but you will see evidence that they were there. Small dark spots on the mattress may be bed bug feces, eggs, shed skin, or blood blots. Unfortunately it is sometimes hard for untrained people to identify bed bug waste.
When inspecting a bed, the first step should be to carefully lookover the fitted sheet and mattress pad that is the sleeping surface. Look for blood stains, often described as looking like pepper, and also inspect for bug parts or squished bugs. Next, it is important to inspect the seams, edging, and corners of the mattress. Gently pull at the sides of the mattress to make it easier to look in the corners. If you have a flashlight, shine the flashlight in the area for better visibility. If you are inspecting a chair, sofa, or other upholstered piece of furniture, first take of any removable cushions, and like the inspection of the bed, look at any crevices, corners or seams where a bed bug would be able to hide.
A Thorough Bed Bug Inspection
If you want to conduct a more in-depth inspection, after you have looked at the tops of upholstered items, move on to other, more discreet areas that may contain bed bugs. After completely inspecting and stripping a mattress turn it over and inspect the underside as well as the top of the box spring. Next, remove the box spring and with a flashlight thoroughly inspect the bottom side of it. The underside of box springs is a favorite hiding spot for bed bugs.
In a room that has a bed, sofa, or chair, the next place to inspect is the furniture around those items. Make sure to take a close look at the front and backside of the head-boards. Picture frames hung near furniture, night stands, joints of any drawers and even electrical outlets can be infestation areas for bed bugs. Bed bugs may also be present in places where we often hang clothing like a coat closet or on the back of a door.
Another option beyond the visual inspection is the use of detection device. There are devices on the market now that will let you know if you have a bed bug problem by encouraging bed bugs to enter a device that traps them until you are able to see them. These devices are usually small and discrete so they can be placed either between the mattress and the box spring of a bed, or near any area you may suspect there are bed bugs.
If Bed Bugs Are Discovered
If you do uncover bugs near a sleeping area in the home we recommend saving it in a sealed container and having a pest professional or local cooperative extension identify it. In the case of an infestation you will want to carefully place all bed linens immediately into a sealed plastic bag and wash and dry them on the highest temperature setting. This will kill all stages of the bugs. There is no need to throw out your mattress! If bed bugs have infested the room there is a good chance that they will simply reinfest any new mattress brought into the room.
To learn more about bed bug, read here.
It was quite cold in Denver during the 4th annual Global Bed Bug Summit, in fact below freezing for much of the two day program. But research is discovering that freezing temperatures are not always enough to kill bed bugs, and certainly not immediately.
Chilling News from the Lab
Bed bugs, like most insects, have learned to adapt to a variety of environmental conditions. Just as they have learned to adapt to many modern pesticides and have developed resistance to them, bed bugs have also evidently evolved mechanisms to resist extreme cold. At least for a time.
As recently reported in a number of news sources, an article in the December 2013 edition of the Journal of Economic Entomology, published by the Entomological Society of America, titled “Cold Tolerance of Bed Bugs and Practical Recommendations for Control,” laid out the evidence.
Researchers attempted to determine what temperatures would be 100% lethal to all bed bug stages, from nymph to adult. They found it would require 80 continuous hours at -16 Celsius (3.2 F). Amping up the cold to -20 Celsius (4 F) would kill in about 48 hrs.
Apparently bed bugs have learned to adapt to freezing, at least for a short time, by lowering the freezing point of their bodily fluids, and thus can survive with a greatly reduced metabolism. Here we have yet another example of the extreme adaptability of this persistent pest.
This research should immediately call into question cryogenic treatments for bed bugs used in the past, which have now largely been abandoned by the pest control industry. While cryogenic treatment is certainly “green’ and has no harmful side effects for humans or animals, it is very difficult for it to be effective. A constant and sustained temperature, as the research shows, has to be maintained to actually be effective. And the bed bug must be fully exposed to that killing temperature for a sustained period..
The Laboratory vs. the Field
The lab is not the field. The research laboratory is a controlled environment by definition. The field – the real world – is not. Variables interject and conditions can change, often suddenly. Consider this scenario: A sofa discarded late in the day, say in Denver during freezing weather, may contain bed bugs. As the temperature dips, the bed bug is burrowed into the cushions, the frame, or other somewhat insulated areas. Overnight the temperature is well below the lab threshold, but our bed bug is snug and warm. No worries. He’s not fully exposed to the lab determined optimal killing temperature. He’s snug as a bug in a rug, as the old saying goes.
Come the new day, temps rise to, say -8 Celsius (27 F), and our bed bug is out of the woods for now. A passer-by stops for a minute out of curiosity to inspect the discarded sofa and as his pants leg, or shoe perhaps comes in contact with the discarded sofa, the bed bug sensing warmth (and maybe the prospect of a blood meal!) hops on board for a ride home with our unsuspecting passer-by. The bed bug is happy. There is the prospect for a meal, and if a it’s a female ready to lay eggs, the prospect of a new colony, and lots of potential misery for our unsuspecting pedestrian. A new infestation in the urban environment is about to take hold. That’s real world. That’s the way it works.
You Can Do It Yourself! Just Put ‘Em in Your Freezer!
On the heels of this interesting research, some of the popular articles reviewed (trying to be helpful, we guess) have even suggested that people can place infected items, clothing, etc., in the freezer for two to four days to rid those articles of bed bugs. That’s good in theory, based on the research. But that also raises some practical questions: Can most home freezers actually maintain the requisite temperatures for a sufficient time, especially while otherwise in use for food storage. Open the freezer to dig around for that pint of Haagen Dazs Gelato you have stashed away, or the frozen spinach for dinner, and you’ve immediately blown your base temperature. That will probably cost you another hour or so at 3.2 F to compensate.
Besides that, do people really want to stuff pillows, mattresses, chairs, drapes, and a hamper of infected clotting in their freezer for a couple of days? Probably not, would be our guess. Great in theory. Not so great in practice.
Perhaps a better and simpler idea would be to wash any infected personal items in hot soapy water and dry on high heat. Much quicker, just as effective, certainly ‘green,’ and it doesn’t’ monopolize your freezer. Your freezer is now free for its intended use — stocking with Haagen Dazs, frozen cheese cake, and all those pizza specials from the neighborhood grocery. That’s what home freezers are for. Not for do-it-yourself bed bug remediation.
The Simple Solution:
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The 2013 Global Bed Bug Summit was held in freezing Denver Colorado on December 5th and 6th this year, where the temperatures fell to -7 degrees at night. But the topic of bed bugs was hot and front and center during the two day event, sponsored by the NPMA (National Pest Management Association) and Bed Bug Central.