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Bed bugs are universal pests of humans and domestic animals, as well as of bats, birds, and various other mammals. The sole food of a bed bug is the blood of warm-blooded animals. Common names used for the bed bug include mahogany flat, chinch, chinchas, and red coat.
Prior to World War II, bed bug infestations were common. Since the development of synthetic organic insecticides such as DDT and chlordane almost 70 years ago, bed bug infestations in buildings have declined significantly - almost disappeared. In fact, in the United States, bed bug infestations have been exceedingly rare - almost non-existent - until very recently. The most frequent bed bug encountered in the United States is Cimex Lectularius, the common bed bug. However, one other bed bug species occasionally found in the Southern United States, is Cimex Hemiperus, the tropical bed bug. Both of these species are oval, flat and reddish brown. They range from one-fourth inch to five-eighths inch in length. Nymphs and adults have piercing-sucking mouth parts and are incapable of flight. However, small stubby wing remnants can be observed on the adults.
In laboratory tests, Bed Bugs have been found to carry the causative agents for several diseases, such as anthrax, plague, tularemia, yellow fever, relapsing fever, and typhus. However, there is little evidence that they carry these disease organisms under normal conditions, so they are not considered an important factor in disease transmission. Bed Bugs have an odor that in pronounced and severe infestations has been described as an “obnoxious sweetness.” Harborage sites are marked by brown or black spots of dried blood on surfaces where bugs rest.
Bed bugs are found in all types of dwellings and transportation vehicles including single family homes, apartments, public housing, hotels and motels, movie theaters, buses and trains. Within these environments, harborage include:
- Tufts, seams, button on mattresses
- Inside and under box springs
- Bed frames and covers
- Couches and chairs
- Window and door moldings
- Behind wall paper and pictures
- Cracks in hardwood flooring
- Under carpet and tack strips along walls
- Wall voids behind switch plates and outlets
- Luggage, backpacks, hand bags, clothing, laptops, i Pads, cell phones
Bed bugs are very hardy insects. Both adults and nymphs can survive prolonged periods without food or under adverse temperature conditions. Adults can live for a year or longer without feeding and can survive over winter in an unheated building. Nymphs are not as hardy as adults, but they can survive for considerable periods under adverse conditions.
An adult bed bug is about 1/5 inch long and 1/8 inch wide. Its reddish brown to mahogany-colored body is greatly flattened and oval shaped. After feeding, the bug's body enlarges considerably, becoming longer and much less flattened. Although the body is covered with tiny hairs, these hairs are so small that they are almost invisible to the naked eye, so the general body appearance is shiny. Bed bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts that enable them to pierce the skin and suck blood from their hosts.
Bed bug females lay between 200 and 500 eggs during their lifetime in batches of three to four eggs per day. These eggs hatch after 6 to 17 days. Nymphal bed bugs molt five to six times before becoming adults. Under the best conditions, the life cycle is complete in four to five weeks, but since ideal conditions are rarely found it can take four to five months. Adult bed bugs can live 10 months or more without food. Nymphal bed bugs are known to survive for more than two months without feeding.
Bed bugs tend to live in clusters similar to German cockroaches. Adult bed bugs generally travel 15 to 20 feet, or less, from their harborage sites. Common bed bugs feed on human blood just below the surface of the skin with their piercing-sucking mouthparts. Those bitten by a bed bug may develop small, white to red, hard welts at the bite site. These bites itch intensely.
Bed bugs do not feed exclusively at night. They take approximately three to five minutes to engorge on blood. Once feeding is complete, they return to their harborage. Feedings take place every few days and nymphs require approximately six blood meals for complete development. Humans are the preferred host for the common bed bug, but it will feed readily on other animals, such as poultry, mice, rats, canaries, dogs, and cats, when necessary. Normally the bugs feed at night, but they will feed during daylight hours in places such as theaters, offices, and rest rooms that are not ordinarily used at night.
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No one knows why bed bugs are becoming more common, but there are some reasons that might explain it: