“Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite”. Growing up that was a common bedtime rhyme that my mother used to whisper to us as she put us to bed. I imagine it was repeated by parents all over the country as they and their kids went through the same bedtime rituals. Of course, we didn’t have bed bugs and over the years I think we all just assumed those little parasites from that old rhyme were some kind of mythical creatures – like the sandman or the tooth fairy. But we were wrong. Bed bugs were, and are, very real. And after having been all but eradicated in the United States they are making a major come back.
Bed bugs were once a fairly common problem in the US, particularly in the early part of the last century. But following World War II advances in pest control methods all but eliminated the pesky beasts. Generations of Americans grew up never really having to deal with the blood sucking parasites, and bed bugs became the stuff of bedtime legends. But over the last few decades the bed bug has resurfaced in a big way, becoming a very real problem for families throughout the country. Hand in hand with this resurgence is a number of common misconceptions about the lowly bed bug. Myths that we need to put to rest so we can tackle the problem of bed bug infestations head on.
1 Bed Bugs Live in Dirty Spaces
This is perhaps the most common misconception of all and it is entirely false. Bed bug infestations have nothing to do with how clean and tidy your home is. In fact, bed bugs have been found in some of the swankiest homes and hotels in the world. Bed bugs don’t discriminate when it comes to low-income or high-income housing. If they can find a place to hide, feed, and procreate they are happy to take up residence.
To be fair, eliminating clutter from your home can reduce the number of places that bed bugs can hide and it will make it easier for exterminators to treat your home in the case of a major infestation. But the bed bugs themselves simply couldn’t care less about the cleanliness of your home.
2 Bed Bugs are Only Found in Beds
Again, this is a fairly common belief and likely stems from the bed bug’s name. It’s true that most people are bitten by bed bugs while in bed, but that’s primarily because bedtime is generally when people are more likely to be in one warm place for an extended time. The perfect feeding opportunity for a hungry bed bug. But bed bugs can thrive in a number of areas within the home including couches, easy chairs, carpets, bed linens, as well as behind molding and in light sockets.
3 Bed Bugs Only Feed at Night
This misconception is somewhat related to the idea that bed bugs are only found in beds. Bed bugs are generally attracted to the warmth and the carbon dioxide that humans (and their pets) provide when they are sleeping. But that doesn’t mean that bed bugs are necessarily nocturnal. If the food supply is available, and the conditions are right, they are more than happy to feed during the day.
4 If You Don’t Have Bites, You Don’t Have Bed Bugs
Perhaps less a misconception and more something we like to tell ourselves to avoid the issue of a possible bed beg infestation. Unfortunately, the absence of bites doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have bed bugs. Bed bugs don’t bite everyone and some people don’t react to their bites at all. Moreover it can take up to 14 days for an affected individual to show visible signs of a reaction to bed bug bites. Don’t ignore other obvious signs of a bed bug infestation (shed skins, brown spotting on fabrics and furniture, sickly sweet odors) simply because you or your family are not exhibiting distinct signs of insect bites.
5 Bed Bugs Bite in Clusters of Three
There is a general belief that bed bugs only bite in clusters of three. The idea is that a single bed bug will probe a person’s skin three times before starting to feed. This myth likely grew out of of a misreading of the visual evidence. Bed bug bites can sometimes appear in clusters but that is mainly due to multiple bugs feeding at the same time and not one bed bug hunting for a perfect spot to bite the host. Any unexplained insect bites should be investigated and you shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of bed bugs simply because the bites do not appear in clusters of three.
6 Bed Bugs Can’t be Seen with the Naked Eye
Make no mistake, bed bugs are tiny little parasites. However, a fully grown bed bug can measure up to 5 millimeters in length. Small, yes, but not impossible to see with the naked eye. Their reddish brown color also helps to make them easier to spot than you might think. Bed bugs also tend to huddle in groups and to lay their eggs in clusters which can make them easier to spot when doing a visual inspection of the home.
7 Pets are Safe From Bed Bugs
This is not strictly true. Bed bugs prefer to feed on humans because we are less hairy than most other warm blooded animals. That being said, bed bugs aren’t overly picky. In a pinch they’ll happily turn to the family dog or cat for nourishment. When checking your pets for bed bug bites concentrate on the most exposed areas, those parts of the body with a liter covering of hair or fur.
8 Bed Bugs Can Fly
While many biting insects can fly or jump this is not true of bed bugs. Yes, they can crawl very quickly and can scurry into their hiding spaces in the blink of an eye. But they can neither jump nor fly. As a general rule bed bugs will crawl to a suitable place within their environment (a bed or couch for example) and will remain there as long as there is a steady supply of warmth and food. This is not to suggest that bed bugs can’t travel significant distances. Unfortunately, when bed bugs travel they are usually attached to a host.
9 Commercial Foggers can Handle Bed Bug Infestations
Unfortunately, over-the-counter insecticides and bug-bombs are ineffective when it comes to bed bug infestations. The majority of commercial foggers and insecticides are designed to kill bugs on contact, and by and large they do just that. The problem is bed bugs are more often than not hiding when they are not actively feeding, so a fogger or bug-bomb won’t reach the intended target. Some bed bugs may get killed, but when the smoke clears the remaining bed bugs will be left to breed and feed at will.
10 Your Bed Bug Problem Can Wait
Finally, one of the most important bed bug misconceptions that needs to be put to rest. You should not wait to address a possible bed bug infestation. While it’s true that bed bugs don’t appear to carry or transmit diseases (though recent studies may ultimately dispel that myth as well) you can’t simply ignore the problem and hope it goes away – because it won’t. The bed bug life cycle is extremely rapid and it takes only about three weeks for an egg to hatch and mature to an adult bed bug. Left unchecked a manageable bed bug problem can easily grow into full fledged infestation in no time.
With bed bugs making an unwelcome return to our homes and businesses it is important to dispel some of the more common myths and misconceptions about these insect parasites. The first step to eliminating bed bugs is to understand the enemy and to take active steps to eradicate their colonies and keep our homes and businesses pest free. Fortunately, we have the tools to beat the bed bug once again and perhaps even return it to its once mythical status.
If you are seeing any of the tell-tale signs of a bed bug infestation, or simply want to ensure that you and your family are safe from these blood sucking parasites, now is the time to schedule a full inspection of your home. A comprehensive bed bug inspection will determine if you have unwanted insect visitors and will allow you to take the necessary steps to remove these biting insects from your home once and for all.