How Do Bed Bugs Spread During Winter?

As I look through the window next to my desk I’m noticing the first signs of autumn. Leaves are falling and the trees will soon be bare. Winter is on its way and many of us will be soon be cranking up the heat and bundling up against the winter chill.

But how does the onset of winter and the drop in temperatures impact the bed bug population? Well, unlike most insects bed bugs don’t hibernate during the winter months. It’s true that extreme temps can incapacitate or even kill bed bugs it has to get really cold for that to happen. We’re talking 3 degrees here. So we can’t count on the chill of winter to bring us any respite from bed bugs this season.

Bed Bug Traveling Tricks

As we know, bed bugs travel by hitchhiking on their potential hosts. They’ll hitch a lift on bags and baggage; coats and clothing. It’s standard operating procedure for these troublesome pests. As we move into winter bed bugs will rely on their more common spreading habits to move from one environment to another. But they’ll also employ other tactics that are particularly effective during the colder months.

So, if we’re going to avoid bed bugs this season we need to look at the most common ways bed bugs will try to get into our homes this winter.

Travel and Travelers

The bed bug’s primary method of travel throughout the year is by hitching rides with unsuspecting human hosts. They’ll sneak into an open suitcase or backpack and simply wait to be taken to their new home. When their new host gets home and unpacks the bed bug will crawl out of their hiding place and search for a safe haven where they can set up camp, scout locations and food supplies, and begin to reproduce.

This same tactic is used during the winter months. In fact, the cold makes this method all the more effective. First of all, the holiday season brings a natural uptick in travel. We visit friends and relatives to celebrate the season, giving bed bugs even more opportunities to hitch rides on our luggage and packages. Second, the cold weather means we are all layered up to protect us from the chill. Those coats and scarves provide an abundance of hiding places and hitchhiking opportunities for bed bugs looking to find new accommodations.

Bags and Baggage

Bed bugs are well known for hiding in luggage. But they don’t choose bags and backpacks to hide in because they are necessarily looking for a ride. In most cases they simple want to keep warm and out of the sight of prying eyes. This is why bed bugs are so often found in bags, backpacks and even purses. The fact that these items get moved on to new environments is merely an accident that benefits the bed bug.

Again, this behavior is common to bed bugs throughout the year. But the winter months, with holiday travel and interstate shipping, increases the potential for the spreading of bed bugs. Holiday travel is the main player here. Whether your staying with family or in a five-star hotel you run the risk of these pests finding their way into your luggage. If you aren’t careful you can easily transport those stray bed bugs back to your own home, laying the groundwork for a fresh infestation.

Shipping Containers and Mailers

Bed bugs traveling in shipping containers is, perhaps, less common than other methods of travel. But there are more than a few instances of bed bugs infesting warehouses. Especially busy warehouses with a lot of employees. Anything shipped out of those warehouses runs the risk of playing host to a few bed bugs.

It’s worth noting that a bed bug can go without food for as long as 300 days or more. So a couple of weeks hiding in a box or mailer is no big deal for a traveling bed bug. Holiday gift giving means an uptick in shipping between retailers and consumers as well as between friends and relatives. Every package that passes through the system has the potential to contain a few stray bed bugs.

Winter Clothes

Finally, winter clothing offers a variety of unique challenges when it comes to avoiding bed bugs this season. First, we have to consider storage. Chances are most of your winter clothes have been stored away through much of the year. Maybe in the back of a closet or out in the garage. These are good hiding places for bed bugs, and you have any in your home this is where they’ll be. When you pull those winter clothes out you may be helping to spread bed bugs throughout your home.

The second point is less obvious. The heavy coats, scarves, and layers we use to keep warm are tempting hiding places. Bed bugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale as well as the sweat and oils on our skin. They will follow these scents to the clothes we wear looking for access to a suitable host. Once they find our clothing they’ve found us. All they have to do is wait for us to slip into our coats and bring them home.

Be Careful this Season

Bed bugs are clever, persistent and unaffected by the weather. This winter protect yourself and your home by taking steps to avoid unwanted bed bug encounters. Now that you know how they adapt to the colder weather you can take preventative measures. Remember, it only takes a few stray bed bugs to lay the groundwork for a large infestation. The choices you make this winter can help you prevent a future bed bug invasion.

Published by Scott Palatnik

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