Updated: May 25
According to our friends at the CDC, adult bed bugs are fairly easy to identify. They’re small, flat insects that are generally reddish-brown in color and, contrary to popular belief, are wingless and thus unable to fly. Size-wise they can range from about 1mm to 7mm and, being parasitic, depend on the blood of people and animals for sustenance.
Bed bugs also leave behind unmistakable signs of their presence (including bite marks on their unlucky human victims), but let’s talk about these items later.
While adult bed bugs are relatively easy to see, the same cannot be said for their offspring! Baby bed bugs are extremely small, and are more easily discernible only as they approach adulthood and darken in color. Bed bug eggs, for their part, are extremely difficult to see. To wit . . .
They are only about 1mm in length (which is about the size of an uncooked grain of white rice).
Looking like rice grains, they are white in color, which makes them awfully hard to spot, especially on white sheets and pillowcases.
Female bed bugs (which can lay four or five eggs a day) prefer to deposit them in out-of-the way places, like dark cracks (in floors and walls), under furniture (beds are a clear favorite), within piles of discarded newspapers, and even in dirty laundry.
Tracking the Bed Bug Life Cycle
The life cycle of the bed bug can be divided into seven distinct stages. The CDC graphic below illustrates these stages perfectly.
Like their eggs, baby bed bugs (which, once hatched, are known as ‘nymphs’) are almost always white (see image below), until, that is, they have their first meal of blood! In fact, a first nymphal instar will search for a host as soon as it can move, and because its exoskeleton is almost translucent, the blood of the hapless host can be seen clearly within the baby bug’s body.
It usually takes a bed bug six weeks to mature, although it might be longer if the nymph is unable to feed. Nymphs have been known to go two to three weeks without feeding, but this is rare, since mature bed bugs prefer to breed in locations that provide ready access to hosts.
As the nymphs mature – shedding their exoskeletons at each stage – they will begin to turn brown and their translucence will begin to gradually diminish.
As you can see from the CDC graphic above, these nymphs will pass through five stages before they reach maturity, although it’s worth pointing out that their bodies are pretty much fully formed after hatching. They simply grow larger in size. Among the many problems they pose is the fact that a bed bug will begin to breed as soon as it reaches maturity. A female bed bug, for instance, can lay as many as 200 to 250 eggs in a lifetime. Some have even been able to lay up to 500, although that was in a controlled (and safe) laboratory environment in which the bed bug ‘subjects’ had regular, unimpeded access to human blood. The result? You can suffer a full-fledged infestation very, very quickly!
Of course, if you can neither see nor uncover bed bug eggs, the signs of their presence are in plain sight. Baby bed bugs will discard their exoskeletons everywhere and anywhere. And the same goes for the fecal matter they generate. But the real giveaway may well be the rusty, reddish spots you find on your bed sheets or pillowcases, as well as at the entrances of bug hiding places.
Baby Bed Bugs Behaving Badly
Baby bed bugs depend on being able to start their blood diet almost immediately upon birth. Without it, they cannot achieve any one of the many stages through which they pass on the way to adulthood. It also turns out that baby bed bugs don’t have to wait until they are fully mature to bite into a host, human or otherwise.
In fact, research has shown that baby bed bugs require a good deal more food than their adult counterparts; without a regular, plentiful food source they simply cannot develop as they are meant to. It is a scientifically established fact that baby bug nymphs can increase in size (at least temporarily) by as much as 100% after a feeding. And their bites can be as annoying as those of adult bed bugs (see photo below).
If you are unlucky enough to be bitten by baby bed bugs, the bites – which are red and swollen with dark-red centers − usually appear on the hands, neck, or feet, and are very itchy. Anti-itch cream or calamine lotion can help, and oral antihistamines will also reduce the itching and burning. However, if these bites produce an allergic reaction then you should call your doctor immediately. The good news is that the majority of bed bug bites improve on their own, usually within one to two weeks.
As for health threats posed by bed bugs, the CDC is clear on the matter: Bed bugs do not spread disease. As they point out:
“A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from
an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious
allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous. However, an
allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.”
A Case of Baby Bed Bug Mistaken Identity!
It’s not unusual for people to mistake other insects for bed bugs and panic unnecessarily (though finding any sort of insect in your home or office can be an unpleasant experience, no matter how benign the bug might be.) For the record, there are about nine or so insects that are commonly confused with bed bugs. They include:
A quick aside here: The fact that so many different kinds of insects can be mistaken for bed bugs is merely one of a number of reasons you should call a PMP (pest management professional) if you’re trying to deal with any sort of insect infestation. Not only can a PMP quickly identify the pest that troubles you, but they can also spot problems you weren’t even aware of.
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