What are bed bugs? Despite the endless media coverage over the last ten or so years, people are still asking this question. If you are one of these people read on, and discover the answer to what are bed bugs?
Cimex lectularius or bed bugs are tiny parasitic insects belonging to the Cimicid family. Many years ago they were found mostly in bat caves and birds nests where they fed on the blood of their inhabitants. Today however, they prefer the comfort and warmth of our homes, hospitals, prisons, care homes, cinemas etc. and predominately feed on human blood – although domestic pets may well fall victim too! The reasoning behind the name bed bug is most likely due to the fact that they are most commonly found close to places where their victims sleep.
Don’t be fooled either, if a bed bug is hungry and there is an opportunity for a meal it will come out from its hiding place and feed during the day!
What Are Bed Bugs Physical Features?
An adult bed bug tends to be reddish brown in color with a flat, oval shaped body which will “puff up” when engorged with blood. They measure in the region of 4 to 5 mm in length and around 1.5 to 3 mm in width. They have six legs and are wingless. Their small size and flat body allow them to hide out in the smallest of holes and cracks.
An immature bed bug or nymph is pretty much just a much smaller version of its parents. The main difference being the color and size. Nymphs are only around 1 mm long and are translucent this darkens as they mature. Being exoskeletal creatures the young cast their skins six times in total before they reach adulthood.
Bed bug eggs are tiny white ovals measuring roughly 1 mm in length which are often likened to grains of rice. A female bed bug will often lay up to 5 eggs in a day which she “glues” to the surface with a sticky substance which coats the egg. This means that in the course of her life time (which can be up to 9 months) a single female can lay in the region of 500 eggs!
What are bed bugs feeding habits?
Bed bugs are blood sucking parasites who, these days live mostly on human blood. During daylight hours they hid out for example in crack and crevices in walls and floors and in the folds and seams of mattresses. They can be found in all sorts of obscure places. Having said that they usually stay within fairly close proximity to their feeding ground. These vampire pests have the ability to detect body heat and the carbon dioxide which we breath out, this allows them to locate a victim. Most often the bugs will feed at night, their favorite times would seem to be in the hour or so just before dawn.
It has been known for bed bugs to survive in the right conditions for up to 12 months without food.
What effect do bed bugs have on the health of humans?
There is no evidence to suggest that bed bugs transmit any kind of harmful disease to humans when they bite. The bites do however for many produce an ugly, inflamed rash and the itching can cause untold misery. There is no real cure but oral antihistamines or topical creams can ease the itch.
Some people may suffer a much more acute allergic reaction which will require urgent medical attention. On the other hand, there will be many victims who suffer no reaction at all.
It has to be said however, that for many the effects of a bed bug infestation are not necessarily physical. Many suffer psychological problems such as anxiety and insomnia.