What Bedbugs Look Like, How They Spread, and How to Know If You Have Them

Bedbugs don’t fly or jump like other insects do. They crawl, and move from their hiding places in tiny crevices to feed on people as they sleep.

“They want to be as unnoticed as possible, which is why they retreat to the deepest, darkest crevices in your home, your apartment, or your hotel,” says Eric Braun, a board-certified entomologist and business manager for the national pest control company Rentokil Steritech. “If they’re observed or spotted, they don’t have any means to escape quickly with the exception of crawling back to the cracks and crevices where they came from.”

Bedbugs feed on blood, and they prefer humans, though they’ll resort to pets and rodents if necessary. (2) They’re incredibly resilient. They can go months (or even a year or more at cool temperatures) without feeding, which makes them difficult to get rid of. Usually, however, they need to feed every 5 to 10 days. The bugs will usually feed for about 3 to 10 minutes and then retreat back to their hiding place.

Bedbugs Are Small, Oval, and Reddish Brown in Color

Bedbugs are reddish brown insects that are small in size, but not too small to see with the naked eye. They’re usually about 3/16-inches long and have six legs. They have an oval, flat shape that makes it easy for them to hide in crevices and cracks. Their color changes after they feed, and they turn more of a mahogany red, says Jerry Lazarus, the owner of Braman Termite & Pest Elimination in New England.

Bedbugs lay tiny white eggs, which are hard to see without magnification, Lazarus says. They tend to lay one or two per day. The eggs are sticky and can easily remain attached to different surfaces. They hatch in about one week, and when they do, nymphs emerge. These nymphs are straw-colored and about the same shape as adults, though smaller. They will shed their skin about five times before they become adults. They prefer room temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees F, and under these conditions, it can take just one month for them to fully mature.

Bedbugs Spread by Hitchhiking on Luggage and Clothing

Bedbugs spread by hitchhiking. “If you travel, bedbugs may hitch a ride in your luggage or get on your clothing if you visit an infested area,” Lazarus says. You might pick them up in other people’s homes, on public transportation, and in movie theaters. Or they can get into your house via secondhand furniture.

Other insects, like cockroaches, are an indication of poor living conditions. But that’s not the case with bedbugs, and having bedbugs doesn’t mean you or your space is not clean. “Bedbugs can lurk in the cleanest of homes, the highest-quality hotels, as well as the transportation you take to get there and back — including planes, trains, and automobiles,” Lazarus says.

Bites Are the Telltale Sign You Have Bedbugs (but Not the Only One)

The bites can show up anywhere the bedbugs can access while you’re sleeping — your back, neck, face, arms, or legs are all possibilities. (That’s a key difference between bedbug bites and flea bites, which tend to show up only around the lower legs and ankles.)

To confirm you have a bedbug problem, you (or an expert you hire) will need to try to locate where the bedbugs are. You might notice skins that the nymphs have shed, which are usually translucent or light in color, Lazarus says. Other signs include brown or red fecal spots on your mattress or sheets. Usually these dark spots indicate where a group of bugs is hiding together.

Bedbugs may also have an odor, which Lazarus describes as sickly sweet, like the smell of rotting raspberries. Braun says it’d have to be a pretty serious infestation for most people to smell it, though. Some canines have been specially trained to detect bedbugs, similar to how dogs can be trained to sniff out drugs or bombs, Braun notes.

It’s difficult to confirm the presence of bedbugs based on bites alone, because they can easily be mistaken for bites from fleas or mosquitoes. (3) But knowing about the tendencies of bedbugs gives you an idea of what to be on the lookout for so you can confidently identify them.

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