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How to Check for Bed Bugs

Are you worried that you have bed bugs in your home? It’s not a good feeling. And if you have bed bugs, it’s best to find out early. Wait too long and the infestation will establish itself, or worse, spread. The truth is, treating a minor infestation, while still a nuisance, is far easier and less costly than treating the same infestation after it becomes widespread.

The problem is that bed bugs are notoriously hard to find, and even harder to get rid of. They’re tricky bugs! Luckily, it is possible for a vigilant apartment renter or homeowner to spot the early signs of a bed bug infestation. From strange odors, to seeing live bed bugs, there are several signs that can tip you off that a problem is brewing.

Bed Bug Odor

Of all the signs of bed bugs, odor typically indicates a large infestation. That’s because a small number of bugs can’t create a strong enough odor for humans to notice. Plus, most people aren’t familiar with the scent of bed bugs and are likely to mistake the smell for something else. When the odor is strong enough for humans to detect, it is generally described as an unusual musty odor. It’s been compared to the scent of raspberries, coriander, cilantro, or almonds. In severe bed bug infestations, it can even smell like rust, wet towels, and moldy laundry. So, if you have a room with a strange odor and no apparent source (like a pile of dirty laundry), you may have bed bugs.

The odor comes from “alarm” pheromones the bed bugs emit when they are bothered or threatened. Normally, the smell is faint and almost undetectable to the human nose. But when you have a large community of bed bugs, the smell of their pheromones is joined by the odor of dead bed bugs, shed shell casings, and bed bug excrement. The result is an unpleasant, rusty smell that gets worse as the infestation grows more severe.

Bed Bug Bloodstains

People don’t usually notice bed bugs feeding because the bugs typically come out at night when we’re sleeping. But bloodstains on sheets is a telltale sign. After a bed bug feeds, it becomes engorged with blood. Its normally flat, seed-like body becomes round and bloated and it resembles a teeny football. Simply moving or rolling over at night in your sleep might cause you to inadvertently crush or squeeze a bed bug that just finished feeding. Now this doesn’t usually kill them, but is can cause some of the blood they just fed on to leak out. This will create a noticeable red or rust-colored stain on your sheets, clothes or pillow. If you see something that looks like a bloodstain first check to see if you have a scab or scratch that might have caused it. If you can’t find an explanation for the bloodstain, then it very likely was left behind by an unfortunate bed bug.

Bed Bug Fecal Marks

Bed Bug fecal marks (or “fecal spotting”) are small, dark spots that resemble an ink dot from the tip of a pen. While they’re small, the average size is about 2 to 4 times larger than a period at the end of a sentence. Compared to the bloodstains described above, bed bug fecal marks are quite a bit darker and smaller. As you can guess, fecal marks come from bed bug droppings, which are basically digested human blood.

The digested blood is dark brown or black in color. And because it contains high amounts of iron, it gives off a rusty smell. Common places to find bed bug fecal spotting are pajamas, mattresses, sheets, headboards, box springs, curtains, and even walls and other surfaces. One thing you can be sure of is that you’ll usually find them in large numbers around bed bug hiding places and harborage areas.

Bed Bug Eggs

Although small, bed bug eggs are visible to the naked eye. However, they can be difficult to spot unless you know what you’re looking for. Much smaller than the bed bugs themselves, about 1 millimeter long, the eggs are oblong and pearly white in color. They look like very small grains of rice. A pregnant female bed bug lays between 1-7 eggs a day. Eggs typically hatch in 7-10 days.

When laying their eggs, females use a glue-like substance to adhere the eggs to surfaces. These tiny, white eggs can be found adhered to crevices between wood surfaces or fabrics. However, they can be found just about anywhere.

Like fecal spotting, bed bug eggs are also most common around bed bug hiding places and harborage areas. Even so, female bed bugs like to wander around when they’re pregnant, possibly spreading the infestation to other areas of your home or even neighboring apartments.

Bed Bug Shell Casings

Bed bug shell casings, also known as husks or shed skins, are a sure and reliable sign of a growing bed bug infestation. You can recognize them by their translucent, hollow outlines. Because they are left behind, they are easier to find than the bed bugs themselves. You’ll see them anywhere bed bugs hatch and breed - like mattress seams, upholstered furniture, and in cracks, and crevices in wooden furniture.

The shell casings are a result of the bed bugs going through their 5 lifecycle stages before reaching adulthood. For that reason, you’ll find shells of various sizes. The bugs molt at each step of their lifecycle. They begin as 1st instar nymphs and progress to 2nd instar, 3rd instar, 4th instar, 5th instar and finally to an adult bug.

Live Bed Bugs

Seeing a live beg bug with your own eyes is the most obvious sign that you have a bed bug problem. However, they don’t tend to wander around unless they need to feed. They usually find a hiding place and stay put. This is why most people with a bed bug problem never see live bugs until the infestation is severe.

Identifying a bed bug can be difficult. Actually, many insects can be mistaken for bed bugs. For instance, many people think they spot a bed bug when it is actually a spider beetle, carpet beetle, or cockroach nymph. People also seem to think that bed bugs are the size of apple seeds. Not exactly. They are actually quite a bit smaller. An apple seed is around 8 millimeters in length, while an adult bed bug is 4 – 5 millimeters in length.

An average apple seed is about 8 millimeters in length, while an adult bed bug is more like 4-5 millimeters in length. Bed bug nymphs are even smaller, starting at around 1 millimeter in length. Of course, bed bugs can become much larger when they are engorged with blood – reaching up to 7 millimeters in length.

As you can see, bed bugs are tricky! The best way to protect yourself, your family and your home from these little, blood-sucking pests is to identify and exterminate them early — before they reproduce and your problem grows. So, if you suspect a bed bug infestation in your home, the safest thing to do is call your local pest control professional for an inspection.

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