Bed bug sightings tend to cause an understandable mix of horror and disgust. These little critters have an uncanny way of sneaking into perfectly clean houses and making themselves at home. Your best bet is to get rid of them as quickly as possible, but what happens when they have already started laying eggs?
A while back, we addressed the common questions surrounding how these pests can enter your home in the first place as well as the best ways to get rid of bed bugs. In this post, we take a look at the life cycle and breeding habits of a bed bug. With this knowledge, you will be able to get a better idea of how long the bed bugs have been in your home and just how severe your infestation is.
The bed bug life cycle
When you see an unwanted critter in your home, your first reaction probably is not to get a closer look. With most bugs, we want to kill them, dispose of them and forget that they were ever in our house in the first place. Unfortunately, bed bugs very rarely travel on their own, and ignoring a bed bug sighting could give the infestation free reign to grow unencumbered. It may not sound enjoyable, but taking the time to examine any potential bed bugs that you see in your home can give you invaluable information about the extent of your infestation.
Phase 1: Bed bug eggs and the initial infestation
Most bed bug infestations begin with a handful of hitchhikers. They may latch on to your luggage in an infested hotel room or ride in on the clothing of a houseguest. If you live in an apartment or duplex, it is also possible for bed bugs from another unit to enter your home through any shared walls.
No matter how the bed bugs get there in the first place, they waste no time making themselves at home. A female bed bug will look for a hidden crack or crevice to lay her eggs and deposit them into the crack, or onto a rough surface, with a cement-like adhesive matter. If there are multiple generations of bed bugs in the infestation, the females will lay their eggs near the hiding places of adult bed bugs.
A female bed bug will typically deposit her eggs in clusters. The eggs are tiny, about 1 mm across, and pearl-white. If the egg is over five days old, it will have a small black spot on it. Bed bug eggs take about seven to ten days to hatch.
Phase 2: The nymph stage and bed bug population growth
Once the bed bugs start hatching, they immediately start looking for food. Unfortunately, you and your family members (including your warm-blooded pets, if the bed bugs cannot find a human host) will quickly become dinner for these pests.
Freshly-hatched bed bugs are called “nymphs,” and they are translucent or straw-colored. After their first meal, they will turn a reddish brown color. Bed bugs go through five different nymphal stages before reaching maturity. As they grow, bed bugs will shed their exoskeleton after each nymphal stage.
Bed bugs typically feed during the night, and it is rare for you to feel yourself being bitten. After a bite, your skin will have a small allergic reaction caused by proteins in a bed bug’s saliva. A bed bug bite can cause red, inflamed, itchy spots on your skin. Reactions to bed bug bites typically last about one to three days.
Phase 3: The next generation of adult bed bugs
After four to five weeks, the newly-hatched bed bugs are old enough to start laying eggs themselves. After the infestation reaches this point, it can begin to grow exponentially. With female bed bugs laying around three to five eggs per day, this new generation of adult bed bugs can quickly increase the pest population in your home.
Adult bed bugs have brown, flat bodies and can grow to be about a quarter of an inch in length. They are oval-shaped, and their bodies can become enlarged after they feed. Bed bugs only need to feed for about three to ten minutes every few days to stay healthy and satisfied, though they can go for longer periods of time without eating if food is unavailable.
Bed bugs can live for 12 to 18 months, meaning that a female bed bug can lay between 200 and 500 eggs during her lifetime. Remember, it only takes six to eight weeks for each egg to hatch and grow into a fully-matured adult. Throughout her lifetime, each single female bed bug can spawn multiple generations of pests in your home.
Adult bed bugs tend to congregate in clusters that can be found in small crevices, often near the beds in your home. Because bed bugs are so thin, they can easily slip through cracks and spread throughout a house or multi-family unit. If you see more than one cluster of adult bed bugs in your home, there is a good chance that you have had bed bugs long enough for multiple generations to reach adulthood.
Will bed bugs die off on their own?
Since the late 1990s, the global population of bed bugs has been on the rise. These bugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of and —whether it is due to increased global travel and trade or the ever-increasing number of insecticide-resistant bed bugs—the total population of these pests is estimated to be rising by 100-500% each year.
Unfortunately, bed bug populations are built to survive, and it is almost impossible for them to die off on their own. Even if you leave your house for two or more weeks, taking away their only source of food, the bed bugs will likely be there waiting for you when you return. It is estimated that bed bugs in the nymph stage can go up to three months without eating, though it may slow down their development. Adult bed bugs may be able to survive up to a year without food.
Common bed bug hiding places
If you suspect that you may have bed bugs, there are a few things that you can check for to help you determine the severity of the infestation. In addition to seeing live bugs, additional signs of a bed bug infestation include:
- Molted bed bug skins—These skins, that shed by growing bed bug nymphs, can be a clear sign of a growing bed bug infestation. Molted skins can be one of the first signs of bed bugs, as all growing nymphs must shed their skin five times before reaching maturity. These skins will look very similar to live bed bugs, but they will be translucent empty casings.
- Fecal spots—After feeding, bed bugs will excrete digested blood as waste. These small spots are black in color, and will often be found in groupings of ten or more. However, if a bed bug infestation is new and the population is still small, you may see only a couple of these dark spots at a time.
- Bed bug aggregations—Bed bug aggregations can be a sign of a more developed bed bug infestation. They may look like mold spots or dirt gathered in the crevices of your home. These aggregations are made up of live bed bugs, fecal spots, molted skins, egg casings and unhatched eggs.
These signs may sound unpleasant, but making the effort to look for evidence of bed bugs around your home is essential in identifying a growing bed bug population before the infestation becomes more severe. Common places to look for molted skins, fecal spots and aggregations are:
- In or near mattress seams
- On or under the mattress tag
- Behind headboards
- Behind pictures, loose wallpaper or chipped paint
- Around the edges of baseboards and carpeting
- At the junction of walls and the ceiling
- In any small, dark cracks or crevices, especially in the bedroom
Note: If you live in an apartment, notify your landlord immediately of any potential bed bug infestations. They may be required by state or local law to help you exterminate the pests.
The idea of a bed bug infestation can be unsettling, but it does not have to stop you from feeling comfortable in your own home. Early detection and action are key. If you think that you may have bed bugs, especially if you have seen any of the sign listed above, the safest bet is to call a pest control professional to come to look at your house and exterminate the bed bugs. The faster you take control of the situation, the faster you will be able to rest easy knowing that your bed bug problem is a thing of the past.