The Cimex lectularius, otherwise known as the common bed bug, has been around for millennia … in it for the long haul.
Over the past two decades, these oval-shaped insects with amber-brown skin have staged a quiet resurgence, marked notably by the temporary closures of well-known retailers in New York City.
This was back in the early 2000s when bed bug sightings were on the rise, along with hard evidence of their existence: little red welts on human skin that itched to high heaven. In fact, folks were so terrified of getting bedbugs that it was common to ask landlords if their buildings had ever suffered from an outbreak of bedbugs.
Today, these critters are ever more prevalent, posing a serious challenge to their eradication. But their resilience proves that they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. So it would help to debunk some common myths and misconceptions about bed bugs if only to help slow the spread.
Fast Facts About Bed Bugs
- Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that feed on human and animal blood.
- Adult bed bugs are typically the size of an apple seed and reddish-brown in color.
- A typical reaction to bed bug bites is an itchy, red, raised welt on the skin.
- The bites often appear in a row and can show up on any part of the skin (though clusters more commonly appear on the upper body).
- Bed bugs can be found anywhere, including homes, hotels, and office buildings.
- Their common name derives from their preferred habitat, which is close to a bed, especially in crevices or seams.
- They’re mostly active at night, but daytime activity shouldn’t be discredited.
10 Common Myths About Bed Bugs, Debunked
Below are some of the most common myths and misconceptions about bed bugs.
1) Bed Bugs Are Invisible to the Naked Eye
Bed bugs aren’t so tiny that they need to be viewed through the lens of a microscope or magnifying glass. Sure, newly-hatched eggs produce “nymphs” that are extremely small and more difficult to view. These translucent “baby” bed bugs are usually 1.3 millimeters in length, equivalent to five grains of salt. By contrast, adult bed bugs can measure between four to five millimeters in length or one-quarter of an inch. When bed bugs are fully grown, their reddish-brown skin is easier to spot against a white or light-colored background.
2) Bed Bugs Can Fly
Let’s put this common misconception to rest right here, right now: Bed bugs don’t have wings. So no, they can’t fly. But what they lack in airborne qualities they make up for on the ground. Case-in-point: These critters are excellent climbers, able to scale smooth surfaces with the rote enthusiasm of a mountaineer. They do this by using a combination of tiny hooks on the ends of their legs and claws that allow them to cling onto surfaces (except for glass). This makes it easy for them to travel from room to room and even through walls.
3) Bed Bugs Are Only Active At Night
This common myth isn’t helped by the old nursery rhyme, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Make no mistake: These insects are nocturnal only by nature of their appearance, not their activity. To be clear, bed bugs can be found wandering around at all hours of the day and night given the right conditions, which is usually when their human hosts are away from home during the day or lying in bed each night.
4) Bed Bugs Can’t Survive More Than 30 Days Without Feeding
During feeding, bed bugs can ingest more than three times their body weight in blood, making it nearly impossible for them to starve from lack of food over long periods. This proclivity for survival is further aided by their ability to slow down their metabolisms as needed. This is especially beneficial for a female bed bug that can lay about one to seven eggs per day after feeding.
5) A Mattress Cover Provides Complete Protection Against Bed Bugs
A mattress cover or encasement can help trap bed bugs or prevent outsiders from burrowing along the seams. But it won’t keep them from feeding on a human host, nor will it stop them from nesting within the mattress or box spring, potentially causing an infestation. So while investing in a mattress cover can help mitigate the problem to some extent, it’s not a single solution to eradicating them.
6) Most Furniture Will Need To Be Thrown Away When Dealing With a Bed Bug Infestation
Not necessarily. While it’s vital to rid the home of bed bug eggs, cast skins, droppings, and other signs of infestation, most furniture can be treated with pesticides and saved from the landfill. That goes for mattresses, bed frames, box springs, dressers, couches, and chairs that may or may not possess emotional value to the owner.
7) Bed Bug Infestations Are A Result of Poor Hygiene or Poor Housekeeping
Many people believe that a bed bug infestation is caused by a lack of cleaning or poor hygiene. In reality, bed bugs feed indiscriminately, with no scruples as to the home’s appearance. In other words, they don’t care if a home is clean or cluttered, or if a host just so happens to be a neat freak. Bed bugs feed on human blood whenever and wherever it’s available.
8) Bed Bugs Can Survive Extreme Hot and Cold Temperatures
Bed bugs are notoriously resilient compared to other pests, but they can’t handle extended exposure to freezing temperatures or extremely high heat. According to scientific studies, temperatures that surpass 118.93 degrees Fahrenheit meet the minimum threshold for bed bug mortality, but the bugs need to cook in this intense heat continuously for 95 minutes or more. Conversely, the temperature at which adult bed bugs freeze to death is -19.48°F. Note that this method is the least practical of the two; Bed bugs can survive in subzero temperatures for up to five days.
9) Bed Bugs Won’t Make it Out of the Dry Cleaner’s Alive
It’s a common assumption that bed bugs will die at the dry cleaners. But that depends on whether the dry cleaner is a traditional business or an environmentally conscious one. More to the point: Traditional dry cleaners use a chemical called perchloroethylene (“perc” for short) and it’s this chemical that bed bugs don’t seem to survive. By contrast, bed bugs can withstand the heat of an environmentally-friendly dry cleaner’s unit for one or two hours.
10) The Landlord is Responsible for Eradicating Bed Bugs in the Apartment Rental
This issue has been left to individual U.S. states to decide (more on this below).
Who’s Responsible For Getting Rid of a Bed Bug Infestation?
As of 2019, 23 states in the U.S. have enacted or proposed legislation specific to bed bugs, including Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois.
In New York, landlords must disclose to prospective renters any reported bed bug sightings or incidents within the past year. They also tend to foot the exterminator’s bill once measures have been taken to eradicate the infestation.
Other states like New Hampshire and California make it illegal for landlords to show or rent vacant dwellings that they knew had been infested with bed bugs. To lease the units once again, landlords in these states must arrange and pay for the extermination cycles needed to get rid of the bugs.
On a different note, Texas has ruled that the presence of bed bugs is considered a public health nuisance and that a “person shall be required to abate the nuisance when it is known,” leaving out any further clarification as to who that person might be.
With so many gray areas across various states, it’s just as important for renters to educate themselves on bed bugs as it is for them to take an active role in battling an infestation. That said, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has graciously compiled a list of state-specific bed bug laws to consult when in doubt.
Hopefully, this can help eliminate some of the head-scratchers about bed bugs that keep us up at night.
Ivan Suazo is a copywriter and SEO blogger with over ten years of experience in the real estate industry. He's also the founder of a wellness blog, QWERTYdelight.com, and writes sleep stories for the Slumber App.