Bed bugs are a common household pest that has been causing headaches for homeowners and travelers for centuries. But where do bed bugs come from, and how do they end up in our homes in the first place?
These small, reddish-brown insects are notorious for their ability to infest bedding, furniture, and other household items, and can be incredibly difficult to get rid of once they’ve taken hold. But learning how they make their way into our homes is the first step to making sure we can take the necessary preventative measures.
In this article, we’ll explore the origins of bed bugs and the various ways they can make their way into our living spaces. We’ll also discuss what attracts them to certain homes, and share resources with you so that you can deal with a bed bug infestation effectively.
What are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are small, flat, reddish-brown insects without wings that are about a 1/4 inch long before they feed which is approximately the size and shape of a small apple seed.
During the day, they hide in the mattress seams, box springs, bed frames, and headboards, as well as in cracks and crevices in walls, floors, and furniture. They are active at night. They can’t fly or jump, but they can move quickly when they crawl.
Where Did Bed Bugs Originate From?
For thousands of years, humans have battled the pests that we now call bed bugs. Most researchers agree that bats in the Middle East are responsible for introducing bed bugs to humans. This is because bats and people once likely shared many of the region’s caves.
Bed bugs were spread over the world by mankind as civilizations expanded. There is evidence that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all had problems with these invasive pests.
Bed bugs eventually became a problem for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds across Europe, Asia, and Africa. The pests were later introduced to the Americas by European settlers. Bed bugs are now found on every continent except Antarctica.
Where Did Bed Bugs Come From to the United States
As we mentioned above, bed bugs were first brought into America unknowingly by European settlers. Soon, it started becoming enough of a problem that warranted some work, and fast.
Then, in the 1940s, a pesticide known as DDT was developed to deal with bed bug infestations along with the transmission of diseases such as typhus, malaria, and other insect-born illnesses for troops as well as civilians.
For quite a few decades afterward, DDT was viewed as a powerful agent against bed bug infestations till research revealed many issues with it. For one, it was classified as a possible carcinogen and was also endangering the wildlife population.
And to top it off, it started to also lose its effectiveness as a pesticide. By 1972, DDT was banned but thankfully bed bug populations in the United States had declined by that point, and infestations were uncommon.
But unfortunately, that didn’t last too long. Since the 1980s, bed bug populations have been rising around the world, including in the United States. Many reasons have been put forth for this, but an increase in international travel is at the top of the list.
Moreover, people have also started buying second-hand and vintage furniture which adds to the problem, and what’s worse is that bed bugs have now also developed resistance to multiple types of pesticides, including DDT.
How Do Bed Bugs Enter Homes?
First things first, bed bugs are not a sign of poor sanitation. In fact, they can infest any home or business, regardless of how clean it is.
They are often brought in on items like clothing and luggage from an infested location. Bed bugs can also travel between units in multi-unit dwellings such as apartments, hotels, and dormitories.
Another common misconception is that bed bugs are only found in dirty places. While it is true that clutter can give bed bugs more places to hide, any home or business can become infested with these pests.
Bed bugs don’t just appear out of thin air, and they don’t make their way into your house from down the street. They are nearly usually brought onto your property by humans unknowingly, and they can do so in a number of different ways.
They are essentially hitchhiking pests, making their way into your homes from one place to another by attaching themselves to hair, clothes, skin, and even animal or pet fur.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From? (3 Common Causes)
Bed bugs come from a variety of sources. Let’s look at each of them in more detail:
1. From Traveling
Bed bugs are very good at staying out of sight when they travel. They will attach themselves to bags, suitcases, cartons, shoes, and other goods and ride them to their new home. Once they are brought into a new place, they will spread all over, whether it’s a large apartment building or a single-family home.
Bed bug infestations are most commonly brought in by domestic and international travel. The best places to pick up bed bugs are high-turnover establishments like hotels, motels, and Airbnb’s.
You could bring bed bugs home if you slept on the beds in these places, but they could also get into your luggage if you put it on the bed or other furniture.
2. From Buying Used Furniture
Purchasing secondhand furniture or getting it from a friend or relative is another cause of a bed bug infestation. It’s possible that you could buy a piece of furniture without realizing that it already harbors some bed bugs or their eggs, which are just waiting to give you some itchy bites.
Use a flashlight to carefully inspect the edges, seams, and any cracks in the furniture for bed bugs before you buy one.
3. From Common Public Places
Schools, colleges, and even daycare facilities are another way that bed bugs spread. Your kids may unintentionally bring these insects home from school or when they return from college on break because they spread so readily through clothing and other materials made of cloth.
When they return home, your kids will sit on the couch or crawl into bed, and that’s when these pests start spreading into your home. They have now just found their new spot to eat, reproduce, rest, and infest.
Apart from this, unfortunately, bed bugs can also be found in other common public places such as offices, airports, libraries, nursing homes, police and fire stations, retail stores, campgrounds, cruise ships, hostels, and other commercial facilities.
What are Bed Bugs Attracted to?
Bed bugs are attracted to three main things, namely carbon dioxide, body heat, and a chemical called histamine from other bed bugs.
Based on scientific data from studies, bed bugs have extremely poor vision, and some researchers speculate that the insects may even be completely blind.
This is why bed bugs prefer to locate their hosts (aka us humans) by smell and respiration. People need to breathe out carbon dioxide in order to stay alive, so bugs will always have this tracking tool to make up for what they can’t see with their own eyes.
Bed bugs are mostly active at night and like to be in safe places where people sleep so they can come out and feed on blood while the host is asleep. They can also detect this by our body heat at night.
But that doesn’t mean that only sleeping during the day will keep these pests away from you; bed bugs can actually adapt and match the sleeping patterns of their hosts!
Plus, when one bed bug has entered your home then, unfortunately, more will soon follow. This is due to a chemical their produce called histamine, which attracts other bed bugs.
Other Common Things Bed Bugs are Attracted to:
Apart from this, there are a few more things that can make your home more attractive to bed bugs:
Dirty Laundry: Keep your dirty laundry off the floor as much as you can since bed bugs are attracted to it because it smells like a potential host.
Heat Source: Our bodies create warmth and bed bugs can detect this heat source which makes them believe that a host is nearby. Unfortunately, your body temperature will give you away even if the temperature in your room is cooler.
Dark Bed Sheets: Bed bugs are also attracted to dark bed sheets because it allows them to camouflage themselves in them to gain protection from predators. A research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology further confirms this as it states that bed bugs tend to gather around red and black colored items.
Where Can You Find Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs do not merely hide in mattresses; they can be found anywhere in a room or home. Plus, they can also live and hide in cracks and crevices in walls or wood.
They also like to conceal themselves behind baseboards, around mattress buttons, within blankets and bedding, and inside box springs. Inside homes, cushions, chairs, couches, and drawers are other places where you’re likely to encounter them
In certain cases, bed bugs can come through electrical outlets, picture frames, and even wallpaper. Unfortunately, these sneaky insects can be found in almost any place inside a building, car, or other forms of shelter.
In hotels, bed bugs are most often found on the back of headboards that are mounted to the wall. And in you live in an apartment, it’s important to know that vents in buildings make it easier for bed bugs to move from one apartment to the next, and they can be commonly found there.
We recommend always checking to see if your building has a bed bug report so that you can take precautions to keep bed bugs from coming into your home.
Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites
Bed bugs prefer to feed on humans and will attach themselves to any exposed flesh while the host is asleep. Most people experience an allergic reaction to the saliva that is spread during the bite, despite the fact that the bite is painless at the time of the attack.
This is the root cause of the discomfort associated with bedbug bites and results in the bites becoming itchy, red, and swollen. Most bites also happen in a pattern or in small clusters. This is a sign of bed bugs and not some other type of pest or mosquito is responsible for the bites.
In most cases, there is no need to see a professional about these bites, and topical steroid creams can help with the itching if necessary.
The troubling aspect of bed bugs is perhaps their rapid reproduction rate. Females lay anywhere from one to five eggs a day and can lay up to 540 eggs in their lifetime. It takes around 21 days for these nymphs to mature into adult bed bugs.
Bed bugs can swiftly infest an entire home or structure if their presence is ignored.
How Do I Know If I Have a Bed Bug Problem?
The best way to know if you have a bed bug problem is to look for signs of them and to especially learn more about the 6 early signs of bed bugs that are the top indicators of an infestation.
If you suspect an infestation, inspect your home for any evidence of bed bugs. Look for small black or reddish-brown spots on mattresses, bedding, and furniture that could be droppings from the insects or blood stains from bites.
You should also check for tiny, translucent eggs and eggshells that may have been laid in the crevices of the bed or furniture. Plus, you might be able to see actual bed bugs if they are actively crawling on or near the surface of your mattress.
We highly recommend checking out our complete guide to the early signs of bed bug infestations to make sure you can take timely action against these pests!
How Do I Control a Bed Bug Problem in My Home?
In most cases, a method known as integrated pest control (IPM) will be necessary. This uses methods that are the safest for your health and the environment as a whole.
Start by getting rid of any clutter, especially in your bedroom to reduce the spaces where these pests can hide. Make sure you vacuum molding, floors, and clean windows every day. We also recommend vacuuming the seams and sides of your mattress, box spring, and other furniture.
Once you’re done, empty your vacuum immediately into a sealed bag or container and dispose of it outside your home or apartment.
To learn more ways to control an infestation, check out our article on how to get rid of bed bugs.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.