Multifamily Property Management: Five Signs You Have a Bed Bug Infestation
Colder winter temperatures mean turning up the heat, and that means an open invitation for bed bugs in apartments and dormitories. Although excessive heat can be deadly to bed bugs ( See “Turning Up The Heat on Bed Bugs in Apartment Units”), they are most at home in cozy, warmer climates like heating ducts, electrical outlets, bedding and warm electronics. These are perfect places for the tiny creatures to colonize and multiply.
Because bed bugs are so small, an infestation is often difficult to see. Although they can live a year without feeding, bed bugs seek food about once per week; human and animal blood is their ideal meal. Typically, bed bugs don’t stray far from their food source, and with a five-week cycle from egg to maturity, a small dinner party can turn into a banquet if an infestation isn’t quickly identified.
Bed bugs may feed at night and thus are seldom seen, but they leave noticeable evidence. Here are five signs, based on my experience, of a bed bug infestation in an apartment unit:
Blood stains resulting from a bed bug bite are often visible on lighter-colored sheets and pillow cases. The stains are typically dark or rusty spots of excrement. But these signs of an infestation won’t always be found on bedding, because bed bugs are highly mobile and move fast. In addition to bedding, stains can be visible on furniture, clothes, and even walls.
Unlike blood stains, fecal spotting tends to be black or dark in color. The stains are from partially digesting blood and clustered in groups in areas that bed bugs inhabit. The spots will smear if wiped with a wet rag. Evidence of fecal spotting is usually visible in their typical hideouts, like along mattress seams, box spring edges, and corners.
Bed bugs are small, oval parasitic insects that are light brown or reddish-brown in color but are hard to spot. Nocturnal in nature, they feed and move quickly. As they multiply, bed bugs tend to hang out together in harborages until overcrowding forces them into other areas. They are fantastic hitchhikers and can end up anywhere, including phones, purses, backpacks, clothing, etc. Look for them along mattress seams, box spring edges and corners, and baseboards.
Bites are not initially felt because of a natural anesthetic in the saliva of bed bugs. Often, it is difficult to distinguish bed bug bites from other insect bites, like those from mosquitoes. One sign, however, is that bites sometimes appear in a line of three, known as “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” by disease experts. Bites create small red welts that become itchy and eventually blister. Bed bug bites can occur anywhere on the body, including the face.
Throughout their life cycle, bed bugs will shed their skin – or molt – five times before becoming an adult. The discarded shells look like clear, empty exoskeletons and can be found in box springs, wood framing, inside books, telephones, radios, and carpet.
With a keen eye, property owners can identify a bed bug infestation before the problem gets out of hand. And being familiar with these signs can help build awareness and educate residents who are likely targets of bed bugs.