Bed bugs neither fly nor do they jump like fleas. They lack wings or the incredibly long, strong legs of fleas. But bed bugs can crawl quickly, about as fast as an ant, according to Cornell University. They mostly travel passively rather than actively seeking out prey. They hitch rides on luggage, furniture, bedding or even the clothes a person is wearing.
One of the reasons bed bug populations have risen is due to the increase in international travel. It works like this: a traveler journeys to a hotel room or hospital infested with bed bugs. The bed bugs crawl into the traveler's luggage or even hide in the creases and seams of clothing. When the traveler arrives home, the bed bugs crawl out of the luggage or clothing and infest a new area. If the traveler places the infested mattress and other furniture out for the garbage and someone takes it home, their home will become infested with bed bugs, too.
Bed bugs breed rapidly. Just one pregnant adult female can lay up to seven eggs a week and 500 in her lifespan, which lasts six to 12 months. However, males and females need to eat blood meals at least once every 14 days in order to reproduce. Nymphs or bed bug larvae take just five weeks to mature into breeding adults. Adult females often avoid males because of the way bed bugs reproduce, but the males find females anyway. Bed bugs do not mate sexually. The male stabs through the female's exoskeleton and injects sperm.
Bed bug bodies are nearly flat, making them able to hide in very narrow cracks and crevices, including seams in mattresses, tears in wallpaper and cracks in wooden structures. This hiding ability, coupled with their ability to go up to a year between meals, can make it seem as if bed bugs appeared overnight or just hopped into a room like a flea.
The use of any product advertised to repel bed bugs, even thyme essential oil, is not recommended by the Cornell University Integrated Pest Management Program. Bed bugs move away from a sleeping person wearing a repellent, but merely crawl into another room and wait for a person to eventually come by. This may cause bed bugs to move from just one room to all of the rooms in a home.
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