Bedbugs are parasitic insects that live on the blood of warm-blooded animals. They were largely eradicated in the United States after World War II but re-emerged as a household pest in 1995. In their adult form, they are reddish and oval. They cannot fly and, while not being strictly nocturnal, prefer to be active at night. Adult bedbugs are easy to spot in the open, but they tend to hide in crevices and dark corners.
Of the six life stages of a bedbug, five are immature and only one is adult. In the larval stages, it resembles an adult but is smaller. Adult bedbugs have a flattened oval shape and a light tan color that changes to reddish brown after the insect feeds. They have six legs, two antennae, tiny wings and are about 1/5 inch long. They feed by means of a hollow tube with which they pierce the skin of the host to draw the blood that is their only source of sustenance.
Although bedbugs can live for several months without feeding, and even longer in cold weather, they prefer to feed once every five to 10 days. They feed by piercing the skin of the host with a pair of tubes. One injects an anti-coagulant and anesthetic while the insect draws blood through the other. Feeding takes about 10 minutes, and when it is complete, the bedbug, engorged with blood, is markedly larger and its color changes. Bedbugs prefer to feed at night, usually just before dawn, but will also feed during the day under certain conditions.
Bedbugs are large enough to see with the naked eye, and their coloring makes them stand out against a white background, but they are seldom in the open. Their flattened shape allows them to crawl into any any available crevice, and favorite hiding places are in bed frames, between floorboards, inside bedroom furniture and even behind pictures and switch plates. They also hide in bedsheets and mattresses. The inaccessibility of their hiding places makes them particularly difficult to eradicate. Laundering the bedsheets and fumigating the room are often ineffective strategies because even one survivor can begin a new infestation.
Because bedbugs are so adept at hiding, the most common method of detecting them is to suffer a series of uncomfortable bites. Their eggs are laid in clusters and are often found stuck to mattress linings or bed frames. They exude a characteristic musky odor, which specially trained dogs can detect. Bedbugs sometimes make their presence obvious by clustering on a mattress, or you may see one or two on a white sheet. Another sign of an infestation is dried blood on the mattress, but by the time you notice this, it's usually too late.
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