One in five Americans has either encountered bed bugs themselves or knows someone who has. No matter how tight you sleep, these creatures may haunt your dreams. But there are steps you can take to catch bed bugs early, and a professional pest control service can help you make sure they’re gone for good.
Read on to learn the signs of bed bugs and how to prevent them, and to get the facts on their mysterious odor.
Due to their pheromones, bed bugs give off a musty, sweet smell, often described as similar to berries (raspberries in particular). Others describe the scent as similar to coriander, cilantro, almonds, or marzipan–just about anything with a slightly sweet or musty scent.
If you’ve ever smelled cockroaches, the pheromone scent can be similar (but less “oily”). As the bed bug infestation worsens, this aroma mixes with that of dead bugs and fecal matter, creating a harsh “rusty” odor that’s hard to miss.
When a group of bed bugs is disturbed, they release “alarm pheromones,” which smells similar to when a stink bug is squashed (a woody, oily, burning rubber scent).
The primary reason bed bugs smell is pheromones. Pheromones are almost like hormones that are released outside the body in order to trigger a social response from members of the same species (but often emit a scent that can be detected by other species).
Bed bugs’ aggregation pheromone is used to attract other bed bugs to a colony, and is therefore often used as bait in bed bug traps. The alarm pheromone is released if the colony is disturbed in some way, releasing a slightly different scent.
As an infestation grows, bed bugs can often give off a “rusty” scent, which is the combination of the bed bugs’ pheromone aroma with the scent of decomposing bugs and fecal matter.
In addition to a musty, rusty, or sweet scent, there are a variety of common signs to look out for that may indicate a bed bug infestation, and you should inspect any new room you sleep in (better safe than sorry).
You might see an actual live bed bug or dead bed bug (adult bed bugs are reddish brown, flat, wingless, about the size of an apple seed, but swollen after a blood meal; younger bed bugs are smaller and translucent whitish yellow in color), or notice bed bug eggs or egg shells (tiny pale yellow skins, about 1mm in diameter, from molting nymphs).
You may also notice clusters or lines of itchy bed bug bites on your body (although bites aren’t visible or itchy for everyone). Bites can be anywhere, but are most common in places that are exposed or make contact with your bed during sleep (arms, legs, face, neck, hands, and shoulders)–so wearing long pajamas may ease your mind. Some people even have painful allergic reactions–from swollen bites to anaphylaxis.
The next most obvious sign is dark, rusty reddish blood stains on your mattress or sheets. These are the result of bed bugs being crushed. You might also notice dark spots about this size– • –and velvety to the touch–these are bed bug feces.
Bed bugs are likely to be found hiding underneath your mattress or in crevices along your mattress or headboard. Look for them in the piping, seams, or tags of your mattress or box spring and in any cracks in your furniture.
If your room is heavily infested, you might find signs of bed bugs in the seams of chairs and couches or in the folds of their cushions (or even the folds of window curtains).
They might hide under loose wallpaper or wall hangings, in electrical outlets or receptacles, inside of appliances, in drawer joints, in the junction where the wall and ceiling meet, or even in the head of a screw. If a crack can hold a credit card, it can hide a bed bug.
You should call a pest control professional at the first sign of a bed bug infestation. The earlier you catch the problem, the better the chance you’ll have to get rid of it for good. Bed bug problems grow quickly, and only get harder to kick.
Bed bugs can hide, can multiply undetected, and some are even resistant to certain pesticides. And while DIY traps and heat treatments can help, the only truly effective treatment is that of an expert.
A professional exterminator will know where to look for more bugs in your home and can advise you on the best course of action when it comes to which bed bug treatment to choose, where to sleep, and how to care for your belongings.