Bed Bug Facts: Everything You Need to Know About Cimex Lectularius

Introduction to Cimex Lectularius, The Human Bed Bug

Cimex lectularius, commonly referred to as the bed bug, has been a pest to human beings for ages. It has been many decades since they have been a real threat to our quality of life, but recently bed bugs are becoming a nationwide, and worldwide problem.

There are a couple of theories to their return. For one it has been demonstrated that many strains of bed bugs in the U.S. are some several hundred times resistant to the insecticides that most pest control companies rely on. Secondly, bed bugs are more common in cities with abundant tourism. The theory is that bed bugs are possibly making their way over as “stowaways” in luggage from other countries as globalization has increased international travel.

We do know that most strains of bed bugs are resistant to the chemicals available today for control, that bed bugs become resistant to the chemical DDT within a decade of it’s introduction and that further chemical resistance can be expected in the future. An integrated pest management approach that utilizes multiple non-chemical methods and materials is therefore the only sustainable, and right now, the only viable approach to bed bug management.

Bed bugs have been found infesting hotels, apartments, movie theaters and private homes. It is common to find infestations in highly populated cities with an abundance of international visitors from Europe, South America, and Asia where the bed bugs are more likely to thrive. Although bed bugs survive on blood — not filth — it is much easier to eliminate bed bugs from an orderly room than a cluttered, unsanitary one. Bed bugs can even spread into the cleanest of hotels, restaurants, residential homes and apartments undetected. Bed bugs have been known to spread through second-hand furniture, bus seats and other used articles. Because the hitch-hiking bed bugs spread so easily, their ability to infest so rapidly is a major concern.

Bed Bug Identification

  • Adults are broad, oval and flat, approximately 4-5 mm long and 3 mm wide.
  • They range in color from brown to reddish brown (after a blood meal).
  • Prior to feeding bed bug nymphs appear translucent or pale in color. Nymphs resemble adults but are not dark like adults.
  • Their bodies are covered with short, fine, golden-colored hairs that are almost invisible to the naked eye.
  • They have a 4 segmented antenna with the third segment being longer than the second or fourth.
  • The pronotum is deeply concaved to hold the head.
  • Bed bugs give off a distinctive, disagreeable, sweet odor from scent glands when crushed.
  • They will sometimes deposit undigested parts of their blood meals on bedding which leaves a “rusty” residue.
  • Their fecal stains are deposited in cracks in crevices in headboards, on mattress and boxpsring seams, and other crevices usually near the sleeping area. They look like black ink stains and will smear when scratched.

Biology and Behavior of the Common Bed Bug

To be successful, management strategies must take into consideration the biology and behavior of the common bed bug. Understanding the biology of a pest can reveal weaknesses and vulnerabilities that can be exploited when trying to manage the pest.

General Biology and Behavior
  • Bed bugs go through several developmental stages including egg, and adult stages. Nymphs will molt 5 times before reaching adulthood. Between each molt, bed bugs need at least one blood meal.
  • Bed bugs feed on blood, mainly from humans but also birds and other animals.
  • Females can lay 1-5 eggs per day deposited in cracks, crevices, or other dark, hidden places.
  • Eggs are very small (1 mm) in length, oval and are white. The eggs are sticky and will remain in the same place they are laid.
  • Eggs are found in cracks, bed frames, box springs, and carpeting.
  • Eggs need the right temperature to hatch. Eggs will die below 55.5° F and above 98.5° F.
  • It takes between 4-21 days for eggs to hatch, depending on temperature.
  • At 70 to 90 degrees F bed bugs can complete the egg to adult cycle in as little as 1 month.
  • It takes about 3-10 minutes for bed bugs to get a whole blood meal.
  • Adults and nymphs can be found in carpets, side walls, bedding, clothing, drawers, headboards, light fixtures, baseboards, pillows, backpacks and luggage.
  • Bed bugs are nocturnal and usually feed while the person is sleeping.
  • They prefer to hide where they feed, but will move to adjacent rooms if necessary.
  • Bed bugs cannot fly but they can crawl quickly.
  • The average lifespan is 10 months however with certain conditions bed bugs have been known to survive over a year without food.
Feeding Behavior

Bed bugs feed on the blood of humans and animals, having a preference for human blood. Their growth development is dependent upon this feeding. Bed bugs cause an allergic reaction in 80% of the cases. In extreme cases with many bites, nervousness, fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, nervous and digestive disorders can occur. These symptoms are in addition to the itchy, uncomfortable white bumps caused by the bite. However 20% of people may show no physical symptoms to bed bug bites, and some develop immunity to the ectoparasites. Bed bugs can harbor disease organisms (i.e. relapsing fever, plague, Q fever), but have not been shown to spread viruses or disease.

Factors That Favor the Common Bed Bug

  • Poor sanitation makes inspection and treatment difficult but cleanliness has little to do with the presence of bed bugs.
  • Clutter creates more harborage for bed bugs and makes inspection and treatment difficult.
  • Cracks and crevices in wooden furniture and structural components like baseboards, as well as fabric lined furniture provides the preferred harborage for bed bugs.
  • High people traffic areas creates more opportunities for bed bug introduction.
  • Storage of personal belongings that are not regularly washed and exposed to many public and sleeping areas such as backpacks, luggage, and jackets.

Special Regulatory Conditions

Article 11 Section 581 of the San Francisco Department of Public Health code states that: No person shall have upon any premises or real property owned, occupied, or controlled by him or her, or it any public nuisance.

Public health nuisances are defined as: Any noxious insect harborage or infestation including, but not limited to cockroaches, bed bugs, fleas, scabies, lice, spiders or other arachnids, houseflies, wasps and mosquitoes.

Check here for more information on bed bugs and the law in California.



*Bennett, Gary; Owens, John, Corrigan, Robert. Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Control Operations, Fifth Edition. Advanstar Communications. 1997

*Mallis, Arnold. Handbook of Pest Control, Ninth Edition. GIE Media, Inc. 2004.

*Olkowski, William; Daar, Sheila; Olkowski, Helga. Common-Sense Pest Control. Least-toxic solutions for your home, garden, pets and community. The Taunton Press. 1991.

*Smith, Eric; Whitman, Richard. NPCA Field Guide to Structural Pests. NPCA. 1992.