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How Can You Tell the Severity of a Bed Bug Infestation?

By Chris Williams on April 29, 2015.
3-shed-skins-of-5th-instar-bed-bug-nymphs

Bed bug exuviae (shed skins)

A concerned property owner in Rochester, New Hampshire recently asked me if I could tell how long bed bugs had been in an apartment. With legislation in place regarding bed bug infestation and the responsibility of property owners, his concerns were justifiable. New Hampshire now mandates that bed bug or other infestations are the responsibility of the property owner, regardless of the cause of infestation. Fleas may be the only exception to this rule, as pet activity associated with a tenant may directly cause the infestation.

Cockroaches, bed bugs, ants, rodents, fleas, and wasps are the main problems that property owners and property management run into at typical apartment settings. Fleas from a previous tenant will also be covered by this legislation. Now the burden lies on the property owner to provide a pest free living space to all occupants.

As a rule, early detection of a pest problem can lead to an early solution. Problems develop over time, so early detection is critical. This may not be possible, as tenants may not report an issue until it is beyond a quick fix. Non-notification of pest problems may be due to many reasons that I will not go into here. Frequent property inspections and good tenant relations can go a long way in pest prevention.

Documentation of any complaints is critical. Thorough inspection with photos to document the conditions before and after renting an apartment or property will be very helpful to all parties. Always use a Pest Control Professional when dealing with pest issues to avoid potential mistreatment or poisoning.

In the following sections, I will try to describe the different levels of bed bug infestation, divided into three categories: Light, Moderate, and Heavy.

Light Bed Bug Infestation

  • New infestation, just arrived. It takes 45-60 days from egg to mated adult (1-2 months)
  • Few sightings and blood stains noted if any, 1-2 caught as specimens for identification, minimal irritation from bites. Adult bed bugs are tan to dark reddish brown, flattened, compact insects about 5-6mm long; juveniles are much smaller and are clear with a red or black dot after feeding. Both adults and juveniles are visible.
  • Minimal fecal staining (small black stains in areas of travel, feeding, and harborage). Fecal stains will be anywhere the bed bugs hide or travel and can be used to detect hot spots.
  • Minimal cast skins (exuviae are the skins shed during the molting process). These small translucent to tan shells can be found near harborage sites, in dust, or in webs. Each bed bug will produce five cast skins during its 100-day juvenile stage.
  • Few if any visible eggs. Eggs are laid in clusters near harborage sites and along feeding routes. Eggs look like small white dots or lines glued to surfaces near the host. Females may lay 3 eggs a day if continuous feeding is available, laying over 300 eggs during her 10-11 month lifetime.
  • Only 1 or 2 areas of suspect activity noted. Bed bug infestations usually starts in one or two “hot spots” of the home or apartment, then spread as the population increases. Natural migration by females to new areas and spreading through movement of personal items allows bed bugs to find new areas to infest.

Moderate Bed Bug Infestation

  • Established Infestation (4-8 months since initial arrival of bed bugs)
  • Many live adults and nymphs noted (bloodstains on walls and mattresses, live insects engorged with blood on mattresses, furniture, walls, under carpets, etc.)
  • Visible fecal stains present in multiple areas (staining on mattress, sheets, pillows, bed frames, bedside tables, dressers, books, walls, baseboards, curtains, chairs, couches, behind pictures, under and on carpets, etc.)
  • Many cast skins (on floors, in webs, under carpets, in dressers, along with dead bed bugs, and bed bugs caught by spiders). By now, there should be hundreds of exuviae.
  • Many hot spots (beds and sleeping areas, couches, corners, most furniture has staining and live insects present, all rooms including bathroom may have live bed bugs on walls and ceilings, as well as under carpets near sleeping areas and feeding routes). The bed bug population has spread out from initial hot spots to locations throughout the apartment/home and now pose a threat to neighboring units above, below, and to sides.

Heavy Bed Bug Infestation

  • Heavy infestations take 6 months to 1 year to develop. Bed bugs mature relatively slowly; at a certain threshold, multiple overlapping generations are produced and the population will explode if conditions permit.
  • Countless adults and nymphs present (Adults walking on walls, clustered in cracks on walls, stained curtains, etc. Dead bed bugs and blood stains on sheets, mattresses, walls, bed frames, on/under carpets, moldings, under tiles, almost every where they can hide and get to a host).
  • Heavy fecal staining. This thick blood byproduct becomes like black paint in areas of high bed bug density and traffic. As they move to and from the human host, fecal droplets fall off the backside of the bed bug. Densely populated harborage sites also contain heavy fecal staining. Over time, it becomes thick and even has a semi-sweet, bug smell for aggregation. It is a bad infestation if you can smell this odor. Heavily stained mattresses, box springs, carpets, and other fabric items may need to be discarded or deep cleaned to remove the organic material. Walls, ceilings, and floors will also need attention once the infestation has been taken care of, and certainly prior to rental.
  • Cast skins are all over the place. Multiple overlapping generations have produced thousands of exuviae, especially in harborage sites. Heavy infestations create so many exuviae that they will be readily evident upon inspection of areas near sleeping areas.
  • Eggs and hatched eggs are visible (along seams, edges of molding, mattress tufts, in couches, dressers, tables, carpet edges, all around hotspots).
  • The population is now only limited by access to the host (tenants).
  • Heavy infestations can populate entire structures. Due to natural movement from overcrowding as well as transport of personal items, bed bugs can spread to previously uninfested dwellings. Wall voids, pipe chases, electrical apertures, and other hidden conduits may contain adult bed bugs, which can live over 1 year if no host is present, and actively seek a new host.

Bed bugs are no joke, they are real, and can cause serious problems if left untreated. If you suspect bed bugs, call Colonial Pest Control at 1-800-525-8084.

Photo credit: louento.pix / Foter / CC BY-ND

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